China–Ethiopia relations

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People's Republic of China-Ethiopia relations
Map indicating locations of Ethiopia and People's Republic of China



People's Republic of China–Ethiopia relations were established in 1970. Ethiopia has an embassy in Beijing[1] and the People's Republic of China has an embassy in Addis Ababa.[2] By 2009, direct Chinese investment in Ethiopia had reached US$900 million and bilateral trade had grown to $1.3 billion.[3]


It is not precisely known when China and Ethiopia first made direct contact. The sinologist A. Hermann believed that a live rhinoceros that arrived at the court of the Chinese Emperor Ping from the country of the "Agazi" or "Agazin" between AD 1 and 6 came from the Horn of Africa; however other sinologists locate that country far closer to China, perhaps in Malaysia, India or Indonesia. Ethiopian expert Richard Pankhurst is certain that by the Tang dynasty (618–907) "the Chinese were acquainted with at least part of the Horn of Africa and were trading indirectly if not directly with the Somali coast." From that period onwards, China traded with not only Ethiopia and the Horn, but with the peoples of the Eastern African coast, obtaining elephants' tusks, rhinoceros horns, pearls, the musk of the civet cat, ambergis, and slaves. Starting in the Yuan dynasty the Chinese began to increasingly trade directly with Africans, which is attested not only in contemporary documents, but from archeological finds of Chinese coins and porcelain.[4]

Despite this early commercial contact, neither side showed much interest in diplomatic activity with one another until the twentieth century. China was one of only five governments which refused to recognize Italy's conquest of Ethiopia.[5] Relations were poor during the Haile Selassie era, when Ethiopia was allied with the western powers in the Cold War. Chinese support for the Eritrean People's Liberation Front contributed to tension between the countries from 1967. However, the two countries established diplomatic relations on 1 December 1970 when China agreed to recognize Eritrea as Ethiopian, in exchange for Haile Selassie's recognition of Taiwan as Chinese. Relations improved for a short period after the Ethiopian revolution of 1974, but became strained as the Ethiopian military junta developed increasingly close ties with the Soviet Union. After the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front took power in 1991, relations have steadily improved, with increasing diplomatic contacts and growing trade and Chinese investment in the Ethiopian economy.[6]

Official contacts and treaties[edit]

Ethiopian Embassy in Beijing

Chinese premier Zhou Enlai visited Ethiopia in January 1964.[6] The Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie visited Beijing in October 1971, where he was received by Mao Zedong.[7] Qian Qichen, China's vice-premier and minister of foreign affairs, visited Ethiopia in July 1989, January 1991 and January 1994. Chinese president Jiang Zemin visited in May 1996.[8]

In June 2001 the Ethiopian deputy foreign minister visited Beijing, where he expressed support for the "One China" principle in the dispute with Taiwan.[9] In December 2003, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visited Ethiopia to attend the opening of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum. In December 2004, the heads of the Ethiopian and Chinese legislatures met in Beijing and in a joint statement said that the two counties wish to expand all aspects of cooperation.[10] In May 2007, China's Assistant Minister of Commerce Wang Chao visited Addis Ababa and signed a debt relief agreement worth US$18.5 million.[11] In February 2008, the Chinese minister of construction met his counterpart in Addis Ababa, and reemphasized the commitment of the two governments to cooperation. The Ethiopian minister welcomed the involvement of Chinese construction companies in improving Ethiopian infrastructure.[12] In November 2008 the chairman of the standing committee of China's National People's Congress visited Ethiopia where he met senior Ethiopian officials and political leaders including President Girma Wolde-Giorgis and discussed ways to strengthen economic cooperation.[13][14]

Agreements between the two countries include Agreement for Economic and Technological Cooperation (1971, 1988 and 2002); Trade Agreement (1971, 1976); Trade Protocol (1984,1986,1988); Agreement for Trade, Economic and Technological Cooperation (1996) and Agreement for Mutual Promotion and Protection of Investment (1988).[8] In May 2009 the two countries signed an agreement to eliminate double taxation, expected to boost trade and investment.[15]

Economic relations[edit]

