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The Gulf of Guinea, the Increase of Maritime Piracy Is a Wake-up Call to Chinese Economics

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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livello elementare 
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ARGOMENTO: GEOPOLITICA
PERIODO: XX – XXI SECOLO
AREA: AFRICA
parole chiave: maritime piracy
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Today we welcome doctor Giacomo Morabito presenting an interesting paper about piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Giacomo Morabito is Director and Founder of Mediterranean Affairs and Researcher on the Middle East, North Africa and Macroeconomics Desks at Wikistrat. Graduated with a Master’s degree in International Relations and European Studies, now he is a Ph.D. student in Economics at the University of Messina. His main research topics are economics, politics and security, with a focus on terrorism.

The Gulf of Guinea, the Increase of Maritime Piracy is a Wake-up Call to Chinese Economics

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Photo: www.newsmaritime.com

On April 25, 2016, was held by the UN Security Council an open debate on the theme “Peace consolidation in West Africa: piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea.” During the debate, the China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Liu Jieyi stated that the Gulf of Guinea has fallen victim to frequent incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea in recent years. He noted that the links between piracy, terrorist groups, armed groups, and criminal networks have posed ‘serious threats’ to the safety of navigation as well as to regional peace and security. Since 2011, the Gulf of Guinea has fallen victim to frequent incidents of piracy, which threatens the safety of navigation and inflicts billions of dollars of economic losses on the countries along the Gulf of Guinea every year. Most recently, pirate attacks have been on the rise in the region, and the number of hostages and the ransom amounts demanded have kept increasing. In particular, since the start of the year at least 32 attacks off the coast of Nigeria were recorded, which is losing about $1.5bn a month due to piracy, armed robbery at sea, smuggling, and fuel supply fraud.

According to the U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations, Michele J. Sison, “[…] the absence of an effective maritime governance system, in particular, hampers freedom of movement in the Gulf of Guinea, disrupts trade and economic growth, and facilitates environmental crimes. […]” She said that the solution to these root causes lies in greater African stewardship of maritime safety.

Indeed, the countries along the Gulf of Guinea lack the capacity to maintain maritime safety and security for several reasons: regional counter-piracy coordination mechanisms have not yet become fully operational because they are underfunded and under-resourced; their port facilities are unable to provide logistical support for large; cooperation on joint enforcement, monitoring and patrolling, as well as information gathering and intelligence sharing, still seems inadequate. Therefore, international cooperation and integration among regional countries would be critical to combat piracy and other maritime crime in the region, as well as to reduce the loss of national revenue, support socioeconomic development, and expand environmental protection in the region.

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The solution to piracy lies in the creation of sustainable economic alternatives and holistic maritime security. This means that maritime authorities must build a safe, secure and sustainable blue economy, rather than simply patrol the seas against piracy while failing to tackle poverty and underdevelopment. This solution cannot be achieved without the involvement, support or leadership of African organizations and their own maritime strategies. However, maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea would hide the maritime goals and strategies of the great powers. In particular, as China is seeking to expand its global role, its national interests need to be protected abroad, mainly in Africa that seems a litmus test for the Chinese foreign policy.

In the last years, given that Chinese investments and nationals are particularly vulnerable in less-developed, politically unstable areas, China has been seeking a greater role as regional security provider in Africa. So far, China has primarily relied on its embassies to provide consular protection to Chinese nationals and investments, but the Chinese consular service is severely understaffed. In addition, the military capacity of Chinese government to provide protection to overseas Chinese is limited for several reasons, such as political and legal barriers to hiring Chinese private security companies.  In the past, China has relied primarily on multilateral institutions, especially the United Nations, for security and missions inside Africa, including peacekeeping missions. China also began to dispatch People’s Liberation Army Navy’s escort missions to the Gulf of Aden before the end of 2008 under authorization by UN Security Council Resolutions.

In addition, China has recently begun building a naval base in Djibouti to establish a strategic foothold in close proximity to the oil trade routes from the Middle East and to the Indian Ocean. In the meantime, China has conducted an active foreign policy based on bilateral relations solutions, taking a series of measures to deepen cooperation with the African Union and African countries on peace and security issues―as the launch of the Initiative on China-Africa Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Security. Aside from supporting the African Union’s own peacekeeping operations inside Africa, China made the commitment to provide financial support to the African Union standing army and to train security officials and peacekeepers. In 2015, the President of China Xi Jinping announced that China would be providing $100 million in military aid to the African Union.

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International Business Times (2014)

These moves suggest the development strategy and framework Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by the President of China Xi Jinping that focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries primarily between China and the rest of Eurasia. It consists of two main components: the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and oceangoing Maritime Silk Road. With its sources of GDP growth coming under increasing strain, China must continue to make progress in opening up the economy, and that means building mutually beneficial relationships with neighboring countries, which can benefit by taking over some of China’s lower-value-added activities. This strategy aims to boost own growth while creating space for the Chinese economy to move up the value chain, where productivity and wages are higher. China has already laid the groundwork for these relationships, strengthening economic cooperation and trade with countries along the Belt and Road Initiative. In particular, this strategy is allowing China to opening trade corridors across the African continent to support the Chinese economy. On April, the Chinese government has signed a currency swap agreement with Nigeria, which aims to correct the trade imbalance. Nigeria is an important source of oil and petroleum for China’s rapidly growing economy and Nigeria is looking to China for help in achieving high economic growth. Economic and trade cooperation between China and Nigeria has recently gained constant progress and new growth points, extending cooperation to areas beyond trade and infrastructure, such as agriculture, telecommunication, solid minerals, and free trade zone.

Nigeria is China’s No. one engineering contract market, No. 2 export market, No. 3 trading partner, and major investment destination in Africa. Therefore, security threats to Chinese investments and nationals in Nigeria and other countries represent a wake-up call to China, and the maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea is also intrinsically China’s top priority in its foreign policy. China has been actively participating in international cooperation to fight piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, as well as providing assistance in capacity building of related countries. In this sense, China assist the African Union to defuse and fight security threats in Africa as a promising stabilizing force in Africa to protect Chinese security interests. On the other hand, the Chinese government prefers that their actions and intentions be seen as minimal, and for a common or international good, as in the case of the plans to build a naval base in Djibouti. China seems keen to downplay the negative connotations of the term ‘naval base,’ which implies interference and has imperialist connotations. However, the new base could lead to changes in Chinese foreign policy and peace building capabilities. As China prefers to operate independently of international cooperative counter-piracy missions, however, China’s military presence in Africa also raises pertinent questions about outside powers using the threat of piracy as a pretext for military intervention, or to exercise influence in international relations in the region.

Giacomo Morabito
author “The Gulf of Guinea, the Increase of Maritime Piracy Is a Wake-up Call to Chinese Economics,” Russian International Affairs Council, 27 May 2016, http://russiancouncil.ru/en/inner/?id_4=7723
 

CEO & Founder Mediterranean Affairs, Ph.D. student in Economics at the University of Messina (Italy).

 

 

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