Abiy has identified sea access as a strategic objective for land-locked Ethiopia and warned that failure to secure it could lead to conflict down the road.
In a televised lecture, he called for talks with neighboring countries and suggested that they could be given shares in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in return for similar stakes in their ports. He also referenced the nineteenth century Abyssinian warrior, Ras Alula Abanega, who said the Red Sea was Ethiopia’s “natural boundary.”
Earlier this week, Eritrea described Abiy’s comments as “excessive” and said “the affair has perplexed all concerned observers,” while Somalia’s State Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Omar said his country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity were “sacrosanct” and not open for discussion.
Abiy’s push comes as he struggles to quell widespread domestic dissent, particularly in the northern Amhara region where militia members are resisting efforts to incorporate them in the national army. His administration is also in talks to restructure its debt after its finances were hammered by the global pandemic and a two-year civil war with rebels from the Tigray region.
On Thursday, the prime minister’s office said he had visited China’s deep sea Yangshan Port, south of Shanghai, during an official state visit. He also held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Qiang, and Dilma Rousseff, the president of the New Development Bank. The multilateral lender was founded by the Brics group of developing countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — and Ethiopia has been invited to join its ranks next year.
Abiy and Xi earlier this week announced that their relations would be elevated to a so-called “all-weather strategic partnership to strengthen their friendship, mutual trust and bilateral engagement.”