China Invests in Somalia Despite Instability

Posted in Africa | 23-Jul-07 | Author: Adam Wolfe

The Financial Times reported on July 13 that the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (C.N.O.O.C.) has signed a deal with Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf to explore the northern Puntland region for oil. The initial agreement was signed last May, and it was endorsed at the China-Africa summit held in Beijing last November. [See: "Upcoming Summit Highlights Africa's Importance to China"]

A meeting between C.N.O.O.C. and Somali officials was held on June 24 to finalize the deal. The terms indicate that the Somali government would retain 51 percent of the oil revenues under a production-sharing arrangement. Further reporting from the Financial Times, however, revealed that Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi was not aware of the contract, suggesting that the oil deal remains vulnerable to political infighting.

China's willingness to invest in Somalia -- before the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) completes work on a national oil law and as the security situation continues to deteriorate -- shows that Beijing has not been deterred by the growing backlash across Africa at Chinese policies and remains willing to take on political risks that Western firms will not tolerate.

Threats to China in Africa

Chinese investments have come under attack in recent months, and a general wariness about closer ties with Beijing has become part of the political dialogue in most African countries where China does business. Days after the June meeting in Somalia, a Chinese mining executive was kidnapped in Niger. The incident followed the killing of nine Chinese workers in Ethiopia, near the border with Somalia, in April. Chinese workers have also come under attack in Nigeria in recent months.

Politically, Chinese investments have become a touchy subject. Michael Sata's opposition campaign in Zambia received strong backing after he attacked Chinese investments and threatened to renew ties with Taiwan. He ultimately failed in his bid for the presidency, however, after China threatened retaliatory measures if he was elected. Similar complaints have been raised in Nigeria and South Africa.

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