With the fall of Alpha Condé, China loses an important ally in Guinea

Since its independence in 1958, Guinea is one of the very first African states to recognize the People’s Republic of China. This recognition will create strong links between the two countries. Especially since Ahmed Sékou Touré, a Third World hero before becoming a hated dictator, proclaimed socialism in 1967.

But cooperation between the two countries has never been as strong as since the arrival of Alpha Condé to power on November 7, 2010. There is a mutual interest between Beijing, which is striding along its new Silk Road. , and Conakry looking for investors to develop its infrastructures.

On October 9, 2019, for the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the‘Chinese Ambassador in Guinea, Huang Wei, does not go four ways. “Guinea is a country which has great wealth which has earned it the nickname of geological miracles., he says. Its bauxite reserves represent two-thirds of the world’s total reserves and it has some of the largest iron ore reserves in the world. “

Guinea is the second largest producer of bauxite in the world, a mineral from which aluminum is made.  (GEORGES GOBET / AFP)

Here we are ! We understand the interest Guinea has in Beijing, whose thirst for raw materials is never satisfied. And in fact, in the south-east of Guinea, there is a chain of hills stretching for more than 100 kilometers, the mining site of Simandou. It would be the largest reserve of high-quality iron on the planet to date! 2.4 billion tonnes of ore graded at 65%. However, China has a constant need for iron. It imports a billion tonnes each year, two-thirds of which is from Australia.

There is just one big problem, Simandou is totally landlocked. To operate the site, a 650-kilometer railway line must be built, as well as a deep-water port at Matakong, the future railway terminus. All for an announced investment of 9 billion euros over 5 years.

A sum that does not seem to frighten Beijing, nor the smell of sulfur that reigns over the project. Because at the end of the 2000s, the all-powerful Anglo-Australian group Rio Tinto is thanked for the benefit of BSGR, a group of Franco-Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz. When Alpha Condé came to power, he canceled the rights of BSGR, saying he suspected acts of corruption. The legal battle is going to be fierce. In 2019, the billionaire renounces the rights to Simandou in exchange for dropping the charges for corruption. He will still be tried and condemned by Switzerland.

Beny Steinmetz during his trial in Geneva, Switzerland on January 22, 2021. The Franco-Israeli businessman was sentenced to five years in prison for corruption at first instance.  (STEFAN WERMUTH / AFP)

The place is therefore free again and China will rush into it. The mega Simandou project has been split into four blocks and Chinese companies are always present, majority or in participation. But for now, nothing has started yet. Beijing’s spearhead is le consortium SMB-Winning, founded in 2014, including the Chinese company Shandong Weiqiao, leader in aluminum production.

On November 13, 2019, SMB-Winning officially obtains the concession on the first two blocks. The local press also mentions the interest that the Chinese steel leader, Baowu, has in the project. The Chinese Communist Party’s Economic Council would have classified the project in the “strategic priorities” from the country. Because in fact Beijing wants to reduce its dependence on Australian ore.

The two countries have been at daggers drawn since Canberra aligned itself with Washington’s position to curb Chinese expansion. Within the Quadrilateral Securit Dialogue, also called Quad, the United States, Japan, India and Australia have in a way established a “cordon sanitaire” around China, in response to the economic and military ambitions of the Middle Empire.

According to researcher Lauren Johnston of the University of London, cited by the site internet Nikkei Asia, “Extracting Simandou’s iron ore reserves would transform the world market and catapult Guinea into an iron ore export power alongside Australia and Brazil”. For China, the advantages would be multiple: diversification of supply, fall in prices linked to volume and a consequent drop in Australia’s weight in this sector. Also Beijing has always sought to maintain the best relations with Alpha Condé, increasing investments and not hesitating to congratulate him on his re-election in October, however much criticized.

However, we do not know what the international policy of the military junta will be and if it will follow in Conde’s footsteps. Will China remain an essential ally? Chinese groups are already leaders in the extraction of bauxite, of which Guinea is the world’s second largest exporter. Will military nationalism adapt to it?

The committee set up by the putschists ensures “the economic and financial partners for the normal pursuit of activities in the country”, Lt. Col. Mamady Doumbouya said in a speech. “The committee assures the partners that it will respect all its obligations”, he said, AFP reported.

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