China stretches its long arm to Djibouti

(The Hindu) -- 
Nizar Manek, 22 October 2017
The People’s Liberation Army’s overseas garrison conducted its first live-fire drills from China’s base in Djibouti last month. The base on the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean, was inaugurated in July, and is embedded in Djibouti’s new Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port. At the port’s opening ceremony two months earlier, two vessels, one owned by Ethiopian Logistics & Shipping Enterprise (ESLSE) and the other by China’s state-owned COSCO Shipping Lines, berthed at the port, and fêted Djibouti’s President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh with a long whistle.
The state-owned China Merchants Port Holding has invested $580 million in the port’s construction and owns almost a quarter of Djibouti’s ports holding company. It is now in talks to take a stake in ESLSE, in Djibouti’s landlocked hinterland. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has announced that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front plans to liberalise the state monopoly that controls the country’s seaward and inland transport. Roba Megerssa Akawak, ESLSE’s CEO, told this writer he’s been informed “at a ministerial level” that China Merchants will be considered for the bid. ESLSE handed the relevant documents, including an inventory of its assets, to a committee at Ethiopia’s Transport Ministry before May, when he became CEO, Mr. Roba said.
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