China vs United-States: How to Deal with the Situations in Afghanistan and Ethiopia?
China expressed its disagreement with the recent decision of the US authorities to impose sanctions on Ethiopia and Afghanistan after the recent outbreak of violence there.
A spokesman of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, both emphasized that by doing so, the US is interfering in the internal affairs of the two countries. Despite the desired political effect, such sanctions could also prevent people in complicated economic situations from having access to financial resources. That, in turn, can further negatively impact their lives.
Conflict in Ethiopia
On November 3, 2020, a civil war started in Tigray, Ethiopia. The opposing forces are the Special Forces of the Tigray Regional Government and the Ethiopian National Defense Force. The Ethiopian Prime Minister appointed in 2018, Abiy Ahmed – who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for solving a long-term territorial clash with Eretria – organized a military offensive to fight the regional forces in Tigray. The decision was a result of months of disputes between the Abiy’s government (the Prosperity Party) and leaders of Tigray’s regional political party (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) over the postponed (due to the Covid-19 pandemic) national elections and the suspended fundings. The fights brought about famine, thousands of civilian deaths, mass rape, and overall devastation in the country.
Taliban in Afghanistan
Since mid-August, the Taliban took over the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul but the group has not been officially recognised by the international government as the country’s legitimate government. Beijing has been trying to gain favour with the Taliban, as it seeks security guarantees involving its significant investments in neighbouring Pakistan.
Since the Taliban took the capital of Afghanistan, there have been significant changes. More than $4 billion in annual development aid for Afghanistan has evaporated. Financial Times reported, and the United Nations has warned that “one in three Afghans do not know where they will get their next meal.” Moreover, the foreign governments have promised three months of $1billion in emergency aid. Yet, Afghanistan has approximately $9 billion in foreign exchange reserves that can be used for emergency spending but which have been frozen by the United States since they are preserved on international accounts.
US’s approach to deal with the situations
The Biden administration has issued a new enforcement order allowing targeted financial sanctions for those found to be responsible for or complicit in escalating the conflict in and around Ethiopia’s Tigray region, obstructing humanitarian aid in the region or undermining democracy or the territory of Ethiopia integrity. In a statement, the White House explicitly notified all parties in the conflict, stressing that sanctions could be applied to those in the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean government, the Tiger People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Amhara government and regional forces. Those sanctions aim at shifting the cost-benefit calculations of the warring parties away from escalating military conflict.
Furthermore, sanctions against the Taliban were in place decades ago by the US and its allies, limiting financial transactions, blocking its assets and restricting international travels for senior members. These sanctions aimed to penalize and restrict the capacity of violence of the rebel group with connections to international terrorism, despite its control over large swaths of Afghanistan. However, now the impacts will reach far beyond its leaders as the Taliban took over almost the whole country.
China’s response to US sanctions
In a recent press conference, which was held on September 22, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Zhao Lijian expressed his concerns and disagreement with President Biden’s decision to impose sanctions on Ethiopia. As Mr. Zhao points out: “[China] opposes a frequent use of sanctions and threats of sanctions to exert pressure or interfere in internal affairs of other countries. […] We believe that the relevant parties in Ethiopia have the wisdom and ability to resolve their internal differences, and sincerely hope that Ethiopia will achieve national reconciliation and restore national peace and stability very soon.”
A similar remark was made by the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, during the video conference of the G20 Foreign Ministers to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Mr. Wang explained that Afghanistan’s “foreign exchange reserves are the national reserves” and must be used by its people to ease the crisis and promote the country’s economic development. He also expressed his disapproval of the US trying to use it as a source of political pressure. The Minister added that instead, “International financial institutions should […] provide financial support to Afghanistan’s poverty reduction, sustainable development, people’s livelihood, and infrastructure projects.”
A more cautious and considered approach needed
Although the sanctions can be justified in some ways, the international community needs to take a delicate balancing act to avoid humanitarian catastrophes in Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Due to the escalating conflicts in those countries, the livelihood for some demographic groups has become more severe. For example, as the United Nations Children’s Fund points out, “1 million Afghan children are at risk of starvation this year”. Therefore, there is a need for wealthy nations to set aside political considerations and provide more humanitarian aid to people in conflict-affected areas.
Anonymous (29 June 2021). “Ethiopia’s Tigray War: The Short, Medium and Long Story”. BBC. Available online at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54964378.
Anonymous (5 September 2021). “Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict: Thousands Reported Killed in Clashes”. BBC. Available online at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-58450223.
Gavin, Michelle (20 September 2021). “Ethiopia: U.S. Sanctions Threat Attempts to Change the Equation”. Council on Foreign Relations. Available online at https://www.cfr.org/blog/ethiopia-us-sanctions-threat-attempts-change-equation.
Haqqani, Husain (27 August 2021). “Sanctions on the Taliban will Hurt Afghan Citizens. Here’s How to Fix That”. Washington Post. Available online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/sanctions-taliban-ordinary-afghans/2021/08/27/36f00066-069c-11ec-a266-7c7fe02fa374_story.html.
Macias, Amanda (24 September 2021). “Treasury Carves Path for U.S. Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan While Upholding Sanctions on Taliban”. CNBC. Available online at https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/24/treasury-makes-us-aid-to-afghanistan-easier-amid-taliban-sanctions.html.
Niewenhuis, Lucas (23 September 2021). “China Opposes U.S. Sanctions on Ethiopia and Afghanistan as Humanitarian Crises Worsen”. SupChina. Available online at https://supchina.com/2021/09/23/china-opposes-u-s-sanctions-on-ethiopia-and-afghanistan-as-humanitarian-crises-worsen/.
Zhonghua renmin gongheguo waijiaobu 中华人民共和国外交部 [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China] (22 September 2021). “2021 nian 9 yue 22 ri waijiaobu fayanren Zhao Lijian zhuchi lixing jizhehui 2021年9月22日外交部发言人赵立坚主持例行记者会 [The Regular Press Conference of the Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian on September 22, 2021]. Waijiaobu 外交部 [The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Online]. Available online at https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/fyrbt_673021/jzhsl_673025/t1908804.shtml.
Zhonghua renmin gongheguo waijiaobu 中华人民共和国外交部 [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China] (23 September 2021). “Wang Yi chuxi ershiguo jituan afuhan wenti waizhang shipin huiyi” 王毅出席二十国集团阿富汗问题外长视频会议 [Wang Yi Attends the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Video Conference on Afghanistan]. Waijiaobu 外交部 [The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Online]. Available online at https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/wjbzhd/t1908992.shtml.