China appoints new special envoy for turbulent Horn of Africa region

BEIJING, Feb 22 (Reuters) - China has appointed senior diplomat Xue Bing to a newly created post of special envoy for the Horn of Africa, a strategically important, conflict-wracked region where China has investments and a naval base on one of the world's main shipping routes.

Xue has previously worked as China's ambassador to Papua New Guinea and has experience working in Africa, America and Oceania, China's foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

His task will be to work to promote China's "peaceful development" plan for the region which aims to help countries in the region "achieve long-term stability, development and prosperity," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing in Beijing.

One of Xue's biggest challenges will the continuing war in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous nation and a regional heavyweight that hosts the African Union headquarters in a building built by China. Beijing has also granted billions of dollars in loans to Ethiopia.

The conflict between Ethiopia central government and its northern region of Tigray erupted in November 2020. It has displaced millions of people, plunged hundreds of thousands into famine conditions and sucked in Ethiopia's neighbour, the reclusive nation of Eritrea.

China's interests in the Horn include its naval base in the tiny country of Djibouti, overlooking a key global shipping route where oil from the Middle East and goods from Asia travel to Europe. Landlocked Ethiopia relies on Djibouti's port for trade.

The region is also threatened by instability in South Sudan, where China has substantial oil investments, and spillover from Somalia that has brought deadly attacks in neighbouring Kenya, where China is building substantial infrastructure projects.

Somalia, whose 3,000-km (1,860-mile) coastline runs along the Gulf of Aden into the Indian Ocean, has been riven by civil war since 1991. It has a territorial dispute with neighbouring Kenya over maritime territory believed to hold oil deposits.

China's foreign minister Wang Yi announced in January during a trip to East Africa that an envoy for the Horn of Africa would be appointed.

Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Jonathan Oatis

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