By AGGREY MUTAMBO
Sunday January 12, 2020
Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi. FILE PHOTO | AFP
China has kept Kenya and Djibouti guessing on who it will support for a UN Security Council seat.
Beijing diplomats have pledged support for both but failed to guarantee the vote, sticking to the policy of not taking sides publicly in political duels.
Just days ago, Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi was in Djibouti where he met President Ismail Guelleh.
He promised to advance the Horn of Africa country’s relations to “strategic level”.
According to a statement from Mr Guelleh’s office, Mr Wang promised to maintain a win-win partnership, the traditional mantra of China’s foreign policy.
The statement also suggested that Beijing pledged to back Djibouti’s bid for the top seat.
“China’s readiness to lend its support for efforts to achieve greater visibility...of Djibouti in international agencies is in line with a diplomatic ethics, which is based on the principle of equity between all nations,” Mr Guelleh’s office said.
Mr Wang’s itinerary for his annual Africa trip took him to Djibouti, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Egypt.
In July last year, these countries – except Djibouti – joined 37 others in writing a letter to the UN Human Rights Council, defending China’s controversial encampment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, which rights lobbies say amounts to torture.
Beijing says it is re-educating the Uighurs to counter terrorism. It has been seeking support from across the world to counter the criticism.
On Friday, Mr Wang made an unexpected stopover in Mombasa where he met Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma.
He was expected to ride the SGR to Nairobi where he would meet President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“We discussed our growing bilateral relationship, regional as well as international cooperation,” Dr Juma said.
She had initially said Kenya was making “strong momentum to the vote” and would be campaigning to UN member states.
Mr Wang’s team did not make public information about his trip in Kenya, sticking to the tradition of issuing statements about pre-announced visits.
The abrupt visit also had something to do with clarifying comments made by a junior official sent to Kenya last month, sources told the Sunday Nation.
During that time, President Xi Jinping’s special envoy Wang Yong said China believes Kenya is better placed to voice Africa’s interests at the council.
“We firmly support the reforms of the UN Security Council and believe that Kenya will help increase the voice of African countries at the council,” State House quoted the envoy as saying.
However, Chinese diplomats said there had been a problem with translation.
State House later deleted the statement from its website.
The version published by the Chinese only indicated pledges to strengthen bilateral relations as well as defending common interests in the global sphere.
The special envoy was in the country to attend the launch of the SGR freight service from Nairobi to the Naivasha inland container depot.
On Saturday, sources told the Sunday Nation that the Chinese clarified the comments “because Beijing does not want to appear to be siding with an ally against another”.
“We support reforms at the UN and always want the voice of developing nations to be heard. But we are not choosing between Kenya and Djibouti,” a Chinese official said, asking to remain anonymous.
The Chinese embassy in Nairobi did not respond to our formal inquiry.
However, the Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing Geng Shuang is expected to clarify the country’s position on the issue next week.
Last year, Kenya won the African Union’s endorsement to contest the non-permanent UN Security Council seat.
However, its initial competitor – Djibouti – rescinded the concession and has gone on to launch a parallel campaign directly to UN members.
Djibouti argued that AU’s procedure of endorsing Kenya was flawed.
Kenya and Djibouti are important partners in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious project meant to connect the Far East economic powerhouse to global markets through sea and land routes.
The Chinese are putting up a port in Lamu County, recently built a railway and are now Kenya’s biggest bilateral (country) creditor.
China built its first ever overseas military base in Djibouti, estimated to have cost Sh60 billion.