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26 May 2023

Jevans Nyabiage, South China Morning Post

DRC: President Félix Tshisekedi visits Beijing as the two nations look to resolve mining disputes that have threatened to sour diplomatic relations

‘Congo leader to prospect for better mining deal, improved relations during China visit’ 23 May 2023

With most of his country’s mining industry under Chinese control, Congo President Félix Tshisekedi will visit Beijing this week as the two nations look to resolve mining disputes that had threatened to sour diplomatic relations. Tshisekedi was expected to push Beijing to renegotiate contracts for the US$6.2 billion Sino-Congolese joint venture known as Sicomines, a minerals-for-infrastructure deal that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) signed with Chinese companies in 2008 under former president Joseph Kabila. The DRC may also seek China’s help to fight rebels in eastern Congo. The visit, from May 24 to 29, will be Tshisekedi’s first to China since he was elected president in 2019 and comes ahead of legislative and presidential elections scheduled for December.

…The DRC is strategically important for China’s transition to green energy – Beijing sources more than 60 per cent of its cobalt from the country. Cobalt is a key component in batteries for electric vehicles and electronics. Two-way trade with the DRC stood at US$21.9 billion in 2022, a 51.7 per cent increase compared to the previous year, according to data from China’s customs authority…The DRC has seen few benefits from the Sicomines joint venture, Congolese officials have said, a deal that Tshisekedi described as poorly negotiated. State-owned Congolese mining company Gecamines formed the joint venture with a consortium of Chinese companies led by Sinohydro and China Railway Group to trade copper and cobalt for infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals – with the Chinese side taking a 68 per cent stake in Sicomines.

…But in February, the Congolese General Inspectorate of Finance released a report saying the country had not been adequately compensated for the copper and cobalt reserves it contributed to the deal. The report said Chinese companies had exploited mineral resources worth US$10 billion, but had only built infrastructure estimated to be worth US$822 million. The report demanded that projects worth US$17 billion be added to Sicomines’ infrastructure investment…“Considering the growing global interest in Congo’s minerals, Kinshasa is keen to drive up the price for the dominant position that Chinese firms enjoy in Congo’s extractive industries by demanding more Chinese investments in mineral processing and other value creation on Congolese soil.”