China boosts its New Silk Road project in Morocco | International

Morocco is no longer satisfied with being a key strategic ally of the United States and has signed a trade cooperation agreement with China, Washington’s great rival. In turn, Beijing is not content with being the first supplier of Algeria and builder of its great infrastructures, but also intends to promote its new Silk Road in Morocco, Algeria’s great geopolitical rival. That is the name that Chinese President Xi Jinping used for the first time in 2013 to refer to an extensive infrastructure plan that now spans five continents. The route is also very present in the Maghreb.

The agreement between Rabat and Beijing was signed on January 5 by videoconference by the Moroccan Foreign Minister, Naser Burita, and Ning Jizhe, vice president of the Commission for National Development and Reform. The signing consolidates the meeting between the Moroccan king, Mohamed VI, and Xi Jinping in Beijing in May 2016. The following year, Morocco signed a memorandum of understanding on the new Silk Road, known in English as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

That memorandum has not translated so far into a shower of Chinese investments or loans for Morocco. That same year the monarch promoted the great project of the Mohamed VI Tanger Tech City, a 200-hectare industrial zone planned on the outskirts of Tangier to house 200 Chinese companies in the aeronautics, textile, automobile, and manufacturing sectors. electronics. The project has so far been a fiasco. But it has not been abandoned.

The new agreement aims to give new breath to this and other projects. Among some of Morocco’s favorite plans is the extension to Marrakech of the high-speed train, which now reaches Casablanca from Tangier. Rabat’s goal is to bring the big railway projects to Western Sahara.

One of the great works in which China has shown interest, according to several local media, is the construction of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal. Since Algeria cut the Maghreb-Europe (GME) gas pipeline in October, Morocco has been forced to look for alternatives. And one of them could be the construction of that terminal, for which access to credits from Chinese entities would be key.

Minister Burita said when signing the agreement that its objective is “to promote access to Chinese financing provided by the new Silk Road for large-scale projects.” For his part, Ning declared that the signing “marks a new era in cooperation between China and Morocco.” And he stressed that this North African country is the only one in the region that has three Confucius institutes, which promote the dissemination of culture and the teaching of the Chinese language.

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Commercial exchanges have grown by 50% in the last five years. And the visa exemption for Chinese tourists has increased their visits from 10,000 tourists in 2015 to more than 200,000 in 2018, according to Burita, in statements collected by the Efe agency.

It is true that the Chinese presence in Morocco is not comparable to that in Algeria, where it has built a large part of the country’s main infrastructures and where 40,000 Chinese reside. But the collaboration of China, through the public pharmaceutical company Sinopharm, has been key for Morocco to become the country in Africa with the highest number of people vaccinated against the pandemic, with 63% of the population immunized with the complete regimen. .

Human rights

The understanding between the two countries goes beyond business. And it affects the issue of human rights. Mohamed VI’s visit to China in 2016 included an extradition agreement. The signing was ratified by the Chinese National People’s Assembly in January 2021. Shortly after, last July, the Chinese activist Idriss Hassan, 33, belonging to the Uyghur ethnic minority, who professes in his majority Muslim religion. Hassan, a computer designer, has lived in Turkey since 2012 with his wife and three children as a refugee. He was arrested in Casablanca after Interpol issued a red notice, which he later rescinded. China, internationally censured for abuses against the Uyghur minority, accuses him of belonging to a terrorist organization that Hassan says he is completely unaware of.

Amnesty International released the words of Zaynura, the activist’s wife, in September: “I am afraid that if they send my husband back to China, I will never see him again. Now that he is not here, my middle daughter wakes up every day saying that she has dreamed about her dad, and often cries for no reason.” The NGO assures that the activist runs a high risk of suffering torture if he is extradited.

The Rabat Court of Appeal ruled on December 15 in favor of Hassan’s extradition and now everything depends on the Moroccan Executive. Amina Bouayach, president of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) —an organization that is defined in its statutes as independent and whose powers are comparable to those of the Ombudsman in Spain— has requested by letter to the head of the Moroccan Government, Aziz Ajanuch , not to extradite Idriss Hassan.

Hassan’s defenders only hope that international pressure can influence Morocco’s decision. And it won’t be easy. the local weekly Tel Quel He has pointed out that China has taken in recent months “another dimension” among Morocco’s strategic partners. He also recalled that more than 40 million doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine have already arrived at the Mohamed VI airport in Casablanca, where the activist was arrested in July. In addition, there is an agreement since last year between Sinopharm and the Moroccan company Sothema, so that vaccines can be produced in Morocco for sub-Saharan Africa. So far, Morocco has given no sign of being willing to jeopardize the privileges of its relationship with the world’s second largest trading power.

China is also one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council –along with France, the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom–, a key body for arbitrating on the conflict on which the country’s foreign policy revolves: the Western Sahara.

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