Strategic Shift: How Does Algeria Abandon the U.S. and Turn to Russia and China?

Nuha Yousef | 9 months ago

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After years of diplomatic decline and isolation, Algeria is seeking to reassert its regional role and forge new alliances with emerging powers, especially Russia and China.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who took office in 2019, has been trying to revive Algeria’s foreign policy, which was hampered by the long illness and tenure of his predecessor, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who died last month.

Tebboune visited Moscow in June and signed a “declaration of deep partnership” with President Vladimir Putin, covering various fields such as energy, agriculture, cybersecurity, education, culture, and tourism.

He is expected to travel to Beijing later this week and meet with President Xi Jinping to discuss upgrading the comprehensive strategic partnership agreement that Algeria and China signed in 2014.

He will also seek to join the BRICS group of emerging economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—after receiving preliminary approval from Moscow and Beijing.

This will be the first visit by an Algerian leader to China since 2008.

 

Chinese–Algerian Relations

Algeria has a long history of ties with China, dating back to its war of independence from France in the 1950s and 1960s when Beijing supported the Algerian provisional government and its anti-colonial struggle.

Algeria also backed China’s bid to be recognized as the sole and legitimate representative of the Chinese people at the United Nations.

In the late 1960s, Algeria became a hub for leftist militants from around the world who shared its anti-imperialist stance.

During the civil war that ravaged Algeria in the 1990s, China maintained its political and economic relations with the country while many Western nations withdrew their diplomats.

Tebboune’s outreach to Russia and China comes amid a changing geopolitical landscape in North Africa and the Middle East, where new players have emerged and old conflicts have persisted.

Algeria has been largely absent from the efforts to resolve the Libyan crisis, despite being a neighbor and a key stakeholder.

It has also been sidelined by Morocco in the dispute over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that Morocco claims as part of its territory, whose independence movement Algeria supports.

Algeria’s diplomatic voice has been muted in regional and international forums, as the regime focused on addressing internal problems that intensified after the collapse of oil prices in 2014.

But Tebboune has shown signs of wanting to play a more active role in some issues, such as the Palestinian cause, the Tunisian political crisis, and the security challenges in the Sahel region.

By turning to Russia and China, Algeria may be trying to diversify its economic partners and reduce its dependence on Western markets.

It may also be seeking to balance its relations with traditional allies such as France and the United States, which have been strained by human rights concerns and political differences.

However, some analysts warn that Algeria’s pivot to Moscow and Beijing may come at a cost, as it could alienate some of its Western partners and limit its room for maneuver in a complex and dynamic region.

 

New Strategy

The visit marks the first high-level exchange between the two countries since they signed a second five-year plan for strategic partnership in 2022-2026, building on their Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement of 2014.

Algeria, which joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2018, is seeking to diversify its economy away from oil and gas revenues, which have been hit by low prices and political instability.

It hopes to attract more Chinese companies to invest in sectors such as mining, manufacturing, infrastructure, space, information technology, and defense.

China has been the leading exporter to Algeria since 2013, displacing France, its former colonial ruler.

Chinese companies have been involved in major projects in Algeria, such as the new port of Algiers, the expansion of Algiers International Airport, housing, the East-West Highway, and the Great Mosque of Algiers.

In March 2022, China also launched a $7 billion investment in the phosphate sector to produce 5.4 million tons of fertilizers and secured a $2 billion contract to extract iron ore from the Gara Djebilet mine.

China’s investments and activities in Algeria have created more than 50,000 jobs and generated large financial flows that have been steadily increasing, according to Algerian officials.

 Chinese companies have also made Algeria a strategic hub for their expansion in the continent, where they have been involved in infrastructure, mining, telecommunications, and other sectors.

But Algeria’s pivot to China is not only driven by economic interests. It also reflects a geopolitical shift that has been taking place since 2019, when the country’s long-time leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was ousted by mass protests and a military-backed transition.

The new regime, led by Tebboune, has been trying to restore Algeria’s regional influence and fend off rival powers that want to fill the void left by its political turmoil.

Algeria feels that its traditional allies in the West have not supported it on its key issues, such as the Western Sahara conflict, the Libyan crisis, and the fight against terrorism.

It also accuses them of meddling in its internal affairs and imposing unfair trade conditions. In contrast, it sees Russia and China as reliable and respectful partners who can offer it more benefits and opportunities.

Both countries have expressed their backing for Algeria’s bid to join the BRICS economic group.

The region has undergone many transformations recently, with new alliances emerging and old ones fraying.

The Algerian leadership believes that having strong allies like Russia and China is vital for its internal security and stability.

Especially since these allies are emerging as powerful actors on the global stage, challenging the dominance of the West

Algeria has found in them partners who can deal with it on a win-win basis, unlike the West. That is why it has turned its compass away from them.