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Cablegate: Sierra Leone: Chinese Engagement

DE RUEHFN #0050 0360927
R 050927Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 010152

1. This message responds to reftel request for information
on Chinese engagement in Sierra Leone and potential areas for
cooperation. Post opted for a front channel cable as well as
an email in light of the significant interest in the level of
Chinese engagement in Sierra Leone.

2. China was significantly involved in Sierra Leone prior to
the strife of 1991-2001 and has recently begun to re-engage.
The older phase coincided with the regime of Siaka Stevens,
who subscribed to the leftist-socialist and non-aligned
trends of the time. Many of the large structures that
continue to dominate Freetown were built by the Chinese in
the 1970's and 80's: the National Stadium, the Youyi
("friendship" in Chinese) Ministerial Complex, the army
headquarters, the police headquarters, and the China-Sierra
Leone Friendship House. Upcountry, the Chinese built bridges
linking Guinea and Sierra Leone, a demonstration rice
plantation and sugar complex near Makeni, and a hydroelectric
dam near Kenema with power transmission lines.

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3. The recent phase of engagement was highlighted by the
Chinese Foreign Minister's visit January 13-14, a
reciprocation of President Koroma's visit to China in 2009.
The Chinese have undertaken to restore, revamp, or remodel
some of the old projects, to include the National Stadium,
the Youyi Ministerial Complex, the army headquarters, and the
rice plantation and sugar complex. They have resurfaced the
formerly deplorable roads from Bo to Kenema and from Makeni
to Matotoka. They are building a 100-bed hospital on the
outskirts of Freetown at Kossoh (which should become
Freetown's best hospital) and will resurface the now
execrable road from the new American Embassy over the
mountain to Grafton/Kossoh, which will help somewhat to
relieve the extraordinary traffic pile-up in eastern
Freetown. They have also committed to a much-needed new
Foreign Ministry building near the parliament, as well as
additional offices at parliament. While here, the Chinese
Foreign Minister presided over the opening of a new
elementary school in Freetown. The Chinese are building a
small stadium at Bo and will build another at Makeni. The
Chinese government has instituted what its embassy describes
as a volunteer program similar to the Peace Corps, and
Chinese diplomats tell us that 30 volunteers recently arrived
and are working in Freetown in various activities from the
health sector to martial arts. (Medical challenges upcountry
have prevented the embassy so far from sending any volunteers
outside the capital).

4. As part of the government's privatization program, Gouji
Trading Company has taken over the huge former railway
workshop in eastern Freetown (which housed one of the largest
IDP camps during the war) and made it into a manufacturing
complex assembling an array of large machines and much else
from mattresses to construction materials. Chinese companies
have established health centers, cell-phone repair shops, and
hair-product and clothing businesses. The Chinese have
formed partnerships with Sierra Leoneans to exploit Sierra
Leonean fish resources (which are fast dwindling). A Chinese
company is reported to have invested heavily in the iron-ore
company African Minerals (rebuilding the ore-export port at
Pepel and a railway-Septel), although the Chinese Embassy
denies that such a deal has been finalized.

5. Press reports and rumors during the Chinese Foreign
Minister's visit centered on a new airport for Freetown,
perhaps at the landward end of the Freetown Peninsula, but
the Chinese Embassy has clarified that at this juncture the
Sierra Leonean government has simply made a request. China
has made no commitment other than to take the matter under
serious consideration. Chinese diplomats tell us that China
might be willing to be one of several partners in the airport

6. Collaboration with China, especially with infrastructure
projects, would require a significant change in the focus and
budgets of our own assistance approach to Sierra Leone.
Peacekeeping offers an opportunity, with Chinese equipment
and training complementing US and EU sources. If China's
volunteer program closely resembles the Peace Corps, another
possibility would be to assigned volunteers from both
programs to work together on shared projects, such as
providing teachers in tandem to the same rural schools.

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