China plans peace envoy for conflict-riven Horn of Africa

MOMBASA, KENYA (REUTERS) – China said on Thursday (Jan 6) it would appoint a special envoy to foster peace in the turbulent Horn of Africa and wanted to shift focus on the continent to trade over infrastructure.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the comments in Kenya, which has been active in diplomatic efforts to halt war in Ethiopia since late 2020 between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal government.

He also visited Eritrea, which borders the northern Tigray region and has been an ally of Mr Abiy in a conflict that has killed thousands of people, uprooted hundreds of thousands, and spread hunger.

“To share political consensus and to coordinate actions, China will appoint a special envoy of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs for the Horn of Africa,” Mr Wang told a news conference in the port city of Mombasa, via an interpreter.

Horn of Africa nations should decide their own destiny and convene a peace conference, Mr Wang added.

The region’s other major war is in Somalia where Islamist militants al Shabaab are battling a Western-backed government.

China has traditionally been more focused on economic development and trade in Africa than politics and diplomacy, and Mr Wang gave no further details of the envoy’s role.

Beijing wants to help develop Eritrea’s Red Sea coastline, he added, without elaborating on that either.

Mr Eric Olander, managing editor of The China Africa Project website and podcast, saw the visit to Eritrea as strategic in China’s rivalry with the United States, which has imposed sanctions on Eritrea for its role in Tigray.

“This is part of a big push to rally countries against the use of sanctions,” he said. “I think they (China) feel they’re gaining momentum against the US.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was aware of reports that China will appoint a special envoy, adding that the United States will work with all partners who share objectives in promoting peace and security in the region.

US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman met Mr Abiy on Thursday, Mr Price told reporters. He said Washington hopes any positive momentum can be quickly realised after the talks.

Mr Feltman will step down from his post this month after more than nine months in the job, and Mr David Satterfield, the outgoing US ambassador to Turkey, will take up the role, Reuters reported on Wednesday.