President Silanyo’s visit to Beijing is a significant one, ripe as it is with opportunities. The Chinese are past masters at courting and flattering African leaders and no doubt the President and his extensive entourage will be seduced by the elaborate protocol, lavish hospitality and signs of economic progress. It is right and proper that he is engaging with one of the world’s emerging superpowers, but he must be prepared to demonstrate his diplomatic skill in ensuring that he does not sell Somaliland down the river for the sake of short term economic gain.
Negotiating with the Chinese is notoriously difficult and many fear that Silanyo and his team lack the experience and stamina to ensure that discussions do not end up being one sided. There are a range of issues that the President should raise, but our intelligence suggests that he will not. Any country that seeks to espouse true democratic credentials cannot afford to gloss over the following issues that damage China’s reputation:
• The systematic persecution of Muslim Uighars
• China’s continued occupation of Tibet
• The persecution of the Falung Gong
• Constant censorship and blocking of foreign news outlets and websites
• The denial of democratic freedoms
So what issues will the President raise? To date China has done next to nothing to help alleviate the suffering throughout the Horn of Africa and if China is a true friend of Africa it should be prevailed to do far more. The President has a duty to ensure that he and his colleagues as servants of Somaliland ensurs that they make further requests of their Oriental friend. He should at least request that:
• China with its permanent seat on the UN Security Council is requested to take the lead in breaking the deadlock with regard to the anarchy in Somaliland’s southern neighbour.
• His Beijing hosts use their considerable influence in the Horn of Africa and the African Union to encourage Ethiopia to moderate its behaviour in the region.
• China gives assurances that it will not allow any of its fishing fleet to be part of the systematic plundering of the fish stocks off the coast of Somaliland and its southern neighbour.
• China will use its ‘good offices’ to help mitigate the causes of maritime piracy off the Horn and play a constructive role in seeking to find a co-ordinated solution.
Naturally, the President has every right to seek China’s support in the quest for international recognition. China for its part will be eager to seek access to Somaliland’s extensive mineral reserves. Whilst trade and possible investment are generally a good thing, it is vital that the birthright of future Somalilanders is not sold for a handful of silver or its dollar or yuan equivalent. Chinese investment and expertise is always welcome, but this must be in a spirit of genuine partnership. Sadly, elsewhere in Africa infrastructure projects have rarely benefitted local people as China has shipped over all its own labourers. Issues such as Corporate Governance and environmental safeguards are invariably overlooked or ignored.
If China and Somaliland are to become true friends there is a need for candour in their relationship. China may be a global power, but that does not mean that Somaliland should just kowtow to China’s wishes and demands. Somaliland may be a small nation, but it is a nation that seeks to adhere to values of mutual respect. It is a nation that knows only too well what it feels like to be oppressed. Somaliland is happy to engage with different countries in a constructive spirit, one informed by the core tenets of Islam. In extending a hand of friendship, people seek to meet half way and it is earnestly hoped that President Silanyo will negotiate in a robust and purposeful manner, and if necessarily occasionally say; “Thank you, but no thank you.”.
Mark T Jones