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Cablegate: Response: China's Engagement in Eritrea

VZCZCXRO3824
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0240/01 1230952
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 020952Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9638
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0037
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASMARA 000240

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

LONDON AND PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS
DEPT FOR AF/E

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON EFIN EMIN PREL ER
SUBJECT: RESPONSE: CHINA'S ENGAGEMENT IN ERITREA

REF: A) STATE 41697, B) 07 ASMARA 931

---------------------------------------
1. (SBU) CHINESE ENGAGEMENT IN ERITREA
---------------------------------------

The relationship between the Government of China (GOC) and the
Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE) is strong. President
Isaias visited President Hu during the China-Africa Summit in
November 2006. During a January 2007 visit to Eritrea, Foreign
Minister Li Zhaoxing partially cancelled Eritrea's bilateral debt
and announced Eritrean exports to China were tariff-free. China has
no known direct investments in either Eritrea's budding mining
sector or its pending free trade zone in Massawa. The GOC
reportedly has provided military weapons and equipment to the GSE.

GOC assistance to the GSE is provided mostly through exchange
programs and concessionary loans. China provided the GSE a 100
million Yuan ($14 million) loan to upgrade telecommunications
infrastructure and another 350 million Yuan ($50 million) to
renovate the defunct cement factory in Massawa. There are reports
that China provided a $100 million loan to assist the GSE's purchase
of a 30% stake in the Bisha mining project (gold and other
minerals), of which $75 million reportedly remains to be dispersed.

Eritrea sent more than 80 GSE officials and technicians to China in
2007 for GOC-funded seminars and training sessions lasting from 1 to
3 months. The Commercial Section of the Chinese Embassy recently
hosted an annual program alumni reception that drew approximately
175 guests.

In 2008 and 2009, China will send a number of exchange visitors to
Eritrea. For the sixth consecutive year, China sent 18 doctors to
provide medical care and training to Eritrean physicians, as well as
six maintenance support professionals to (Chinese-built) Orotta
Hospital to repair and upgrade medical equipment. Three senior and
seven junior agricultural experts will assist the GSE's pursuit of
food security. Three female sports coaches will train Eritrea's
female athletes.

The GOC will also build a College of Social Sciences in the city of
Adi Quala and primary schools in the cities of Ghinda and
Mendeferra.

---------------------------------------------
2. (SBU) CURRENT LEVEL OF ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN
CHINESE AND U.S. MISSIONS IN ERITREA
---------------------------------------------

U.S.-Eritrean relations are poor, which the GSE attributes to U.S.
failure to force Ethiopia to abide by the 2002 border demarcation
decision of the Eritrean-Ethiopian Boundary Commission (EEBC). The
Chinese maintain one of the best bilateral relationships of any
diplomatic Mission in Eritrea, because they refuse to engage
substantively in regional policy issues such as the contested border
or address human rights abuses, in their pursuit of economic
objectives.

An August 2007 special advertising supplement in Business Week
contained numerous specific calls from top-level GSE leaders,
including the President and Minister of Finance, to Chinese
businesses to invest in Eritrea. Ruling People's Front for
Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) Head of Economic Affairs Hagos
Ghebrehiwet, Eritrea's economic czar, welcomed Chinese business
because there are "no . . . conditions and almost no strings
attached. China is here, it has the interest, it wants to make
money, and it is helping us develop while it does so." The
supplement was an obvious attempt by the GSE to wean itself from
Western assistance by attracting investors from countries less
concerned with the many local human rights abuses.

These efforts have paid off for China to some extent politically as
well. For example, the GSE-run media published an editorial on
April 5 regarding the recent crackdown on protestors in Tibet,
"condemning the violence and vandalism perpetrated by the rioters
and the attempts to manipulate the unfortunate crisis" and
commending "the civilized manner with which the Government of the
People's Republic of China handled the situation to restore order."

The disparate state of bilateral relations experienced by the
Chinese and American missions significantly diminishes the number of
opportunities for bilateral cooperation. While the U.S. Embassy
maintains cordial social relations with our Chinese counterparts,
particularly given Asmara's small diplomatic corps, the Chinese have
been generally unwilling to upset its economic relationship by
joining with the U.S. or other Missions in pressing Eritrea for

ASMARA 00000240 002 OF 002


constructive engagement internationally or addressing its internal
governance problems.

Both the U.S. and Chinese missions send representatives to the
bi-monthly donors' forum, at which areas of common interest are
discussed. Embassy officers meet regularly with Chinese commercial
and Embassy counterparts in either formal or informal venues and
maintain limited information exchange on activities in-country.

------------------------------------------
3. (SBU) AREAS BENEFITING FROM INCREASED
BILATERAL COOPERATION AND COORDINATION
------------------------------------------

The GSE has consistently demonstrated its unwillingness to engage
with countries like the U.S. and like-minded European nations, which
have been critical of the regime's internal and regional policies.
The government has proven more amenable towards working through/with
multilateral fora (for example, UN assistance organizations and the
European Commission (EC)), and with countries, such as China which
pursue a purely economic strategy. Given China's influence with the
ruling regime and its role on the UN Security Council, the GOC could
potentially serve as a mediator with the GSE, although Post is
doubtful that China would find such a role in its interest.

One area of possible cooperation lies in people-to-people medical
diplomacy. The U.S.-based Physicians for Peace, a privately funded
group of American doctors providing medical assistance and training
to Eritrean medical professionals, may be willing to coordinate with
local Chinese medical professionals in providing medical training.
The USG could seek to support such an initiative through needed
equipment and supplies. Another possible area for cooperation is
cultural diplomacy. Last fall, the U.S. Embassy approached the
Chinese Embassy about possibly hosting a U.S.-Chinese musical duo, a
proposal which did not pan out at the time, but could be revisited
in the future. The U.S. Embassy has been unable to obtain visas for
official visitors, including speakers and entertainers, for several
years and has difficulty in securing GSE permits for public
diplomacy events. The Chinese Embassy experiences less problems in
gaining GSE approvals for their cultural events and visitors,
however, the Chinese Embassy noted that the program which we
proposed was beyond its budget. Given the extraordinarily
restrictive environment in Eritrea, "soft diplomacy" issues could
provide one of the few openings to pave the way for greater
cooperation between the U.S. and China on shared issues of interest
in Eritrea.
MCMULLEN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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