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Eritrea - China Relations

Eritrea has had a close security relationship with China since independence. 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. In early 2005, security cooperation with Yemen began with the signing of a joint security agreement and the creation of a joint ministerial committee.

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 sent 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 assisted the GSE's pursuit of food security. Three female sports coaches trained Eritrea's female athletes.

Chinese assistance to Eritrea includes a process in which a Chinese delegation visits Eritrea and signs an agreement on economic development and commercial cooperation, listing several priority projects that China pledges to support with a specified amount of money. A senior Eritrean official flies to China with what amounts to a giant gift card, travels around China selecting things, and the chosen items are collected in a warehouse.

A Ministry of Commerce official then visits the warehouse and tots up the price of the selected items, deducts that from the amount of money pledged in the bilateral agreement, and arranges the goods to be shipped on a Chinese ship to Eritrea. Once the goods arrive, another delegation or Chinese embassy representatives signs a document testifying that Chinese support for the priority cooperative projects has been successfully concluded.

Regarding assistance for infrastructure like roads, dams, or buildings, Shu said China prefers to utilize Chinese designers, engineers, construction companies, and materials, if the host government permits. China has built a number of showcase facilities in Eritrea, such as vocational schools and hospitals.

China's foreign aid to Eritrea seems designed to win friends (no questions asked) and support Chinese exports, with little regard to its impact on development, good governance, or badly needed economic reform. Totaling perhaps $12m to $17m per year, Chinese assistance is quite successful, as Isaias views China as one of Eritrea's most reliable friends. President Isaias frequently asks him for books on or by Chairman Mao (Isaias did his Political Commissar training in China in the depths of the Cultural Revolution). Isaias does not seem interested in reformist literature, such as works about Deng Xiaoping.





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