China feels rising cost of interests in Africa

A deadly attack by rebels on a Chinese-run oil field in Ethiopia that left more than 70 dead is the latest example of the human and political cost of China’s growing energy interests in Africa.

Tuesday’s attack by rebel gunmen on the facility left 65 Ethiopians dead as well as nine workers from China, making it the deadliest in a recent spate of killings and kidnappings aimed at Chinese firms in Africa.

Up to seven Chinese workers were kidnapped in the same dawn assault on the oil field in Ethiopia’s remote eastern Ogaden region that was run by a branch of Sinopec, one of China’s biggest energy firms.

Rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front, who are fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis, claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We urge all international oil companies to refrain from entering into agreements with the Ethiopian government,” the rebels said in a statement.

China’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack and called on the Ethiopian government to ensure the safety of Chinese workers, but observers said such violence was an inevitable part of Beijing’s rising interests in Africa.

“The incident will force Beijing to rethink its involvement and security in Africa,” United States-based global intelligence group Stratfor said in a report issued immediately after Tuesday’s incident.

The attack follows three separate kidnappings involving Chinese workers in Nigeria this year.

Two Chinese were kidnapped in Nigeria’s volatile southern region, the heart of the oil-rich Niger delta, in March and are still missing.

Another nine Chinese oil workers were kidnapped in the same area on January 25 before being freed after 11 days, and five telecom employees were abducted there earlier in the month and later released.

In Kenya, a Chinese engineer working on a road-building project was killed in January.

Beijing has been aggressively courting African countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and Sudan in a drive that critics say has been motivated only by a desire for natural resources and taken no regard for human rights abuses and internal conflicts there.

Denial

China has vehemently rejected such accusations, with top political adviser Jia Qinglin saying as recently as Tuesday, while in Kenya, that his nation was conducting itself in Africa far better than previous Western colonial powers.

Jia said that 20% of Africa’s economic growth could be attributed to trade with China, according to the official Chinese Xinhua news agency.

“Such cooperation is normal business practice on the basis of equality and mutual benefit,” Jia said. “It is totally different from the plunder committed by colonialists in Africa.”

But critics disagree.

US actress and United Nations Children’s Fund goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow said last month that next year’s Olympic Games in Beijing would be known as the “Genocide Olympics” because of China’s support for Sudan’s government.

Her statement was one of the hardest-hitting in a campaign by human rights groups over China’s backing for the government in Khartoum, which is accused of allowing genocide in its western Darfur region.

China is one of Sudan’s most important international allies and buys about 60% of the nation’s oil exports.

Stratfor warned China of a continued backlash as it increases its economic, military and diplomatic interests in Africa.

“This surge in activity ... has begun to strip Beijing of its immunity to accusations of imperialism,” the report said.

“Complaints have arisen that China is growing too ambitious and influential in domestic politics and too greedy in stripping Africa of its natural resources.”—AFP

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