China’s Africa-First Diplomacy: Results And Prospects
By Charles Onunaiju
Following in the more than two decades – old diplomatic practice, which has seen Beijing taken on Africa as the starting destination of her international diplomatic engagement every year, Chinese foreign minister, Mr. Wang Yi is currently in Africa on a five nation’s visit. The high level visit of Chinese foreign minister which has started with a trip to Madagascar on the 7th would take him through Zambia, Tanzania, Republic of Congo and finally to Nigeria, where he would wrap up the visit on the 12th of January.
According to a statement by China’s foreign ministry spokesperson earlier before foreign minister Wang Yi’s trip, “relations with developing countries including Africa is the bedrock of Chinese diplomacy, and added that “Chinese foreign minister have visited Africa during their first foreign trips each year, over the past two decades. The practice has become a much treasured diplomatic tradition for China”.
Beyond the symbolism of this evolving Chinese diplomatic tradition, the African-first China’s diplomacy underscores the vigour and robustness of Sino – African co-operation whose ever widening frontiers and deepening content is underwritten by shared destiny and common vision, built through the historic trajectories of solidarity, strategic partnership and now, advanced comprehensive co-operation.
Even after his election as general secretary of the Communist Party of China and into State apex leadership in 2012, president Xi Jinping’s first international engagement was to neighboring Russia and straight to Africa, in Tanzania, where he elaborated on the fresh impetus to drive the Sino – Africa co-operations.
The visit of foreign minister Wang Yi to Africa fits into the blossoming Beijing African diplomacy and more importantly captures the trend of China – Africa deepening co-operation. While in Africa, Mr. Wang Yi would discuss the implementation of president Xi Jinping’s consensus with African leaders and the outcome of the 2015 summit of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) in Johannesburg, South Africa. At the historic summit, which was the second of the FOCAC heads of States and government and first on the African soil, China announced ten (10) major plans for a 60 billion U.S dollar package. And as last July, China and Africa have signed 245 various cooperation agreements worth a total of 50 billion U.S. dollars.
In April of 2016, soon after the historic FOCAC summit in Johannesburg, president Muhammadu Buhari paid historic state visit to China, becoming the first African head of state to call at Beijing, soon after the summit. The visit harvested agreements on core issues of Nigeria’s economic reconstruction which included a framework agreement between the National development and Reform Commission of China and Nigeria’s federal ministry of industry, trade and investment on developing cooperation on industrialization, infrastructure, production capacity and investment. During the visit also, the Chinese pledged to provide 100million Chinese yuan of assistance free, for the projects of Agricultural science and technology demonstration center and solar traffic lights in Abuja. Beside this, China has provided around 4 billion U.S dollars concessionary loans in total to Nigeria to fund major projects such as Abuja – Kaduna Railway, Abuja high-rail, Lagos Rail mass transit system and several others.
As it has become obvious, that Africa’s economic revival cannot subsist or rely for sustenance on commodity extraction and export as weak demand and low prices have taken huge tolls on Africa’s economies, the path of industrialization is once again getting attention with China playing key role. Beijing has set up China – Africa fund for production capacity co-operation with an initial contribution of ten billion U.S dollars.
Across Africa, China supported or assisted infrastructure projects have been completed, commissioned and put to use, even as others are nearing completion at the end of 2016. Last July, the Abuja – Kaduna standard gauge railway, linking Nigeria’s capital Abuja and the north western state of Kaduna was opened for commercial operation. The 186.6km line built by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation with nine stations and designed speed of 150km per hour is part of the railway modernization initiative by Nigeria to replace the existing narrow gauge with the wider standard gauge system, while allowing high-speed train operation on the railway network. The Nnamdi Azikiwe international airport in Abuja under reconstruction with Chinese assistance is nearing completion. Last October, the first electrified railway linking Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti was completed and put to use. The 752.7km railway which was constructed by the China Railway group and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, will avail landlocked Ethiopia a faster access to the sea via Djibouti port, reducing travel time from seven days on roads to about 10 hours.
Following in November last year, was the launch of Kenya’s Nairobi – Naivasha standard gauge Railway project built by China communication Construction Company and funded by China’s Exim Bank. The project is phase one of Nairobi – Malaba standard gauge railway and an extension of Nairobi – Mombassa standard gauge railway. The 120.4km line starts from the Kenyan capital city to Malaba, a border city between Kenya and Uganda.
In Tanzania, a Chinese built Nyerere bridge or Kigamboni Bridge, 680 meters long and six lane bridge opened for traffic as the largest cable – stayed cross sea bridge in East Africa.
Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls international Airport which was commissioned and expanded with support from China was commissioned in November, 2016. The airport which can now handle 1.5 million passengers per year, up from 500,000 boasts new facilities including a new international terminal building, a new 4 –km runaway extended parking areas for aircrafts and new road networks. The project was funded through a 150 million U.S dollars loan from China Exim bank.
Also in November last year, Ghana commissioned the new kotokuraba market whose construction was financed by China Exim bank. The market in the ancient capital, Cape Coast features modern facilities including a 200 capacity parking lot, a solar system for emergency lightening and CCTV security cameras. The market renovation and construction would ease congestion in the former kotokuraba market, which had suffered two major fire out breaks with heavy losses in the past.
China – Africa co-operation and the diplomacy invested to drive it, is not mere ordinary and routine traditional international diplomacy of ambiguities and double – talk but a framework of useful intercourse to produce tangible results and evolve new strategies to consolidate functional partnership. Foreign minister Wang Yi, as he travel around the five countries in Africa bears enormous good will from Beijing and practical support for Africa and therefore deserve the best of Africa’s phenomenal hospitality.
Mr. Onunaiju is a journalist and director, Center for China Studies, Utako, Abuja.