Hundreds of Chinese, Once Attracted by Belt and Road Deals, Flee Ethiopian Civil War
More than 600 Chinese citizens have been evacuated from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region over the past two weeks after a conflict between separatist militants and Ethiopian federal forces broke out on November 4, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Tuesday.
Ethiopia’s ambassador to China, Teshome Toga Chanaka, said in Beijing on Monday that all of the Chinese citizens evacuated from Tigray are now “safe in Addis Ababa and they could decide for themselves if they wanted to stay in Ethiopia or return to China,” according to the newspaper.
Chinese authorities organized the evacuation of 204 Chinese citizens from western Tigray by car on November 19, “including 187 workers from state-owned China CAMC Engineering, who had been working on the Welkait sugar plant on the front line of the conflict,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency.
Gezhouba Group, one of China’s largest construction and engineering companies, said it had facilitated the evacuation of 402 Chinese workers and engineers from a water project near the Tigrayan capital of Mekele on November 11.
The Chinese embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, said on Sunday it had also assisted people from third-party countries to evacuate the east African nation, according to the SCMP. The embassy did not provide further details.
Speaking to Chinese media outlets on Monday, Teshome insisted that foreign investment in Ethiopia remains a safe endeavor despite the recent military clashes in Tigray.
“Ethiopia is a strategically located country — we are in the Horn of Africa, very close to the Middle East, very close to Europe. And then from here you can reach all corners of Africa,” he said.
“We are [Africa]’s second-largest country in terms of population which provides a huge domestic market … so we believe that we are still competent,” he explained.
One of the fastest-growing economies on the African continent, Ethiopia has attracted billions of dollars of investment from China in recent years through Beijing’s infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative. China is currently Ethiopia’s single largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
“We know that safety and security, peace and stability are key to foreign investors and that’s why we are trying to bring the situation back to normalcy, so that the economic and industrialization process that we have started in Ethiopia could continue without major disruption,” Teshome said on Monday.
The ambassador told the state-run China Global Television Network (CGTN) on Monday that the current military conflict in Tigray is “not a civil war, though many media try to portray the current limited military operation as a civil war.”
Ethiopia’s federal government has defined its military operation in Tigray as an exercise of “law enforcement” in response to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)’s alleged attack on a federal military base on November 4. Teshome “emphasized that this ‘law enforcement’ was carried out in a limited area and will not affect other regions in the country,” according to CGTN.
“The objective of this law enforcement operation was first to bring law and order to the Tigray region,” he explained, adding that constitutional order should be restored in the state.
A second objective of the operation is that those who commanded and directed the alleged attack on the military base “should be brought to account and should be accountable for their actions. A third objective was to bring them to the court of law,” Teshome added.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Sunday said in an official statement that “the second phase of the law enforcement actions we began in the Tigray Region has been completed. We are now in the final and third phases.”
The statement, released via Abiy’s official Twitter account, directly addressed the TPLF:
“We urge you to surrender peacefully within 72 hours, recognizing that you are at the point of no return,” the prime minister said.
As part of the final phase of the military operation in Tigray, Ethiopian federal forces are closing in on the region’s capital, Mekelle, advancing troops and tanks to surround the city and force a surrender. TPLF forces on Monday refused the ultimatum to lay down their arms.