Ambassador David Shinn: Evolution of China-Ethiopia Relations

From This is Africa Online

China-Ethiopia Relations

Ethiopia and China have developed an especially close relationship in the 21st Century. Chinese influence in Ethiopia today is equal to or rivals that of any other country, including the United States. It was not always so.

Trade and investment relations mirror the political ones. Chinese direct investment in Ethiopia barely existed at the beginning of the century; it reached a cumulative $1bn by 2014. In recent years, annual investment flows from China have surpassed any other country.

Ethiopia and China have long imperial histories. Both countries also experienced an end to imperial rule and had left-wing revolutions in the 20th Century. China’s Qing dynasty ended in 1912 with the establishment of the Republic of China followed in 1949 by the toppling of the republican government by the communist forces of Mao Zedong.

Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie did not recognise China until 1970. Four years later, a military junta ended imperial rule, deposed Selassie, and declared Ethiopia a Marxist state before the junta was toppled in 1991 by the current government.

China’s relations with Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia, which had especially close ties to the US, developed cautiously. During the Korean War in the early 1950s, Ethiopia sent troops in support of South Korea and found itself fighting against Chinese forces. China’s support in the early 1960s for the Eritrean Liberation Front, which agitated for independence from Ethiopia, complicated China’s effort to establish relations with Addis Ababa.

Once Ethiopia recognised China, Haile Selassie quickly made a highly publicised visit to China where he praised “Mao’s achievements”. The 1974 left-wing revolution in Ethiopia posed a dilemma for China as it occurred during the Sino-Soviet split. Moscow quickly established a close military alliance with the new revolutionary government in Addis Ababa. Beijing remained in the background and only began to assert itself after the current Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government seized power in 1991.

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