China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting Ethiopia this week in a show of his nation’s support for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government amid a yearlong civil war with rebels from the northern Tigray region.
Wang’s visit comes as Abiy faces mounting pressure from Western governments over the conflict that’s caused a humanitarian crisis with thousands of people dead and more than 1 million in need of food aid. The atrocities, blamed on both the government and the rebels, prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to threaten sanctions in September.
Coming to Addis Ababa, the capital, “demonstrates China’s confidence in Ethiopia,” Wang said in remarks tweeted by the Ethiopian foreign ministry following a joint briefing with the Horn of Africa nation’s Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen.
Abiy ordered a military incursion into Tigray last November after accusing forces loyal to the dissident Tigray People’s Liberation Front of raiding an army base to steal weapons. The fighting, with no end in sight, has battered investor confidence in what was one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and triggered a sell-off in the nation’s bonds.
Ethiopia has longstanding relations with the U.S., its significant donor, as well as China, the nation’s biggest bilateral lender. But Wang’s visit brings to the fore a stark contrast of how the powers are responding to Ethiopia’s worst crisis in decades.
The U.S. last month suspended duty-free access to its exports after it said Ethiopia wasn’t in compliance with the eligibility requirements of the African Growth and Opportunity Act because of gross human-rights violations. Ethiopia accused its critics of not calling out the rebels over atrocities, and has expelled some diplomats for allegedly interfering in its affairs.
“China stands against any interference in Ethiopia’s domestic affairs,” Wang said in the tweeted remarks.
Abiy said he’s leading the fight against the rebels from the battlefront, and his administration on Tuesday and Wednesday announced making headway. That comes weeks after the TPLF gained control of key towns, raising fears that they could sever trade routes or even stage a strike against the capital.
“The enemy is on its backfoot following the decision of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to join the battlefronts,” Demeke said in a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page following his meeting with China’s top diplomat.
Wang’s “visit during Ethiopia’s challenging time shows solidarity and reflects the true depth and strength of the political trust and strategic partnership between the two countries,” Demeke said.
(Updates with comments from Ethiopian government throughout)
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