The economic relationship is one-sided, with China providing large amounts of foreign aid (often tied to infrastructure projects undertaken by Chinese firms), growing Chinese investment in the Ethiopian economy and with imports of cheap consumer goods from China greatly exceeding exports from Ethiopia to China. The Chinese appear to be interested in Ethiopia primarily as a source of materials, potentially including oil and food, and as a market for Chinese exports that will expand as Ethiopia's rapid economic growth continues. For Ethiopia, Chinese involvement is stimulating economic growth and helping promote exports to other countries. China's "business is business" approach is welcome by comparison to western aid providers who often link their contributions to changes in the Ethiopian legal and political structure.[6][16]

Direct aid[edit]

Chinese aid to Ethiopia has included dispatch of medical teams and teachers, and educational scholarships for Ethiopian students in studying in China.[8][17] In December 2008, China's vice minister of education stated that China would soon open a vocational school in Ethiopia, with plans to enroll 3,000 students learning skills including engineering, automobile, architecture and construction.[18] In June 2009, the Chinese ambassador assisted in laying the foundation stone for the Tirunesh Dibaba Beijing Hospital, planned as a modern hospital 6000 square meters in size with 100 beds.[19] The Chinese government is funding construction and will provide medical instruments and equipment.[20] The hospital is named after Ethiopian runner Tirunesh Dibaba, who won two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.[21]

Infrastructure Loans[edit]

China has also provided large concessional loans (loans with a grant element of over 25%) to Ethiopia, although these are often tied to construction projects to be undertaken by Chinese state-owned or state-controlled enterprises such as the Addis Ababa ring road opened in 2003.[22][23]

In 2002, the Sino Hydro Corporation started work on the estimated US$224 million Tekeze hydroelectric project with a 607-foot dam on the Tekezé River due for completion in 2007.[24] After delays due in part to problems with massive landslides, the project was completed for a final cost of US$365 million in July 2009 and should deliver 300 megawatts of power.[25][26] In July 2009, Ethiopia signed further agreements with China for the Sino Hydro Corporation to build 2,150 megawatts of hydro-electric capacity with the Gibe IV (Omo River) and Halele Werabesa dams, in a deal worth US$2.67 billion. China will cover 85% of the project costs through preferential buyer's credit and concessionary loans.[27][28] The environmentalist Richard Leakey has expressed concerns about the possible impact of the Omo river dams on Lake Turkana.[29]

Investment and trade[edit]

By 2009, direct Chinese investment in Ethiopia had reached US$900 million.[3]

Exports from Ethiopia to China have grown from negligible levels before 2000 to around US$130 million in 2006, primarily in raw materials such as partially finished leather. Meanwhile, exports from China to Ethiopia have grown from under US$50 million in 1996 to US$430 million in 2006, including low-priced clothing, machinery and electronics equipment.[6] The Ethiopian government has encouraged imports, purchasing Chinese equipment and supplying it to local construction and manufacturing firms on a lease-to-buy basis.[30] Trade continues to grow rapidly. By 2009 bilateral trade had grown to $1.3 billion, with Ethiopian exports encouraged through special quota and tariff arrangements on many goods.[3] In a paper prepared for the OECD, economist Tegegne Gebre Egziabher of Addis Ababa University notes that in the short term, cheap Chinese imports may have damaged local producers. However, the longer term benefit may be to stimulate improvements in efficiency and quality. Chinese investment in local infrastructure may assist towards this outcome.[31]

Abole incident[edit]

