Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in state visit to China

Saturday May 20 2023
 Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki and Chinese Premier Li Qiang

Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki (L) shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Qiang prior to their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 15, 2023. PHOTO | FLORENCE LO | POOL VIA AFP


Eritrea has got a new boost in search for global allies after its leader Isaias Afwerki made a state visit to Beijing this week.

President Afwerki, often shunned in the West this week met with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. He also toured Chengdu in Sichuan Province where he held “fruitful discussions” on investments in infrastructure, agriculture and tourism.

But Eritrea’s continued support for Beijing on the global stage, earned Asmara a vote of confidence from the Chinese. State-run news agency Xinhua said President Xi views Eritrea “from a strategic and long-term perspective and is a reliable friend of Eritrea.”

President Xi said China will enhance its bilateral co-operation in infrastructure, telecommunications, agriculture, mining and fisheries among others as well as investment. “Consultative mechanism will be established to expedite implementation of all-rounded cooperation, said a dispatch from Eritrea on Wednesday.

Asmara had been mostly left out as China spread wings into Africa with the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious programme of linking countries to China via ports, airports, railroads, trade and highways.

Yet, Eritrea is one of the few in the world that have routinely opposed any world condemnation of China’s policy in Xinjiang, on Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet; the four main issues touching on governance and human rights that the West has often rallied support to criticise China on.


Read: Eritrea's Afwerki visits Kenya

Both Eritrea and China currently sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a semi-inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

“China appreciates Eritrea’s long-standing adherence to an independent foreign policy,” President Xi told his guest this week.

He pledged support for Eritrea in exploring a development path suited to its national conditions. He said China will support Eritrea in safeguarding its sovereignty, security and development interests, and opposes external interference in Eritrea’s internal affairs and the imposition of unilateral sanctions.

“China is ready to work with Eritrea to advance mutually beneficial cooperation and achieve common development through various frameworks and platforms, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the Outlook on Peace and Development in the Horn of Africa,” Xi said.

Read: Eritrea troops leave historic Tigray city

China in 2022 named the first ever Horn of Africa Special Envoy, picking Mr Xue Bing to drive what has become known as the Chinese ‘outlook’ for the Horn of Africa. And according to Beijing, the region can resolve own problems without external interference, but proposes support for development of linking infrastructure as a way of improving environment for stability.

A dispatch from Asmara said Afwerki is looking for a world order where justice and mutual respect prevails. His country’s key officials including the military are under US sanctions following the war in Tigray in which Eritrea was accused of atrocities. Afwerki denies the accusations.

But the Eritrean leader has lately been mending fences with neighbours including reopening relations with Ethiopia, enhancing ties with Somalia and resuming talking terms with Djibouti, and eliminating visas with Kenya. He has also indicated he will return to the regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) years after a self-imposed exclusion, claiming the bloc worked for Ethiopia.