Along with the military headache the diplomatic relations between Somaliland and Taiwan could deal a huge blow to China’s belt and road project.
By Redsea Politik
Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaushieh Joseph Wu announced in a press conference on the 1st of July that agreements has been reached with the Republic of Somaliland on the mutual establishment of Representative Offices based on bilateral friendship and a shared commitment to common values of freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law. The offices will be named the Taiwan Representative Office and Somaliland Representative Office, respectively. In the spirit of mutual assistance and for mutual benefit, Somaliland and Taiwan will engage in cooperation in areas such as fisheries, agriculture, energy, mining, public health, education and ICT.
This news was met with hostility in both Beijing and Mogadishu as both sides released press statements reaffirming their respect for the ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’ of both states although reports have come through that the Chinese ambassador in Mogadishu offered to open a consulate office in Hargeisa in return for closing the Taiwanese representative office which was rebuffed by Somaliland. The move was applauded in a tweet from the White House National Security Council, a body chaired by President Trump which includes top cabinet officials like Sec of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Sec Mark Epser and Head of Homeland Security Chad Wolf.
China, Russia and the United States
Somaliland is strategically located at the opening of one of the busiest global chokepoints, the Bab El Mandab straits connecting East and West and borders Ethiopia, a landlocked nation of over 100 million people.
China’s only overseas military base is in neighboring Djibouti. Whispers are going around Somaliland could potentially host Taiwanese destroyers and submarines for anti-piracy patrols. With a 13500ft newly renovated military grade runway in Berbera and ground troops at the border only a few miles from China’s naval assets, in the event Taiwanese maritime traffic is interfered with China could be neutralized in the Gulf of Aden fast. This poses a threat to China’s string of pearls military strategy.
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Along with the military headache the ties between Somaliland and Taiwan could deal a huge blow to China’s belt and road project. Investment in Somaliland’s Berbera corridor could potentially reduce the influence of Beijing and re-engage Taiwan in Africa’s second most populous country Ethiopia which uses Somaliland as a gateway to the sea. Ethiopia has recently completed the largest dam project in Africa and is on the cusp of industrialization. It’s central to the African side of the belt and road project.
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Somaliland has a large mineral belt running across the breath of its territory and significant untapped oil and gas potential. Investment in these sectors by Taiwanese firms could be very lucrative and put Somaliland in a position where it could significantly invest in its corridor opening up further opportunities for Taiwanese businessmen. Chinese pipeline plans for Ethiopian oil and gas through Djibouti could be hampered if cheaper alternatives are found in Somaliland which is closer to the hydrocarbon rich regions and has the potential for its own oil and gas industries unlike in Djibouti. Somaliland’s free market democracy will make its free-zone located next to DP World run Berbera port that’s scheduled to have its first phase of expansion completed in 2020 a preferred business destination to the Chinese equivalent in Djibouti. This would be a setback to China’s policy of isolating Taiwan.
The United States also has a vested interest in Somaliland as a potential relocation base for its AFRICOM operations. Pentagon officials have reported US pilots have been blinded by Chinese laser technology. The State department lodged a formal protest to Beijing. The US isn’t the only great power looking for real estate in the Gulf of Aden. According to a New York Times article Pentagon officials are alert as Russia is also looking to acquire a permanent military base in the region. Russian military officers have visited Somaliland on a number of occasions in the last few years and as of late have developed a more forward policy in Syria and Libya trying to establish bases in both countries. UK Sec of Defense Gavin Williamson traveled to Somaliland at around the time these reports came out however, little information has been revealed about what the meeting with the President was about.
Somaliland case for recognition
Somaliland gained independence from the UK on the 26th of June 1960 and became the 12th independent African nation. Following the independence of Somalia the two sides looked to unite to create a stronger country that could liberate ethnic Somali territory in Djibouti which was a French colony at the time, Ethiopia and the NFD which is part of northern Kenya and was under the British at the time.
The Union was destine to fail from the beginning as Somaliland and Somalia passed two different Treaties of Union from their respective parliaments. Somalia was under internal pressure not to pass any union law that would effect the tribal balance that had been established in its territory. This would mean Somaliland would have no real share in the governance of the newly established state which would be hard to convince Somaliland to agree too.
In an unprecedented turn of events Somalia without any consideration of Somaliland or the rule of law unilaterally passed into law the first constitution of the “Somali Republic” in January 1961. This was boycotted by members of Somaliland’s parliament that were based in Mogadishu to iron out a deal between the two sides. In that constitution Somalia unilaterally included an act of union which stated the two countries would be one unitary state and Mogadishu would be the capital. What was even more baffling was it was retrospectively passed to go into effect on July 1st 1960 the day of Somalia’s independence. It was then christened with a referendum that was widely boycotted in Somaliland and returned a no vote. In Somalia almost 2 million people voted yes, this was more than the entire population of Somalia, a country which is at about 8.5 million in 2020 excluding the population of Somaliland.
In 1964 the OAU passed the Cairo declaration declaring all border gained upon independence should be respected. This was a huge blow to the goal of Somali irredentism. Two failed wars with Ethiopia and minor conflicts with Kenya along with the decision of Djibouti to be stay as an independent country buried the dream of greater Somalia.
Now that the focus of the nation wasn’t turned towards war, the Somali Republic began to unravel. People all over the country were calling for the end of the Siyad Barre dictatorship which was met with brutal force the worst of which was inflicted on the people of Somaliland.
Instead of dealing with legitimate grievances the regime of Siyad Barre followed a policy to demonize the people of Somaliland overtly and subliminally through the Ministry of Culture. Over half a million refugees from the wars with Ethiopia were planted in Somaliland and armed to the teeth. A campaign of terror through killings and rape was subjected on the people of Somaliland.
When the local people fought back they were subjected to what the UN described as a state sponsored genocide which included the bombardment of all major towns. Mig 21 and Hunter aircraft followed columns of civilians fleeing to the Ethiopian border and bombarded them. Human rights organizations put the death toll at two hundred thousand people.
Following these events the US Congress sanctioned the government of Somalia and within a year it melted away not being able to pay for its armed forces. Most of these soldiers went back to their home regions and tribal war sparked in the south of the country as multiple faction leaders declared themselves president.
After seeing these events the elders, businessmen, civil servants and politicians from Somaliland on the 18th of May 1991 decided they would reinstate the independence of Somaliland. This was further cemented in a 2001 referendum where 97% voted for independence. For the last thirty years Somaliland has functioned as a fully sovereign country with its own military, currency, courts, parliament and president. It’s had five transitions of power and held three one man one vote presidential elections.
In 2005 the African Union commissioned a fact finding mission which stated that Somaliland’s independence would not open a Pandora’s box in Africa. It stated that Somaliland’s independence was not against the AU charter as Somaliland and Somalia don’t have a legal treaty of union which transferred sovereignty over to Mogadishu.
: Treaty of independence between the Government of Somaliland and the Government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. https://saxafimedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Treaties_between_the_UK_and_the_State_of_Somaliland_1960_2.pdf
: 2005 African Union fact finding mission report.
Written By Redsea Politik
We blog about Great Power geopolitics and the regional geopolitics of MENA & East Africa.