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A significant visit to propel mutual commitment in China-Africa cooperation

By Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-04-21 14:25

File Photo: Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba attends a round table of the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 4, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

As I start writing this piece, I recall how I used to engage my infantile mind with riddles while growing up. One of the most enigmatic riddles for me then, until I knew the answer, was “I’m something. I go up and never come down. What am I?” The answer to this is “age”. If I were to play the game today, I would have a different answer - China's commitment to African nations. One nation that has benefitted from this commitment is Gabon. So, the visit of Gabonese president will help to restore momentum in Africa-China cooperation, help China’s work in Africa and develop an integrated strategy that does three things: establishes continent-wide objectives between China and African nations with tailored regional strategies, expands mutually beneficial economic investment, and support African nations leverages areas in which China holds a comparative advantage over its competitors.

China’s commitment to Africa, which is in line with the popular saying “as iron sharpens iron, so does one nation sharpen another”, has grown exponentially since their diplomatic relationship started. The visit of the Gabonese president just intensified the commitment from both sides. The visit does not only bolster the commitment from both sides, but it is also constructive in bolstering Africa’s confidence in economic recovery and advancing practical cooperation with China, especially in the wake of the pandemic and amid the Ukraine crisis.

This visit is also special as it comes just after China reopened its border to the world after three years of travel restrictions in China. Therefore, the visit will be a representative case in mapping out the next stage of China-Africa cooperation and building the confidence of African investors to return to China since China has opened its nation, and certainly bolster Africa’s overall confidence of recovery in the post COVID-19 era.

African people like seeing their economies treated as business opportunities rather than places to run randomized trials for foreign aid with political strings attached. When China approaches its negotiations with African nations, it is looking to them as partners with whom it can expand business opportunities, rather than as charity cases. This is in line with China’s vision of shared prosperity. The visit implies that there are great potentials for China and Africa to create more “relief hope” in the next decade as the relationship advances.

While trade with Gabon has remained robust over the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 period, nevertheless a key purpose of China over this visit and future overseas missions will no doubt be to reassure Gabonese people of China’s commitment to strengthen economic ties, including through stronger cross-border people movement. Given that Gabon is an important exporter of raw materials, such as timber and ore, China’s commitment may provide more support for Gabon’s processing and manufacturing industry under the existing cooperation framework.

Africa is the Belt and Road Initiative’s leading partner worldwide, with almost full coverage in cooperation fields. China plays a tangible role in promoting economic and social development and improving people’s well-being in Africa. Therefore, as Gabon’s largest economic and trade partner and top investor, the visit will help fortify the synergy between the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan and the Belt and Road Initiative, to diversify the nation’s economy.

Additionally, with the United States tightening its grip in African nations, the visit sends a signal to the world that China has always been Africa’s strongest development partner and a vital motivating force for the continent’s growth as well. Likewise, the visit shows the Chinese belief that the continent of Africa should be a place for international cooperation, not for major-power competition or geopolitical gains. Therefore, the Gabonese president’s visit puts him in a good position to use the visit to promote Africa-China cooperation against the backdrop of the growing geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States. Notably, the visit by an African president is beneficial to promoting the construction of a novel kind of international relations, and indicates that the complete-fledged Chinese diplomacy is setting off a worldwide effect.

China and Gabon have always understood and supported each other on issues concerning each other’s core interests and major concerns, and worked closely on multilateral occasions such as the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council to firmly safeguard international fairness and justice. Therefore, the visit should be a starting point in the new era for Chinese and Gabonese people to work together to build a high-quality “community of shared future for mankind” that would grow into a community of collaboration that would help to meet the challenges in people-to-people harmony and safeguard the health of the people, build a community of people that will promote social and economic recovery and build a community of people that will help both Gabonese and Chinese people unleash development potentials in the new era.

The author is the executive director of the Center for Nigerian Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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