Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama in Abuja, Nigeria, on January 5 (XINHUA)
As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” While we suffer setbacks as a result of COVID-19 at different levels, we have to know that as long as we are still alive, we will have to find ways to move forward. In finding ways to move forward and taking Africa along, China bolstered its cooperation with Africa in the first three days of 2021 by launching a free trade agreement with Mauritius after three years of negotiations, the first such agreement China has signed with an African country. On top of that, keeping its unshakable promise made 31 years ago, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited five African nations - Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and Seychelles at the beginning of the year.
Notably, over three decades ago, China decided to start a tradition of making Africa the first overseas trip of its foreign ministers in a new year. Since then, China has kept their promise. Even as the coronavirus rages globally and the continent of Africa recently saw the spread of a new strain of the virus, which scientist said will worsen the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese foreign minister has remained committed to the tradition of visiting the continent, which truly demonstrates that China is a reliable and true friend who Africans can really rely on.
As the world is busy battling the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese foreign minister’s visit demonstrates the great importance the Chinese people attach to their relationship with African people. It gives me great pleasure to say that China’s unshakable commitment to its engagement with the continent of Africa is a privilege that will forever be cherished by African people.
With regard to why these five African nations were chosen, I believe it’s because they represent the five different parts of the continent of Africa, and the choice displays an extension of China’s foreign policy to its relationship with the continent of Africa. Also, since 53 percent of Africa’s imports comes from nations highly impacted by COVID-19, and 51 percent of Africa’s exports goes to nations highly impacted by the pandemic, Africa has been confronted with a “twin supply-demand shock.” As such, many African nations will benefit from Wang’s visit for the reason that they were highly reliant on demand from the Chinese market for their post-COVID-19 economic recovery. So, Wang’s visit is expected to see more initiatives that will stabilize the continent and help it achieve the classic “V-shaped” recovery in 2021.
In addition, the visit is timely because it is coming at the time when the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Sub-Saharan Africa into its first recession in 25 years. Many African nations are facing financial crisis and have applied for debt relief from the G20, including China. As such, the visit implies that there is great potential for China and Africa to create more “relief hope” in the next decade as the relationship advances. During the most trying time in Africa’s fight against the coronavirus in 2020, China took the lead in creating a world where more compassion and more empathy makes us human by signing debt service suspension pacts with 12 African nations and reducing or waiving interest-free loans for 15 African nations due at the end of 2020.
Boosting Africa-China cooperation
Furthermore, the year 2020 is of special significance in the world history and in the history of China-Africa cooperation. Looking back at 2020, China-Africa cooperation under the COVID-19 pandemic has stood the test of time. Deepening the unity in combating the pandemic will be a major focus of Wang’s visit to African nations. This is because the Chinese Government has always emphasized the necessity to make an affordable vaccine that does not pose an insurmountable logistical challenge accessible to the continent of Africa as soon as possible. Therefore, Wang’s visit is timely. It comes at a time China is deepening its cooperation with African nations in the fight against COVID-19, as China has granted conditional marketing authorization for its self-developed vaccines, and African nations are in dire need for vaccines in 2021. It is worth mentioning that with China making the vaccine accessible for Africa, this will create a “relief hope” as well as be beneficial for the continent, otherwise, the continent of Africa would be marginalized internationally in tourism, trade and economic recovery.
According to data from the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the total FDI flows from China into Africa amounted to $95.7 billion from 2005 to 2019, representing 7.8 percent of China’s outbound FDI over the 15-year period. Therefore, looking at the future, it is inevitable that China will increase its investment in Africa. Of course, this also requires policy support, such as aid for Africa. As such, there is great potential for China and Africa to create more “relief hope” in the next decade. Apart from traditional cooperation, China could focus more on new infrastructure construction in Africa that will help to propel the African Continental Free Trade Area that has a market of 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of $3 trillion. The industrial parks, or special economic zones, could be a major engine to link the continent with the global market. Based on numerous studies concerning the Chinese “migrating geese” that are migrating to Africa, I believe that investing in industrialization may be a trend as manufacturing footwear and garments and processing agriculture products have proven to be successful in numerous African nations.
In conclusion, Wang’s visit should be a starting point in the post-COVID-19 era for China and Africa to work together to promote the construction of the Belt and Road, which will grow into a road of collaboration to meet the challenges in people-to-people exchanges, a road of health that will safeguard the health of the people, a road of recovery that will promote social and economic development and a road of advancement that will help both African nations and China unleash their development potential.
The author is executive director of the Center for Nigerian Studies, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University