Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and China's President Xi Jinping walk to their bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China September 2, 2018. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS - RC15D72DFEF0

China-Ethiopia @50: Time to Celebrate, Reflect and Look Ahead

By Teshome Toga Chanaka

ADDIS ABEBA – Fifty years ago on November 24, 1970, Ethiopia and China signed an agreement establishing official diplomatic relations between the two countries. And hence 2020 marks the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of Sino-Ethiopia official ties. The symbolic and substantive significance of such a landmark occasion in the history of any two nations’ relations cannot be over emphasized.

Golden Jubilee comes once in 50 years and I take great pride in representing Ethiopia (an ancient civilisation) in the great nation of China on this auspicious occasion. Indeed a rare opportunity. To mark the occasion, several activities are planned to be undertaken in both Beijing and Addis Ababa. The theme of the celebration is dubbed as “China-Ethiopia @50: Ancient Civilisations, New partners, taking into account both the past the current and the future.

The Ethiopian Embassy in Beijing and the Consulates General in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing have taken a lead initiative to organise events to commemorate the occasion in a colorful and meaningful manner, throughout the year, signifying the depth and breadth of the historical friendship and the current level of strategic partnership that so happily exist between the two countries. Such occasions are considered as an opportune moment not only to look back the paths the two countries traversed together but also as a moment to envision to the future as to what the two countries could do in the decades to come. Regrettably many of the events have been negatively affected with the outbreak of COVID19. However, plans to compensate the lost time in extending the commemoration activities till end of first semester of the coming year is well in its full swing. This perfectly fits well with the Ethiopian fiscal year. The first such event was official launched on the eve, with an online dialogue on China – Ethiopia Strategic partnership:

The Ethio-China partnership evolved over the years and reached to the highest level of comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership in 2017, indicating the highest level of bond of link between the two nations. It is fitting to the occasion, therefore, to celebrate the 50th anniversary, to the extent possible, to reflect what Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership entails and to the extent that it is understood by

all actors on both sides, both public and private actors and stakeholders. Many times leaders and diplomats of the two countries referred to it in their bilateral engagements and other forum very fondly and I would say proudly., To what extent have we have fully harnessed and optimized the strong mutual political trust that exist between the two sides in making good use of the potentials, opportunities and capacities of the two countries are endowed with. Therefore, this is an occasion to reflect and to dialogue to take the partnership to the next height. It will also serve as a platform to bring all stakeholders and the peoples of the two countries together so that it creates better understating and build trust. It should accord us the opportunity to synergies to enhance our partnership to be a model of success for Sino-Africa and South-South cooperation.

The official date of the establishment, November 24, 1970, and the evolvement of it after 2000 are the two watershed points of Ethiopia-China relations. After the establishment of the relation, Emperor Haileselassie made his official visit to China merely a year after the formal establishment of the relations. It was symbolic visit. The Emperor was accorded a warm welcome and the Chinese public gave a cheering welcome on the streets of Peking as his motorcade strolled through the city. Chairman Mao Zedong welcomed the Emperor and gave a banquet in honour of the visiting delegation.

The newly established relations faced some challenges when there was change of regime in Ethiopia as a result of the 1974 revolution. The second phase is the relations in the era of the Dergue regime in Ethiopia (1975-1991). This was an era where Ethiopia’s foreign policy was anchored on ideological outlook and mainly guided by socialist thoughts rather than core national interest issues. Ethiopia’s alignment with the then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, whose relationship with China had been in difficulty, also affected Ethiopia’s relations with China. The situation improved when USSR and China resolved their problems in 1980. Consequently, Ethiopia’s relations with China also witnessed a positive trend. The recent period of the relations (1991-2020) is a period where the relations attained multitude of cooperation and partnership. Guided by principles of equality, mutual respect and interest, with no interference in each other’ internal affairs, the two countries now took their bilateral, regional and global cooperation for its highest win-win end. Both also

upheld the principled position of policy independence of nation as they saw it fit to their own realities and conditions.

