Chinese company refutes giga-investment controversy

A private Chinese battery manufacturer denies rumours from the Moroccan government that it had planned gigantic and potentially highly controversial investments in occupied Western Sahara. 

31 August 2023

Photo: Moroccan flags and electricity cables in occupied Western Sahara @ElliLorz.

Earlier this month, Moroccan and international media reported that Huayou, a Chinese manufacturer of electric vehicle battery materials, had announced plans to invest §20 billion in a plant in the “Laâyoune Sakia El Hamra region” - a Moroccan administrative region that is largely located in occupied Western Sahara. Moroccan media also stated that a delegation from the company had travelled to what is occupied Western Sahara. 

Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) wrote to Huayou on 11 August 2023, asking whether the news reports were correct.

They were not.

Huayou responded to WSRW on 19 August that the intention of the delegation that the company had sent was "to investigate investment opportunity in Morocco, not in Western Sahara. We haven’t made any investment promise to Morocco government. We are exploring opportunity national-wide in Morocco”, Huayou wrote.

Huayou stated to WSRW that a delegation of the holding company Zhejiang Huayou Holding Group Co.,Ltd., intended to visit Tarfaya, located in the very south of Morocco, but that they had to fly to from Casablanca to “Laayoune” in order to get there, “since Laayoune has the closest airport to Tarfaya”.

This contradicts news coverage that was seemingly initiated by a press release of Morocco's regional investment center (CRI) in the “Laâyoune Sakia El Hamra region”, issued on 8 August.

Though removed from the institution's webpage shortly after, the news about the Chinese giga-investment had been picked up by Moroccan and international media, who reported that Huayou was prospecting in the "Laâyoune Sakia El Hamra region” in Western Sahara for a plant expected to be completed in 7 years and aimed at meeting the growing demand for electric vehicles in Europe and the US. Upon completion, the plant is said to have a capacity to supply batteries to 6 million cars a year. 

The "Laâyoune Sakia El Hamra region” that media coverage referred to, is a Moroccan administrative region that has been designed by the Moroccan government in disrespect of the non-self-governing status of Western Sahara: it overlaps the border of Morocco and Western Sahara, with the absolute lion share of the land located in the occupied territory. 

Moroccan news agency Le Desk, after making inquiries as to why the CRI withdrew the original press release so quickly, on 9 August reported that the CRI did confirm that Huayou officials had visited both Tarfaya (located north of the border) and El Aaiún (in Western Sahara), and that “the figure of 200 MMDH [$ 20 billion] is faithful to the statement of the company.” The press release was however pulled down as the project is in its “preliminary prospecting phase” and “not yet official”.

Huayou's response to WSRW confirms that the company is exploring options in Morocco proper, but not in occupied Western Sahara, as the Moroccan CRI and media were seemingly eager to propagate.

So far, WSRW has observed only limited Chinese interests in occupied Western Sahara, making China the permanent member of the UN Security Council with the smallest role in supporting Morocco's illegal plunder and settlement of the territory in violation of the UN Charter. The lead in this support to one of the gravest violations of international law since the Second World War has so far been taken by the USA and France. 

In 2021, the company China Molybdenum announced that it would no longer import phosphate rock from Western Sahara into its subsidiary in Brazil. In 2023, news broke that the Chinese company Envision Energy is to supply French company Engie with conflict windmills that are to power Morocco's illegal agriculture programmes in the territory. 


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