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African tour strengthens partnership

By OTIATO OPALI in Nairobi | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-20 07:11

Foreign Minister Qin Gang (second from left) meets for talks with Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul-Gheit (second from right) in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday. WANG DONGZHEN/XINHUA

Chinese foreign minister's 5-nation trip injects fresh energy into ties, experts say

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang's visit to Africa this month provides an opportunity to further strengthen China-Africa cooperation while invigorating bilateral relations, experts said.

Emmanuel Matambo, a research director at the Center for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg, in South Africa, said the fact that China traditionally sends its foreign ministers to Africa for their first trip in a new year attests to the importance of the development partnership and shows that the continent is high on Beijing's agenda for collaboration.

Qin concluded his weeklong five-nation tour on Sunday in Egypt, where he met with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League. He also visited Ethiopia, Angola, Benin and Gabon.

"Qin was appointed China's foreign minister in December and the Africa visit is his first foreign trip in his new role," Matambo said. "Having previously served as China's ambassador to the United States, I believe that Qin has a clear understanding of the biases the West has toward China-Africa relations and this trip by the foreign minister is an opportunity for him to lay the groundwork for beating back the unfair criticisms by the West."

One of the areas in which Qin is already deconstructing biased views by the West on China-Africa relations is in the narrative of so-called "debt traps" said to be imposed on Africa by China. During his visit to Ethiopia, Qin said that China has always been committed to helping Africa ease its debt burden and actively participated in the Group of 20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative.

China also signed agreements or reached consensuses with 19 African countries on debt relief and suspended the most debt service payments among G20 members, according to Qin.

Erastus Mwencha, a Kenyan diplomat and former deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission, commended Qin for addressing the misleading debt-trap narrative during his first visit to Africa and laying bare the real facts.

"China does not follow the Western mode of lending as defined by the convention on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, or the OECD, developed by Western countries in the 1960s and that is where the discrepancy comes in," Mwencha said.

He pointed out that the West wants to force China to follow the OECD structure, which comes with punitive conditions.

Based on mutuality

He added: "What the West forgets in its misleading debt-trap claim is how mutual the relationship between Africa and China has grown over the years. Under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation or FOCAC, a framework has been developed whereby Africa prioritizes its needs and presents them to China, which picks a selection of projects that they have the capacity to finance. In such a case, a debt trap does not arise because the projects are mutually agreed on."

One of the major areas of cooperation that China and Africa should focus on as the world comes out of the pandemic is cooperation on health, according to Mwencha.

Security is another area in which the two sides should further their cooperation this year, and African leaders should engage China more on a security agenda, he added.

Dennis Munene, executive director of the China-Africa Center at the Africa Policy Institute, in Nairobi, Kenya, said that during his African tour, Qin showed his willingness to continue boosting the China-Africa relationship, which is anchored on the principles of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith. It is a relationship that also values the principle of striving for the greater good as well as promoting shared interests.

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