Finally, the Chinese government sent its senior diplomat to Addis Abeba with a large entourage of aides. Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Yi, was here last week on a three-day official visit, during a period when his country's relations with Ethiopia reached a delicate point, gossip observed.
Yi is not new to dropping by in Addis Abeba; he was here a year and a half ago meeting former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. The environment then was completely different from what he might have experienced last week, gossip noted.
During Hailemariam's tenure, the China-Ethiopia relationship was perhaps at the height of its stature where Chinese authorities accepted Ethiopia as their partner for "comprehensive strategic cooperation," a rare privilege they grant to countries in Africa and beyond. They believed Ethiopia exemplified China's relations with Africa that is based on cooperation in a production capacity.
China's involvement in Ethiopia has deepened dramatically in areas of trade, investment and infrastructure financing since the early 1990s when foreign direct investment was less than 200,000 dollars. Compare this to today when China occupies a quarter of four billion dollars in FDI and a wobbling 13 billion dollars in concessional loans two years ago. Ethiopia sold China 240 million dollars worth of goods in 2016, while it imported 3.8 billion dollars worth of mostly manufactured items.
Such demonstrations of capability persuaded its leaders to select Ethiopia as a country of priority to pursue joint projects under the "Belt & Road" initiative, China's refreshed foreign policy footprint, with an outlay of 900 billion dollars, according to gossip.
Hailemariam was one of only two African leaders invited to address the annual Belt & Road Forum in Beijing in 2017, a year after China surprised the world that it would provide 60 billion dollars in loans and grants to African countries in 10 years. Judging by its record, no one was prepared to call its pledge a bluff, gossip observed. But a little over 60pc of Africans surveyed a couple of years ago said they view China's place in their continent positively.
Among the countries that are threatened by China's rising popularity in Africa and leverage on its many governments was the United States. American officials often describe China's largesse in Africa as "debt-trap diplomacy." They see China's approach to Africa as "opaque," "predatory," and "corrupt," as well as encouraging dependency which "undercuts" their sovereignty. In contrast, senior American diplomats characterise their country's intention in Africa as building capacity, strengthening the rule of law and bolstering institutions.
With such a backdrop, Yi comes to Ethiopia now where there is an administration that is openly more pro-American than its predecessors, who were grounded in diplomatic realism, claims gossip. The foreign and national security policy authored in the early 2000s by the late Meles Zenawi acknowledged the unipolarity of global power at the time but rightly projected the bipolar evolution in due course, gossip recalled.
The old inward looking policy is now under review by a working group comprising senior diplomats and academics in security and foreign policy studies, disclosed gossip. Chaired by Foreign Affairs Minister Worqneh Gebeyehu (PhD), the group comprising eight has begun its work by re-examining the underlying assumptions of Ethiopia's relations with countries near and afar, disclosed gossip. It is evident that the revised policy will dwell on issues of balance on the proxy trade and economic confrontation the US and China appear to be entering into the African battleground, claims gossip.
How much of an invitation extended by Yi for Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to attend the next Belt & Road Forum in Beijing, as well as China's response to the Prime Minister's request for debt-rescheduling will factor into shaping the foreign affairs policy under review is yet to be seen, says gossip.