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China’s foreign minister visits to three African underlines mutual respect relationship

Published Jan 10, 2022


By Helmo Preuss

CHINESE Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid official visits to Eritrea, Kenya and Comoros from January 4 to 7, continuing Chinese foreign ministers' tradition of visiting Africa at the beginning of a year.

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In 2021, Wang visited Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles from January 4 to 9. The visit to African countries at the start of the year is a tradition that dates back to January 1991 and is aimed at cementing ties between African countries and China. Wang’s trip is a striking example of a relationship built through consistency.

This kind of constancy counts in Africa and China is well aware of its worth. The Beijing-based consultancy Development Reimagined estimated that senior Chinese leaders have made some 80 visits to 43 African countries over the last decade. In addition, the reverse flow is equally important as Beijing has rolled out the red carpet for the leaders of African countries on numerous occasions.

It will also be Wang’s second visit to the continent in the past three months, coming shortly after he co-chaired the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) in Dakar, Senegal in late November 2021.

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China’s support for the liberation struggle in South Africa is even older as Mao Zedong met SACP members Yusuf Dadoo and Vella Pillay on November 3 1960. The strong ties between China and South Africa were entrenched when South Africa hosted the Joburg Summit of FOCAC in December 2015. It was also the first FOCAC Summit to take place on the African continent.

That is why China is full of confidence in the prospects for Africa's development and the promise of “Africa Rising”. Wang’s trip will promote China-Africa co-operation to be in the front line of international cooperation with Africa. A total of 44 African countries and the AU Commission have signed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) co-operation documents with China.

African countries have benefited from China’s growth over the past two decades and China is both the leading country for our exports and imports as it has grown its national economy from the sixth in the world to become the second largest in the world with some economists predicting that it could be the largest by 2030. In terms of trade in goods it has grown from sixth to first, and in terms of trade in services it has moved from 11th to second. Its outbound direct investment has risen from 26th to the first. This mutual benefit is reflected in the foreign trade data with Africa's trade with China reaching $207 billion (R3.23 trillion) in the first 10 months of 2021, which is 37.5% more than the same period in 2020.

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China's shipping industry has played an important role in the global shipping market, which has been severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic that has resulted in widespread supply chain interruptions. So far, the Silk Road Maritime Alliance, the first international integrated logistics service brand in China themed on shipping under the BRI, has had more than 200 members, with 86 shipping routes connecting 102 ports in 29 countries around the world.

Wang’s trip to Eritrea, Kenya and Comoros will strengthen the maritime component of the BRI. Eritrea joined the BRI in November 2021, in a move expected to help China cement its foothold in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea.

“Together, the three destinations for this time do seem to signal a focus on China’s maritime diplomacy and relations with the African side of the Indian Ocean,” Lina Benabdallah, a specialist in China-Africa relations at the Wake Forest University in North Carolina, said.

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Under the BRI, China has funded the construction of highways, railways, ports and power plants across Africa. In the Horn of Africa, it funded and built a railway line running from Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to the Port of Djibouti on the Red Sea. It set up its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, and has also funded mega ports and port terminals in the country.

China has also funded many infrastructure projects that will help to promote intra-African trade as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) came into operation on January 1 2021.

* Preuss is an economist at forecaster Ecosa