Africa: Why China-Africa Ties Can Only Get Better in 2021

(file photo).
15 January 2021

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has concluded a five-nation visit to Africa, extending a three-decade tradition in which Chinese foreign ministers have chosen Africa for the first overseas visit each year.

In choosing to visit Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and Seychelles, Mr Wang has demonstrated that China treats all African countries as important partners irrespective of size, geography, and political influence.

Besides honouring the long standing tradition, Mr Wang's visit unfolded in the backdrop of a debilitating global health crisis that still has much of the world under its grip.

Many foreign leaders have since shunned the continent; yet here was China's top diplomat reassuring the continent of Beijing's availability and utilitarian friendship, with a personal visit.

Minister Wang has effectively set the tone and laid ground for Sino-Africa cooperation in 2021 and beyond.

Strongest partner

The themes running through his visit including joint efforts to contain Covid-19; economic recovery from the pandemic; and partnerships towards solid socio-economic development all rank high in the priority list of African countries.

China has been the strongest partner of the continent in terms of pandemic response to the Covid-19. Besides sending medical teams to over 40 African countries and the massive donations of essential commodities, Beijing is also constructing the headquarters of the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The war against the pandemic has since entered the vaccination phase; yet with most of the western produced vaccines currently out of reach of the continent on the basis of cost, technology and storage requirements, there is growing anxiety that Africa could miss out on the lifesaving commodities.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has previously reiterated that when China gets a Covid-19 vaccine, it would be made available to African countries. It was heartening to hear about China's donation of 50,000 doses of Sinopharm's Covid-19 vaccines to the Seychelles while ramping up discussions with Nigeria access to the vaccines.

While Africa has been spared the apocalyptic health impacts of the pandemic relative to other regions, the economic impacts have been excruciating.

Public debt has been singled out as weighing down African countries in the wake of the pandemic. As the largest trade and development partner for Africa, Wang Yi announced that China would write off loans worth an estimated US$28 million to Democratic Republic of Congo.

Economic relations

This was a major signalling of what is possible for other African countries in their economic relations with China. Beijing has also signed debt service suspension agreements with twelve African countries while providing waivers of matured interest-free loan for another fifteen. These measures are aimed at giving beneficiary countries sufficient headroom for economic recovery and back to the growth trajectory.

A key messaging point of Minister Wang Yi in all the countries he visited was the need for cooperative arrangement that can jumpstart and hoist transformative and sustainable development in the continent.

By fusing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China and Africa could expedite the implementation of the projects and register better development outcomes.

During Wang Yi's visit, DRC and Botswana signed up to the BRI, while Tanzania awarded a $1.32 billion contract to two Chinese companies for the construction of a 341 Kilometre rail line connect the Lake Victoria port city of Mwanza to Isaka.

Co-construction of the BRI projects will also promote collective decision making and resource allocation; hence strengthening responsibility and sustainability while weeding out politically motivated projects.

Africa equally presents a business case for Chinese enterprises; a move that could power industrialisation and wealth creation in the continent.

Twenty years after its founding, the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (Focac) will be held later this year in Senegal.

It will be an opportunity for both China and African agencies to ground new pragmatic cooperative agreements and visions to deliver on the enviable dreams that Wang Yi has articulated during his visit.

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