Friday, November 10, 2006

China interested in Western Sahara

On Monday, Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao committed his country to resolving the Western Sahara issue through the United Nations. While this might seem nice (the other major powers haven't done much), there are several worrisome parts in the article.

For one thing, Jiabao was meeting with Driss Jettou, Morocco's prime minister. I think that shows which partner they'll enter the diplomatic process supporting.

The rest of the article makes no reference of Polisario, SADR, or even the Sahrawis. It's as if China hopes to raise its international profile by resolving the crisis, but without giving the Sahrawis a seat the negotiating table. This is reminiscent of previous attempts to sideline SADR and deal with Algeria instead, which are meant to make it seem like an Algerian territorial grab and not an independence struggle.

The rest of the article is devoted to China's increasing economic ties with Morocco. Those might not be anything to worry about--China's throwing cash around everywhere in Africa. On the other hand, France is close to Morocco economically, and you can see what an effective advocates for the Sahrawis it's been.

Overall, I find China's potential entrance into the process worrisome, especially considering China's support for human rights violators elsewhere in Africa. But it might be the kind of impetus older world powers need to realize they are responsible for the continuing tragedy in Tindouf.


  1. One problem with any Chinese interest is that the P5 have their own backyard territories. No one tells China what to do in Tibet, and so no one tells France what to do in North-West Africa and no one tells the US what to do in the Americas.

    China has also never been really interested in the conflict, as shown in its absense from the Security Council's "Group of Friends" for Western Sahara: France, US, Russia, UK (+Spain).

    China also has significant investments in Algeria (telecom and hydrocarbons), so unlikely that they would take a strong pro-Moroccan position on W Sahara.


  2. Chinese interest in Africa is nothing new. There are Chinese maps of the continent dating back at least as far as 1389, a century before Europeans first traveled around the Cape.

    In recent times, however, this interest has increased considerably. In 1999, China's trade with Africa was $2bn in 2004 it was $29.6bn and it is projected to reach $100bn by the end of the decade.

    As you note, the Chinese government haven't exactly been picky about their new bedfellows. Their relationship with China dates back to the struggle for independence. In Sudan their support for the regime in its war with the SPLA/M in the South has continued into its brutal counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur. Elsewhere, they've sidestepped western efforts to deal with corruption in Angola.

    Quite how their position vis-a-vis Western Sahara fits into this I'm not quite sure, but their is considerable interest in the country's phosphate and oil reserves, something Polisario has tried to capitalise on.

    Nice blog by the way. Thanks for stopping by mine. Keep up the good work.

  3. Oops: "Their relationship with China..." should have been "Zimbabwe". Apparently, the only national liberation struggle on the continent to receive Chinese rather than Soviet support.

  4. Thanks for the idea of P5 backyards, Sahara-Watch. Now that you bring it up, the idea makes sense. I'm not sure whether Chinese support for Morocco would be better or worse than French and American support, but I'm glad that we won't have to worry about it for a while.

    Disillusioned kid makes good points. Check out his blog!

  5. sahara a place with very strange behavior if you compare the daily lives of the American continent!