Home OPINIONS Chinese FM’s Africa visit reassures continent of Sino partnership

Chinese FM’s Africa visit reassures continent of Sino partnership

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As it has now become customary for incumbent Chinese foreign ministers, Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi will make the first overseas trip to the African continent from January 13 to 18. Wang Yi will visit Egypt, Tunisia, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire. He will then proceed to Brazil and Jamaica, two countries that have a large African heritage.

The Chinese FM is not new to the African continent. Since he assumed his position in March 2013, this will be his 11th annual first trip overseas to Africa. In total, he has made more than 20 trips to the continent during his tenure, which means that he is on a first name basis with many top leaders.

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The trip was on the radar of international media, read Western media, immediately it was announced. For obvious geopolitical reasons, the West is always curious on the outcomes of China’s engagement with Africa. Experts believe that after all the negativity the West has constantly poured on China-Africa relations mainly through claims of debt trapping, there is extreme frustration that the stratagem has boomeranged.

In the African tradition, such steadfast gestures by a visitor are not taken for granted. That Chinese FMs have maintained the annual ritual since 1991, in both good and bad times, bespeaks of a genuine partner who would like to continue growing a relationship. Even countries not visited at that particular time of the year usually rest assured that the visit is representative of their interests both at a bilateral and multilateral level.

Furthermore, the Chinese FM, including other high-ranking officials, continue to visit the continent in the course of the year. In mid-2023, for instance, Wang Yi visited South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia on a wide range of issues including BRICS, infrastructure and debt relief.

Relations between China and Africa have grown stronger, with the partners engaging at various levels, not just economic and diplomatic. As the largest developing country and continent, the two have a lot in common in terms of their vision and the challenges they have to overcome in different sectors, and even at a geopolitical level.

In order to rationalize the cooperation, the two partners agreed on the establishment of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in the year 2000. The 55-member FOCAC comprises China, the 53 African countries that have diplomatic relations with China, and the African Union Commission. The 16th Senior Officials FOCAC meeting held in Beijing in October reiterated the partners’ commitment to mutual benefit, shared development and win-win cooperation. In 2021, the group had implemented over 70 percent of the outcomes of the FOCAC Beijing Summit focusing on public health, economic recovery and people’s livelihood.

China-Africa ties became even closer during the COVID-19 pandemic. China donated medical supplies – including equipment, drugs, personnel and vaccines – worth millions of dollars to help the continent fight the pandemic. Africa also contributed to China’s fight against the pandemic by offering moral support at the initial stages after the virus was discovered in Wuhan. This happened at a time when the West had ganged up against China and sought the country’s isolation from the global community.

Post COVID-19, China continued supporting African economies by enhancing trade and infrastructural support to the continent. The support in fighting the pandemic had ensured that African economies were not utterly devastated and had some strong props on which to rebuild.

According to data released by China’s General Administration of Customs in August 2023, trade between China and Africa grew by 7.4 percent year on year to about 158.36 billion U.S. dollars in the first two quarters of the year. China has remained Africa’s largest trading partner over the past decade.

China’s exports to Africa in 2023 included ships, automobiles and mechanical and electrical products. Conversely, Africa’s exports to its partner included crude oil, metal ore, ore-sand, and agricultural produce. Of course, this shows that Africa needs to scale up its push towards industrialization in order to add more value to its exports, not just to China, but to all other international markets.

Wang Yi is expected to seek Africa’s continued support for the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative. China started the three initiatives in response to profound global social and economic challenges unseen in a century, and in cognizance of the fact that we are living in a global community with a shared future. The three-pronged strategy resonates with the world’s multi-polarity, of which the two partners are at the core.

Africa’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is also expected to be on the cards. At least 44 African countries have signed on to China’s multibillion-dollar BRI project, which forms a third of all signatories. The BRI has been a game-changer for many African countries, helping to bring roads, rails and infrastructure to many of the developing economies.

In a sense, China and Africa relations will continue with business as usual. The status quo is definitely far from perfect, but the pace and nature of the partnership are on the right track. There are also areas that need more impetus to be at par with the rest, while there are new areas of cooperation that are yet to be discovered or pursued in earnest.

Stephen Ndegwa
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