Cameroon: new frontline in China-Australia trade war?

Cameroon: new frontline in China-Australia trade war?

Despite being sued by Australia’s Sundance Resources, Cameroon is set to begin in August the construction of a railway line with two China-affiliated businesses, connecting the coast to substantial iron ore deposit on Congo Republic border.

In December 2020, the Perth-based Sundance Resources and two other Australian mining companies, who aspired to develop one of west Africa’s most promising iron near the border between Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, saw the project’s future extinguished amidst accusations of deceit and corruption. All three Australian companies had their mining licenses stripped from them by the Congo government.

All three licenses were then awarded to a mysterious company called Sangha Mining, a newly created group with no previous history in the region and no obvious background. Working in tandem with another Beijing-linked group, it had snared the rights to develop one of west Africa’s most promising iron ore deposits, the Mbalam-Nabeba project which has been Sundance’s main focus for more than 15 years.

Fast forward to May 2023, Sundance Resources is in legal dispute with the Cameroonian government. Sundance claims that by collaborating with Chinese investors to build the Mbalam-Nabeba project, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo broke contracts and they are now sued for international arbitration and billions of dollars in damages.

Cameroon’s acting mines minister, Fuh Calistus Gentry, announced earlier in the week that construction for the railway connecting the deposit in Nabeba to the southern port city of Kribi would start in late August. “Together we can demonstrate to the world the maturity of our two peoples to ensure that the Cameroon-Congo mining family lives on,” he said. He also said that Cameroon has identified 12 new mining projects, five of which were slated to start this year.

In 2021, representatives of Aust-Sino Resources and Hong-Kong-based Bestway Finance inked an agreement with Cameroon to build a 500-km rail link with the ability to transport 35 million tons of high-grade iron ore annually for ten years. Despite having its headquarters in Australia, the mining business Aust-Sino’s website claims that some of its board members are closely connected to China.

For the Congolese portion of the project, the Congo Republic withdrew the license held by Sundance subsidiary Congo Iron in December 2020 and granted it to obscure business Sangha Mining Development Sasu, financed by Bestway. With tensions between Canberra and Beijing still simmering, China’s battle for resource security, not least in Africa, will likely further intensify. If China’s alleged machinations in Cameroon and the Congo are any indication, observes believe that Beijing is determined to shut out Australia and its interests wherever it can.

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