Somaliland strikes deal with China amid pressure over cooperation with Taiwan
HARGEISA, Somalia - Somaliland reached a deal with China which among other things, would significantly improve trade between Beijing and Hargeisa, amid looming diplomatic fallout over Taiwan's interests in the northern breakaway region of Somalia, which is fighting for international recognition.
A high level of activities between Somaliland and Taiwan, which is popularly known as the Republic of China, had raised concerns from China and Somalia, leading to heightened activities in Hargeisa. Somaliland had signed a deal with Taiwan and even dispatched representatives to their respective countries for diplomatic purposes.
But on Friday, China which claims Taiwan dispatched a delegation to Hargeisa on Friday which held a meeting with President Muse Bihi Abdi. The high-level delegation was led by Zhou Yuxiao, China's ambassador to China-Africa Cooperation [FOCAC].
Mohamed Ali Bile, the Director-General of the Minister of Presidency, said President Bihi and the delegation from China agreed to improve ties between China and Somaliland. Strengthening the economy, trade and development was the main agenda during the meeting, he added.
"Somaliland and China reached an understanding to improve ties between the two countries, especially on Economy, trade, and development," he said. "President Muse Bihi and the delegation from Forum on China-Africa Cooperation also agreed to strengthen mutual respect to each other."
Before the meeting, there were reports that Bihi had given Chinese ambassador to Somalia Qin Jian marching orders after he differed with him over the cooperation between Somaliland and Taiwan. The Chinese envoy, sources said, insisted that Taiwan is part of China before he held a meeting with Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Liban Osman.
At the meeting, reports indicate, President Bihi and the delegation from Forum on China-Africa Cooperation also agreed to strengthen mutual respect for each other. It was not immediately clear how China settled the growing influence of Taiwan in Somaliland, which is the epicenter of the dispute.
On Thursday last week, Qin's delegation to Presidential Palace in Somaliland offered development deals including rehabilitation of the main airport and several roads besides setting a consulate in Hargeisa on condition that Bihi cuts ties with Taiwan. However, Bihi had insisted that Hargeisa's cooperation with Taipei was inevitable.
The Chinese ambassador to Somalia, Qin Jian, has been in Hargeisa since August 1, where he met with senior officials at the Somaliland foreign affairs ministry. On July 1, Taiwan and Somaliland have signed an agreement to set up representative offices in each other’s territory, the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs [MOFA] announced Wednesday.
The agreement was signed in February, and will help foster Taiwan’s cooperation with African countries and expand Taiwan’s presence in East Africa, said Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. He stressed that the offices were official in nature, despite falling short of mutual diplomatic recognition.
Despite disgruntlement from China and Somalia, the US has since hailed the cooperation between Somaliland and Taiwan, arguing that the East Asia nation which is also struggling with international recognition, would boost the education system in Somaliland, which is also keen to be recognized.
China and the US are scrambling for the Horn of Africa as a strategic entry to Africa for trade and military cooperation. Both countries have military bases in Djibouti but there are claims that the US ready to shift her base to Somaliland, a move that could perhaps mark the first step towards Somaliland's recognition quest.