August 14, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, looks at a recent oil deal signed between the “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia and two Chinese state-owned energy conglomerates for a field that may yield up to 10 billion barrels of petroleum.

In the article, Dr. Pham argues that “ United States policy toward the remnants of the former state of Somalia has evolved into a sort of dramatic farce, ” observing that:

While everyone was concerned about rescuing him, his “government,” and, more importantly, his long-suffering countrymen, from the rising Islamist tide last year, [TFG president] Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was more preoccupied with the negotiating a contract with the PRC’s state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC)…as well as the smaller China International Oil and Gas (CIOG) Group. In November 2006, while the TFG was besieged in its last redoubt at Baidoa and Ethiopia was preparing to intervene to rescue those members of the regime who had not fled or defected to the Islamists, the Somali “president” traveled to CNOOC headquarters to ratify the deal with the oil group’s chairman and chief executive officer, Fu Chengyu. And apparently in June of this year, while special envoys from the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Italy were shuttling around Somali territory trying to drum up support for ultimately-abortive national conference, TFG “energy minister” Abdullahi Yusuf Mohamad was meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, with Chen Zhuobiao, head of CNOOC operations in Africa, and Judah Jay, managing director of CIOG, to put the final touches on the deal.

Thus Dr. Pham notes by way of conclusion:

The greatest irony of it all is that if CNOOC, CIOG, and their partners strike it rich in Africa’s newest oilfield, it will be because U.S. diplomacy, money, intelligence, and arms provided the security and propped up the TFG political cover without which the Chinese consortium could not have gone prospecting in Somalia on behalf of the one country that, according to both the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review and the 2007 Annual Report to Congress on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, “has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages .” Were it not for the grand strategic stakes involved, this whole tale would actually be quite a comical (and just) comeuppance for the architects of the ill-considered policy of throwing America behind the corrupt and illegitimate TFG .

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “ China’s Play for Somalia’s Oil,” click here.