China respects tradition of its first tour of the year in Africa

Choosing Africa as the first overseas destination of the year is a two-decade-long diplomatic tradition for the Chinese government; over the years China has become a strategic partner of many African countries. The tradition has also been observed in 2017 with the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to five countries of the continent.

China Railway Construction to build railway in Nigeria. Credit: mongolnews
China Railway Construction to build railway in Nigeria. Credit: mongolnews

Beijing’s top diplomat began his African tour on January 7 in Madagascar, and after that went in order to ZambiaTanzaniaRepublic of Congo and finally Nigeria, where he concluded his trip on Wednesday.

In recent years, China’s cooperation with Africa has increased significantly, and Wang’s official visit was an opportunity to strengthen Beijing’s privileged partnership with the five countries that were destinations for the diplomatic mission.

During the various stages, the Chinese Foreign Minister pointed out that in just the first six months following the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, in December 2015, China and African nations signed agreements for the development of various sectors with a value of more than 50 billion dollars.

Wang also emphasised the intentions of the Asian giant on the development of railways in Africa, such as the TAZARA, the narrow-gauge railway, which stretches for about 1,700 km, connecting the Tanzanian commercial capital of Dar es Salaam with the town of Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia, located about 200 kilometers north of the capital Lusaka.

Last September, during the seventh East and Central Africa Roads and Rail Summit in Dar es Salaam, the TAZARA Authority appealed to private investors to bear the costs of the project for the redevelopment of the railway, estimated at $1.2 billion.

In Tanzania and Zambia, the Chinese Foreign Minister assured the participants that Beijing will cooperate with the two countries to restructure TAZARA, built in the early seventies with Chinese technical and economic support.

In the final leg, in Nigeria, a railway was again the subject of talks between Wang and his counterpart Geofrey Onyeama. This is the standard-gauge line between Abuja and Kaduna, 186 kilometers long and built by the Chinese state company CCECC, with funds from the Export-Import Bank of China.

To continue the Nigerian railway modernization project, Wang signed a Memorandum of Understanding which sets out the terms of the collaboration in the development of the railway connecting the north and south of the country.

During his visit, the Chinese minister also promised Beijing’s aid to the Republic of Congo for the creation of a special economic zone (SEZ) in the port city of Pointe Noire, while in Madagascar he explored new opportunities for cooperation.

Mr Wang’s diplomatic mission confirmed that the Asian giant intends to continue to be Africa’s main trading partner, but it is clear that the former Middle Kingdom is not driven by philanthropic zeal in its twenty-year policy towards Africa.

The African economic framework, although difficult, has a good potential for investment and offers opportunities that have favoured Chinese expansion on the continent: an expansion mainly driven by economic and political motives, summarised in the acquisition of raw materials, the search for new markets, and an effort to gain African support in international institutions.

Based on these factors, the black continent is therefore an ideal reservoir for the stable and reliable supply of energy resources, from which China receives more than 30% of its entire volume of crude oil imports.

The Chinese approach to Africa is therefore inspired more by the internal needs of its global political vision, and the cornerstone of Sino-African partnership is economic pragmatism: only contracts to sign and no political conditions, except for the severance of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

According to Beijing, such a system is the basis of an relationship of equality and mutual interest between two complementary economies, in which both partners gain something and which, not surprisingly, African Francophones call gagnant-gagnant.

This system, however, fails to take account of certain international criteria for investment and human rights, implying the risk that Africa may not be able best to deal with the outstanding flow of loans.

The African economy has acquired a powerful addiction to China, and much of the recent development on the continent depends on the performance of the former Celestial Empire, in this way penalising these countries, which are resource-rich countries but with a low average income.

For these reasons, a big market like Africa should reduce its dependence on the Asian giant and start a more autonomous development process, to rebalance the economic relationship developed between the two blocs.


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