Main article: Abole oil field raid

In April 2007 fighters from the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a group of ethnic Somalis seeking independence from Ethiopia attacked workers at an exploratory oilfield in Abole, a small town about 120 km south of Jijiga in eastern Ethiopia. They killed about 65 Ethiopian and nine Chinese workers, and kidnapped another seven Chinese.[32] The oilfield is run by a subsidiary of the government-owned China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec). A Sinopec spokesperson said that the incident would not discourage the firm from further exploration.[33] The Chinese Foreign Ministry avoided discussing the attackers' motives beyond stating that they were attempting to sabotage China's relationship with Ethiopia.[34] A Chinese team was dispatched to investigate what had happened and look into ways of improving safety in the future.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Embassy of Ethiopia in P.R.China". Embassy of Ethiopia in P.R.China. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  2. ^ "Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Ethiopia". People's Republic of China. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  3. ^ a b c "China’s direct investment to Ethiopia reachs (sic) $900mln". July 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  4. ^ Pankhurst discusses this in much more extensive detail in his book, An Introduction to the Economic History of Ethiopia (London: Lalibela House, 1961), "Chapter 30: Chinese Trade"
  5. ^ Haile Selassie I, My Life and Ethiopia's Progress, Haile Sellassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia: Addis Abeba, 1966 E.C. translated by Ezekiel Gebissa, et. alia, (Chicago: Frontline Books, 1999), vol. 2 pp. 22f
  6. ^ a b c d "Ethiopia and China Political and Economic Relations: Challenges and prospects after 1991". Gedion Gamora. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  7. ^ "Haile Selassie of Ethiopia Dies at 83". New York Times. August 28, 1975. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  8. ^ a b c "Ethiopia". China Internet Information Center. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  9. ^ "Ethiopia-China Ties to Be Further Strengthened: Ethiopian Deputy FM". People's Daily Online. June 11, 2001. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  10. ^ "China, Ethiopia vow to expand all-round partnership". People's Daily Online. December 22, 2004. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  11. ^ "Ethiopia, China sign debt relief agreement". Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People's Republic of China. 2007-05-30. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  12. ^ "Ethiopia, China to broaden areas of cooperation". China daily. 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  13. ^ "Top legislator: China attaches great importance to ties with Ethiopia". China View. 2008-11-10. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  14. ^ "China's ties with Ethiopia on a higher level: China's top legislator". The Africa Monitor. November 11, 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  15. ^ "Ethiopia, China sign accord to abolish double taxation". The Reporter. 23 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-28. [dead link]
  16. ^ "Chinese Investment in Ethiopia: Developmental Opportunity or Deepening China’s New Mercantilism?". Dominican University of California. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  17. ^ Austin Strange, Bradley C. Parks, Michael J. Tierney, Andreas Fuchs, Axel Dreher, and Vijaya Ramachandran. 2013. China’s Development Finance to Africa: A Media-Based Approach to Data Collection. CGD Working Paper 323. Washington DC: Center for Global Development.
  18. ^ "China to open vocational school in Ethiopia". Ethiopian Review. December 24, 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-28. [dead link]
  19. ^ Austin Strange, Bradley C. Parks, Michael J. Tierney, Andreas Fuchs, Axel Dreher, and Vijaya Ramachandran. 2013. China’s Development Finance to Africa: A Media-Based Approach to Data Collection. CGD Working Paper 323. Washington DC: Center for Global Development.
  20. ^ "Speech by H.E. Ambassador Gu Xiaojie at the Ceremony of Laying the Foundation Stone for Tirunesh Dibaba Beijing Hosipital". Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Ethiopia. June 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  21. ^ "China to honour Olympian Dibaba with hospital". Walta Information Center. June 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  22. ^ "China to support Ethiopia with $400m". Africa News Mobile. 13 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  23. ^ "Ring road in Addis Ababa constructed by Chinese company inaugurated". Xinhua News Agency. 2003-04-06. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  24. ^ "Hydroelectric dams in Africa". Water Institute of Southern Africa. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  25. ^ "Ethiopia Completes Construction of Africa's Tallest Dam". Tradefair Group. 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  26. ^ "Tekeze Dam, Ethiopia". International Rivers. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  27. ^ "CORRECTED - China, Ethiopia sign 1.9 bln euro hydro power deal". Reuters. Jul 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  28. ^ Austin Strange, Bradley C. Parks, Michael J. Tierney, Andreas Fuchs, Axel Dreher, and Vijaya Ramachandran. 2013. China’s Development Finance to Africa: A Media-Based Approach to Data Collection. CGD Working Paper 323. Washington DC: Center for Global Development.
  29. ^ "The dam that divides Ethiopians". BBC News. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  30. ^ "Ethiopia helps import 2000 trucks from China". Africa News. 11 January 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  31. ^ "The Developmental Impact of China and India on Ethiopia with Emphasis on Small Scale Footwear Producers.". Development Policy Research Unit. 20 October 2006. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  32. ^ "Ethiopia launches rescue mission". BBC News. 25 April 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  33. ^ Cody, Edward (April 26, 2007). "Ethiopia attacks reveal price of China's expands role". The Seattle Times Company. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  34. ^ "Chinese workers in Ethiopia paying for Beijing’s Africa policy". AsiaNews C.F. 2007-04-26. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  35. ^ "China evaluates safety after Ethiopia killings". China daily. 2007-04-26. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 

External links[edit]

  • Chris Alden, International African Institute, Royal African Society (2007). China in Africa. Zed Books. ISBN 1-84277-864-1.