Ethiopia and China enjoyed fifty years of friendship and partnership. Since the inception of official diplomatic relations in 1970, mutual trust, respect and equality characterized the essence of their relations. It is gratifying to note that the partnership steadily moved to one of the highest level of partnership: A Comprehensive Strategic and Cooperative Partnership. What does that mean in essence? This article would analyze the trends in the past fifty years and project the partnership in the years to come.

Today China – Ethiopia relations is a mutually rewarding one. Since 2000, Ethiopia pursued and prioritized economic diplomacy as the mainstay of its diplomacy, for good reasons. It designed an ambitious social and economic policy and strategy and also forged friendly relations with overwhelming majority of nations. Therefore, it was appropriate to focus on resource mobilization to the domestic priorities. That was the rationale behind the thematizing of economic diplomacy as the ‘Alfa and Omega’ of its foreign service. New institutional arrangements and legal measures and design of strategy were done to create awareness among diplomats both at home and abroad. Trainings and other supportive actions were taken and coordination among other institutions both at federal and regional level commenced.

This happily coincided with the formation of the forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 1999. China over the two decades became the leading source of foreign direct investment and major trading partner not only for Ethiopia but also the continent of Africa. Chinese companies and enterprises undertook major infrastructure projects in Ethiopia and cooperation in financing development projects including including mega infrastructure projects increased over the years.

Some estimates indicate that Chinese investments in Ethiopia have now reached about 1.2 billion USD, close with 1590 projects, putting China well ahead of other countries. By design the investments are in our priority areas. However, given the immense potential here in China and Ethiopia’s desire to attract more FDI, more work is needed to be

done. In order to attract more FDI, we need to undertake concerted efforts and establish well functioning coordination mechanism. I am of the view that there is a need to reinvigorate the bilateral Economic Cooperation council that has been in work for years and now seemingly to be inactive. The current level of economic cooperation between China and Ethiopia, I am convinced, deserves one. Scattered and isolated efforts will not help achieve the results the country wishes to attain. Not only that, but such a forum will also help us address issues of concern including at policy and technical level.

No efforts can be fruitful than handling investors who are on the ground with care. Making them comfortable and constructive messages and word of mouth from those in operation would be very powerful source of encouragement and attraction to those new aspirants to invest in Ethiopia. Coordination will also assist in addressing grievances that are likely to be raised by those who are already on the ground.

This year, with the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic humanity has faced immense challenges. The pandemic also opened new avenues for global solidarity to flourish more importantly today than ever. China has commendably accomplished its national effort of combating Covid-19 and it is now at the forefront in the global fight against the pandemic. By the same token, the multifaceted cooperation between China and Ethiopia has shown momentum during the pandemic and opened more windows for public health cooperation between the two. All the exchange of messages of solidarity between the leaders of the two countries during the outbreak, the help of Chinese medical experts in Ethiopia, donations from the Chinese government, foundations and businesses have demonstrated the depth and breadth of the partnership between Ethiopia and China.

China and Ethiopia’s relation goes far beyond and above bilateral engagements. Both are active players in global peace and security, with focus on peace and stability in Horn of Africa. Their determination to collectively spearhead global issues like climate change, UN reform, SDGs and fight against terrorism requires maintenance of close, regular and institutional political consultations. Both nations have been enjoying people to people, B2B, G2G and also party to party cooperation and dialogue that have to be strengthened and enhanced in the decades to come.

The Embassy’s enthusiasm to celebrate the Golden Jubilee is therefore aimed at not sustaining this multifaceted strategic partnership but to make it as comprehensive, as strategic as mutually beneficiary as humanly possible to satisfy the desires of the two peoples and governments of PRC and FDRE. The event will be celebrated under the motto: China-Ethiopia @50: Ancient Civilizations, New partners.

Long Live China -Ethiopia Friendship and partnership.

The author, Teshome Toga Chanaka*, is ambassador of Ethiopia to China. 

Featured Image: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and China’s President Xi Jinping walk to their bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China September 2, 2018. [Photo: Andy Wong/Pool]