China, Africa embrace new decade of strong ties through fruitful cooperation

2020-01-07 05:47:06 GMT2020-01-07 13:47:06(Beijing Time) Xinhua English
The first freight train of the Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) arrives at the Naivasha Inland Container Depot in Kenya, on Dec. 17, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Teng)  The first freight train of the Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) arrives at the Naivasha Inland Container Depot in Kenya, on Dec. 17, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Teng)

NAIROBI, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is to pay official visits to Africa from Jan. 7 to 13 as his first overseas visit in 2020, which will mark the 30th consecutive year since 1991 that a Chinese foreign minister has visited Africa at the start of every year.

Such a well-kept tradition already tells a lot about the flourishing and brotherly nature of China-Africa relations, and the year 2020 bears special significance for both sides since they embark on a new decade of strong ties well maintained by tradition and mutually beneficial cooperation over the years.

UNSTOPPABLE TREND

The tradition of a Chinese foreign minister visiting Africa at the start of every year dates back to January 1991 when then Chinese vice premier and foreign minister Qian Qichen visited four East African nations.

It has since become an unstoppable trend as succeeding Chinese foreign ministers, including Tang Jiaxuan, Li Zhaoxing, Yang Jiechi and Wang, continued to choose Africa for their first trip of the year.

The very idea for such a tradition, as the late Qian put it, is because China believes that economies around the world were becoming more interdependent especially since the end of the Cold War, and Africa, as a big group of countries in the United Nations family, represents an important force in international affairs.

So naturally, establishing friendly cooperative ties with Africa serves China's interests, Qian once said.

Moreover, China, as the world's largest developing country, has to strengthen solidarity and cooperation with Africa and other so-called third world countries because this is the cornerstone of China's foreign policy.

At a press briefing held last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said this fine tradition also reflects Chinese priority to develop ties with Africa.

Wu Chuanhua, a research fellow at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said maintaining the same tradition over 30 years is unique in the history of diplomacy, noting that the tradition is cherished by both sides.

FOCAC FUNDS

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), a dialogue oriented towards promoting China-Africa cooperation and broadening consensus on issues of mutual concern.

Since the FOCAC's inception in 2000, China and Africa have witnessed unprecedented cooperative outcomes.

China has been Africa's largest trading partner for 10 consecutive years. In 2018, trade volume between China and Africa amounted to 204.2 billion U.S. dollars, up 20 percent year-on-year.

In infrastructure, Chinese expertise and technologies have given rise to numerous transformative mega-projects such as railways, ports, aviation hubs and power plants in Africa. In December last year, Kenya launched the Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) cargo service, which has extended the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR to better connect the hinterland.

"Over the past 20 years, China-Africa relations have developed in an all-around way," Wu noted. "Apart from strengthened mutual political trust as well as economic and trade relations, cooperation has enriched and expanded into more sectors such as culture, education, and health."

Evariste Irandu, a professor at the University of Nairobi, said China, after having achieved its own historic development through decades of hard work, has pledged to assist other less fortunate countries, and one of the principal beneficiaries of Chinese commitment is Africa.

In December 2015, at the FOCAC summit in Johannesburg, China announced 10 major cooperation plans to promote industrialization and agricultural modernization in Africa, backed by a fund of 60 billion dollars.

China would extend an additional 60 billion dollars of financing to Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Beijing Summit of the FOCAC.

China's pledge to Africa is "a clear testimony to China's commitment," Irandu noted.

The professor added that the FOCAC is indeed based on "win-win cooperation," adding the regular visits to Africa by senior Chinese government officials clearly indicate that China is really sincere and honest in seeing the continent develop.

NEW DECADE

The past year saw Africa launch the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), forming what could be the world's largest free trade area that covers more than 1.2 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of 2.5 trillion dollars.

Expectations are growing high and trading is expected to commence within AfCFTA on July 1, 2020. Officials and experts believe that Africa and China are set to see broadened cooperation with AfCFTA's launch.

"China has shown keen interest in assisting Africa in closing her huge infrastructure gap especially in high speed rail and road development," said Irandu. "This will open up many inaccessible parts of the continent for regional and international trade."

With the operationalization of the AfCFTA, the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) offers a great opportunity for Africa to develop its gigantic infrastructure projects and build transport networks linking different parts of the continent, said AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga at a conference in Ethiopia last month.

His words were echoed by He Wenping, a CASS researcher, who said that since the BRI was proposed in 2013, "Africa has become an important partner of China in implementing the Belt and Road Initiative."

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