Pretoria - The newly appointed Foreign Minister of China, Qin Gang, spent a week in Africa that marked a continuation of the long-standing tradition of every foreign minister starting the year with a visit to Africa, since 1991.
Qin, who until recently was an ambassador to the US, made his first official overseas trip in his new role by visiting Ethiopia, Gabon, Angola, Benin, and Egypt last week.
While in Egypt, Qin met the secretary-general of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, in an effort to cement the thawing relations between China and Arab nations. When in Ethiopia, Qin held bilateral talks with Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, as part of strengthening relations with our continent and promoting multilateralism.
When announcing the visit, China’s Foreign Ministry opined that “it (the visit) shows that China attaches great importance to the traditional friendship with Africa and the development of China-Africa relations”.
Accordingly, the trip aimed at “deepening the China-Africa comprehensive strategic and co-operative partnership and boosting friendly co-operation”.
This is the 33rd consecutive year that Africa has been the destination of Chinese foreign ministers’ annual first overseas visit.
The significance of the trip is underscored by, among others, the recent attendance by China’s President, Xi Jingping, of the first China-Arab States Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, last month, at which he emphasised China’s economic commitments to Middle Eastern and North African countries.
The visit also came on the back of Africa emerging as a key factor in the realignment and reorganisation of geopolitics from a hitherto unipolar to a multipolar world.
The fact that all the countries that Qin visited are close bilateral partners of China and participate in the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation and the Belt and Road Initiative is another element that underlines China’s commitment to Africa.
The China-Africa comprehensive strategic and co-operative partnership is anchored on political equality and mutual trust, win-win economic co-operation, mutually enriching cultural exchanges, mutual assistance in security, and solidarity and co-ordination in international affairs. On the other hand, the Road and Belt Initiative is a transcontinental infrastructure and development project proposed by China in 2013.
On the economic front, China is Africa’s most important partner and has been the continent’s largest trading partner for 13 consecutive years. According to available statistics, the total two-way trade in 2021 reached about $254 billion, while it was approximately $137bn during the first half of 2022 – a year-on-year increase of approximately 17%.
Being Africa’s biggest investor and one of the leading sources of assistance, China is poised to contribute to greater comprehensive development on the continent that will see rising trade flows and greater investment that are pivotal to promoting job creation, growth, and integration into the global economy.
China-African co-operation is not restricted to trade, but also extends to a multiplicity of fields that include health and education to infrastructure, telecommunications, and technology.
The co-operation also saw China supporting the continent’s Covid-19 prevention and control measures.
The growing relationship between China and Africa should also be viewed within the context of China being part of BRICS, which controls about 24% of the global GDP, 16% of world trade, and home to 41% of the world’s population.
Therefore, BRICS certainly has economic and political clout to influence the direction the world should take.
The trip contributed to building upon these relationships and bolstering existing frameworks of co-operation, which is critical given that the region and the world are facing multiple crises.
It is common cause that since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the world has been living under the tyranny of a self-declared superpower that imposed, and continues to impose, its will on the rest of us.
The US and its trusted enforcer, Nato, played and is playing, an international policeman that deals ruthlessly with those it perceives as “stepping out of line”.
Nations were dictated to in terms of economic and other policies during the three decades of unipolar tyranny that saw the US invading and overthrowing governments around the world, including in countries like Libya where a head of state was even callously assassinated.
Natural and other resources of countries were plundered at will, and nations were left poorer and dependent on grants and loans that had conditions that further penalised them.
A “superpower” went on the rampage, the net effect being unequal development and domination instead of equitable development and friendly co-operation.
The history of the past three decades of unipolar geopolitics is littered with wars, conflicts, poverty, underdevelopment and global insecurity.
The world had an imperial unipolar protagonist that was not only averse to multilateralism but went out of its way to either undermine multilateral organisations or obliterate them.
It was not about mutual respect and co-operation but was about narrow “national interest” with complete disregard for global peace and security and comprehensive development.
The emergence of China as a global political and economic force was a breath of fresh air as the balance of geopolitical forces began to tilt in favour of the developing South.
A seed has been planted for multipolar geopolitics that promotes and respects multilateralism in world affairs.
Hence, the role and reconfiguration of multilateral platforms like the UN have come under sharp focus as no single state is able to dictate to the rest of the world.
Among other efforts, China has proposed the Global Security Initiative (GSI). The GSI aims at promoting “comprehensive, co-operative and sustainable security” for the world based on the principle of indivisible security.
Through the GSI, China aims to play a responsible global leadership role that fosters co-operation and mutual respect amongst nations.
To achieve this noble goal, China seems to have accepted that it needs to put more effort into building mutually beneficial relationships with allies like Africa, Russia, South and East Asia, and Europe.
As opposed to coercion, intimidation and even invasions, China is reaching out to the rest of the world to sell its vision of “A Community of Shared Future” that is based on three pillars: co-operative security, common development, and political inclusiveness.
Coupled with its approach to global security is its push for initiatives to bridge the gap between developed and developing regions, given the skewed global development that is as a result of weakened international development co-operation that has led to the widening global inequality between the north and south.
China is punting its Global Development Initiative (GDI) that seeks to promote co-operation and development in areas such as education, health, food security and poverty, as “part of the solution to combat rising world poverty and put the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development back on track”.
The GDI, which is endorsed by the UN, offers Africa a golden opportunity to reduce poverty and confront other challenges, especially as the continent is battling to recover from the effects of the coronavirus and other health emergencies like Ebola. The recent visit by China’s new foreign minister seems to be the tonic that the comprehensive development of Africa desperately needs as the relationship with the continent has not only seen the building of infrastructur, but also the provision of military support and ICT services.
The importance that China attaches to its relationship with Africa can only lead to bolstering investment while enhancing economic growth and recovery.