A Chinese government delegation visited Hargeisa last week and engaged in confidential discussions with Somaliland government officials. The composition of the Chinese delegation and the content of the discussion with the government of Somaliland has not been disclosed.
The Republic of Somaliland and the People’s Republic of China clashed from the outset when, on September 9, 2020, Taiwan and Somaliland formed bilateral ties, staunchly rejecting Chinese attempts to alter their decision concerning Taiwan.
The circumstances surrounding the latest contact between China and Somaliland, the nature of their talks, and whether Somaliland has reconsidered its alliance with Taiwan remain unclear. Interestingly, this meeting followed the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Essa Kayd’s recent visit to the United States, where he engaged with various U.S. government officials from State, Defense, and other departments. It is uncertain if the Chinese delegation’s visit and Minister Kayd’s U.S. trip are related.
Although Somaliland’s decision to form bilateral ties with Taiwan was lauded by US government including the White House Security Council and members at the time, Department of State’s and particularly the Bureau of African Affairs’ attitude towards Somaliland remained lukewarm at best. Multiple visit by the United States Africa Command to Somaliland and particularly Berbera have raised the specter of US base and military presence in Somaliland.
It is unknown if the President of the Republic of Somaliland, Muse Bihi Abdi met with the Chinese delegation in Hargeisa, and the potential rapprochement between China and Somaliland raises questions about the future of Somaliland’s ties with Taiwan. What is evident, however, is that if China succeeds in swaying Somaliland away from its West-ward alignment, it will mark a significant diplomatic victory, strengthening China’s position in the Red Sea and ensures success of its Belt and Road Initiative and potentially impacting the U.S.’s aspirations for a military base in Berbera.
In a significant foreign policy address in November 2021, Mr. Abdirahman Mohamed Abdillahi “Cirro,” the Chairman of Waddani, Somaliland’s main opposition party and Presidential candidate, voiced strong criticism of President Bihi’s government. The focal point of Cirro’s critique was the government’s decision to align with Taiwan instead of China. He advocated for a reassessment of diplomatic ties, emphasizing the need for a more positive relationship with the People’s Republic of China.
Despite inquiries, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the President’s office, Taiwan’s Representative Office in Somaliland, and China’s Embassy in Somalia have not responded to questions about the Chinese delegation’s visit to Hargeisa, the nature of the talks, and whether Somaliland intends to maintain bilateral ties with both China and Taiwan. The lack of clarity surrounding these developments underscores their sensitivity and strategic importance.