Beijing asks Democratic Republic of Congo to help gain release of kidnapped Chinese miners

03-Dec-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Beijing wants the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to secure the release of five Chinese miners kidnapped in the country last week even as its embassy ordered Chinese nationals to leave three provinces in the Central African nation.

Foreign minister Wang Yi said Beijing was concerned about the worsening situation in the country “with a series of vicious crimes that have recently happened in the DRC involving kidnappings and killings of Chinese citizens”.

“China hopes that the DRC will secure the release of the Chinese in captivity as soon as possible and take resolute and effective measures to eliminate hazards,” Wang said in a meeting with the DRC’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Christophe Lutundula, on the sidelines of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Dakar, Senegal.

Wang said the resource-rich country should strengthen the protection and safety of Chinese citizens and create a secure and stable environment for bilateral cooperation.

On November 21, the Chinese embassy in Kinshasa and Congolese government officials announced that two Chinese citizens had been killed and five others kidnapped in a militia attack on a gold mine in the country’s troubled eastern region.

The kidnapped men were working at the Beyond Mining Company’s gold mine in South Kivu province. In August, three Chinese gold miners went missing in Ituri province, the same region where the Italian ambassador to the DRC was ambushed and killed in February.

Lutundula said the DRC took China’s concerns seriously and “will take a responsible attitude and forceful measures to investigate the crimes, secure the freedom of the kidnapped and severely punish the culprits, safeguard national security and restore stability in the Eastern DRC”, according to a readout released by China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday.

But Wang’s push for action from Kinshasa came even as the Chinese embassy in DRC on Wednesday ordered Chinese citizens in three eastern provinces Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu to provide their details by December 10 and “evacuate to other safe areas in the DRC as soon as possible”.

The embassy warned that the three provinces, where hundreds of militia members are fighting to control mineral resources and land, were high-risk areas. In a statement posted on its website, the embassy said that those who “insist on going to or staying in the above three provinces” would be personally responsible for the consequences.

It said that in recent months, kidnapping and armed robberies targeting Chinese nationals had increased. Even those living in other parts of DRC “should strengthen safety precautions and emergency preparedness and avoid unnecessary outings”, the embassy said.

The three regions are rich in natural resources including gold, diamonds, coltan, tin, tungsten and tantalum, which has attracted Chinese companies and small-scale Chinese miners.

The militia has become a source of concern after reports that the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamic State-affiliated rebel group, may have been responsible for explosive attacks last month in Kampala, Uganda, that killed four civilians. This week, Ugandan and Congolese forces launched an offensive against the militia in eastern DRC.

A report in June by the UN Security Council’s Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo warned that armed groups were key players in illegal mining, with gold being smuggled into the global supply chain through neighbouring countries. Final destinations include the Middle East and China.

The report also warned that Chinese miners had worked with the Congolese army and armed militia in extracting gold.

In September, Beijing ordered six companies in South Kivu to cease operations and leave the country after the DRC government suspended their operations over illegal mining and environmental destruction.

According to Christian-Geraud Neema, an independent Congolese mining and policy analyst, many Chinese operations work closely with military and political elites. Given the rivalry among the armed groups, “it’s very possible that we have a situation where groups are trying to gain more ground and/or settle a financial dispute”, Neema said in explaining a likely reason for the kidnappings.

The DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, a critical component in lithium-ion batteries for electric cars and mobile phones, as well as Africa’s top copper producer, which is mined primarily in the Katanga region.

But the Congolese government says the resource has not benefited its people, and it has initiated plans to renegotiate contracts with Chinese companies. A $6 billion “infrastructure for minerals” deal with Chinese investors signed in 2008 under former president Joseph Kabila is now under review.

In August, the DRC formed a commission to investigate the reserves at the Tenke Fungurume Mining copper and cobalt project, majority-owned by China Molybdenum, so the country can get its fair share from the mine.

On Monday while meeting the DRC foreign minister, Wang said China was ready to help the country “translate its resource superiority into development strengths and form a strong momentum for the development of the national economy”.


Category: China

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