Sino-African friendship growing ever deeper

2021-01-21 12:05:11

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) meets with Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama in Abuja, Nigeria, on Jan 5, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua] Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently concluded a five-nation visit to Africa, extending a three-decade-long tradition in which Chinese foreign ministers have chosen Africa for their first overseas visit each year. In choosing to visit Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and Seychelles, Wang demonstrated that China treats all African countries as important partners irrespective of size, geography or political influence. Besides honoring the longstanding tradition, Wang's visit unfolded at 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 friendship with a personal visit. Wang has effectively set the tone and laid the groundwork for Sino-African cooperation in 2021 and beyond. Throughout his visit, issues discussed included joint efforts to contain COVID-19, economic recovery from the pandemic and partnerships toward solid socioeconomic development-all ranking high on the priority list of African countries. China has been Africa's strongest partner in terms of response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The war against the pandemic has now entered the vaccination phase. With most of the vaccines produced by Western countries currently out of reach to the continent because of cost as well as technological and storage requirements, there is growing anxiety that Africa could miss out on these lifesaving commodities. While Africa has been spared the apocalyptic health impact of the pandemic relative to other regions, the economic impact has been excruciating. Public debt has been singled out as weighing down African countries in the wake of the pandemic. Foreign Minister Wang announced that China, as Africa's largest trade and development partner, would write off loans to the DRC worth an estimated $28 million. This was a major signal of what is possible for other African countries in their economic relations with China. Beijing has also signed debt service suspension agreements with 12 African countries, while providing waivers of matured interest-free loans for another 15. These measures are aimed at giving beneficiary countries sufficient headroom for economic recovery and to put them back on the growth trajectory. A key message of Wang to all the countries he had visited was the need for a cooperative arrangement that can jump-start and hoist transformative and sustainable development on the continent. By fusing the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Belt and Road Initiative, China and Africa could expedite the implementation of projects and register better development outcomes. Co-construction of BRI projects will also promote collective decision-making and resource allocation, strengthening responsibility and sustainability. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation's meeting later this year in Senegal will be an opportunity for Chinese and African agencies to lay the groundwork for new pragmatic cooperative agreements and visions to deliver the dreams that Wang articulated during his visit. The author is a scholar of international relations with a focus on China-Africa relations. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.