The 32nd New Year visit to Africa by Chinese Foreign Minister
By Yi Xin
A promise made, a promise kept
On the morning of the first working day of the New Year, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on his first trip abroad in 2022, to Africa of course, as always. It has been an unbroken tradition for 32 years, rain or shine, Ebola or Omicron. This is his second journey to Africa in a little over a month. In late November, State Councilor Wang visited the continent for the eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). In his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed the spirit of China-Africa friendship and cooperation (i.e. sincere friendship and equality, win-win for mutual benefit and common development, fairness and justice, and progress with the times and openness and inclusiveness), proposed nine programs (i.e. medical and health program, poverty reduction and agricultural development program, trade promotion program, investment promotion program, digital innovation program, green development program, capacity building program, cultural and people-to-people exchange program, and peace and security program), and put forth the building of a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era. This New Year trip is to follow up and deliver. It is a testament to time-honored, profound friendship between China and Africa, an engagement for deeper cooperation of mutual benefit, and a commitment to peace, progress and prosperity of the developing world.
A friend in need
Braving the shock of Omicron, State Councilor Wang traveled to Eritrea, Kenya and the Comoros. Health is high on the agenda, and rightly so. African countries have been hit hard by the virus. The need for vaccines is apparent. The World Health Organization put forward the goal of achieving full vaccination rates of 40% in every country by the end of December 2021, a target missed across most of Africa. Challenging times reveal true friendship. President Xi announced at the FOCAC meeting another one billion doses of vaccines to Africa to help make vaccines more accessible and affordable and bridge the immunization gap. China will provide another 10 million doses to Kenya and as many vaccines as the Comoros requires to realize vaccination for all within this year. And not just that. In Chinese philosophy, you give others fish and also teach them how to fish. There will be joint production of vaccines, development of cold-chain facilities and medical and health programs to build greater capacity of preparedness and response to the current pandemic and potential outbreaks. Such gestures attest to China’s strong resolve to stand firmly with Africa until the virus is ultimately defeated.
This visit to the horn of Africa happens in the context of much reported flareups in the region. The situation in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan has been news headlines for quite some time, albeit for distressing reasons. A genuine friend is always ready to oblige. State Councilor Wang proposed an outlook on peace and development in the horn of Africa, tossing out the idea of a peace conference and offering to appoint a Chinese special envoy to facilitate the process. Put it in a nutshell, China kindly suggests addressing both the symptoms concerning security and the root causes related to development and governance. It’s as important to accelerate economic growth as to resolve ethnic and religious discord. It’s as important to keep the region’s destiny in its own hands as to pursue development and achieve stability, Africa-led and Africa-owned. Non-interference in internal affairs, a principle enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, remains as true today as ever before, if not more.
A partner in deed
As peace and security is a prerequisite for development and progress, growth and prosperity in turn reinforces stability and harmony. At the new Kipevu Oil Terminall (KOT), the largest of its kind in Africa, built by a Chinese company, State Councilor Wang rekindled the memory of historical bonds, the three visits by the Chinese navigator Zheng He to Mombasa over 600 years ago, when he presented to the local communities nothing but goodwill and tea. He commended the Chinese engineers as following the illustrious footsteps of Zheng and contributing to the best railway (the Standard Gauge Railway from Nairobi to Mombasa) and the best oil terminal in Kenya. Both are signature harvests in high-quality, people-centered Belt and Road cooperation between China and Africa.
Standing side by side, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said that the new offshore jetty, replacing the 50-year old onshore KOT, will reduce not only the cost of fuel but also to ensure that Kenya and the region will be able to consistently have an adequate supply of fuel for development needs of the people. “Our partnership with China is not a partnership based on China telling us what to do. It is a partnership of friends, working together to meet Kenya’s socio-economic agenda.” “I can clearly say Kenya would not have been able to achieve many of our social economic development agendas without the support of China. And this is something that not only we as a government appreciate but also the people of Kenya appreciate,” the President said. Powerful words, noble deeds.
More than 10,000 kilometers of railways completed, nearly 100,000 kilometers of roads built, almost one thousand bridges and one hundred ports, numerous hospitals and schools, the list of China-Africa cooperation goes on. Numbers don’t lie and facts speak the loudest. To get rich, road and bridge. This Chinese saying most aptly captures how infrastructure can make a big difference. Yet China-Africa partnership is much more than that. Trade, investment, digital innovation, green growth, cultural ties, opportunities abound. With an impressive track record and a firm dedication to solidarity and partnership, China and Africa, comrades-in-arms, will make new, big strides on the path to modernization. The prospect of greater wellbeing of the 2.7 billion of Chinese and African people is what this mutually beneficial partnership is all about.
Rewind to 1963, in his first trip to Africa, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai described the visit as a journey for friendship and cooperation. The principles of equality, mutual benefit, and non-interference he expounded on almost 60 years ago resonate most compellingly today. Five decades since the restoration of New China’s lawful seat in the United Nations, the Chinese people never forgets the profound friendship of African brothers and sisters. Guided by the commitment to true multilateralism and international justice, China and African countries will continue to work closely together to safeguard the common interests of the developing world, and open up a new chapter in human history where each and every nation enjoys the right to development and gets to make their dreams come true.
Yi Xin is a Beijing-based observer.