There have been several recent developments related to China-Africa economic relations arising from the visit to Africa by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. At a January 4 press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying discussed this trip as follows:
Xinhua News Agency: State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi will start his visit to five African countries today. If we count this one, Africa has been the destination of Chinese foreign ministers’ first annual overseas visit for 31 years in a row. What is the significance of this visit? What are the key items on the agenda for State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit?
Hua Chunying: State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has left for his official visit to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Tanzania, and Seychelles. Since 1991, successive Chinese foreign ministers have all chosen Africa for their first overseas visit every year. This unique tradition reflects the special bond between the two sides featuring lasting friendship through weal and woe. It also shows that developing friendly cooperative relations with African countries has always been a basic policy and firm strategic choice in China’s foreign affairs.
In 2020, China-Africa friendship has been further elevated after going through the test of COVID-19. President Xi Jinping and African leaders successfully held an Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19, setting an example for international anti-pandemic cooperation. The year 2020 also marked the 20th anniversary of FOCAC. Over the past two decades, China and Africa have formulated and implemented ten cooperation plans and eight major initiatives. Trade between China and Africa has increased 20 times, and China’s direct investment in Africa has increased 100 times. China has helped Africa build more than 6,000 kilometers of railways and the same mileage of roads, nearly 20 ports and over 80 large-scale power plants. We are working with Africa to expand cooperation in new forms of business such as the digital economy, smart cities, clean energy and 5G. We are also taking new and solid steps in high-quality BRI development.
This year we will wrap up efforts to implement the outcomes of the FOCAC Beijing Summit. During this visit, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi will hold in-depth exchange and coordination with African countries, promote implementation of the important consensus reached by President Xi Jinping and African leaders and the outcomes of the FOCAC Beijing Summit and the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19, support African countries in combating the virus and achieving economic recovery, advance BRI cooperation and build a closer China-Africa community with a shared future.
In terms of concrete outcomes, China and Botswana signed a memorandum of understanding on BRI cooperation. Xinhua reported the following on January 8:
Visiting Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Botswana counterpart Lemogang Kwape signed the MoU between the two governments after their talks in Gaborone.
The two countries signed an agreement on jointly building the BRI on Thursday, making Botswana the 46th partner country in Africa in BRI cooperation, said Wang.
The joint construction of BRI will provide new opportunities for the two countries to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, expand new fields, open up new prospects, help Botswana’s infrastructure construction and national modernization process, and better benefit the two peoples, he said.
The visit was discussed at Hua Chunying’s January 8 press conference.
In addition, China cancelled some of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s interest-free loans and promised to fund infrastructure projects as the DRC joined the Belt and Road Initiative. The South China Morning Post reported the following on January 7:
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing would write off loans to DRC worth an estimated US$28 million to help the country overcome the impact of Covid-19, and give US$17 million in other financial support. Interest-free loans account for only about 5 per cent of the loans China has advanced to Africa.
While meeting Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa, Wang said most of the sum pledged, US$15 million, would be channelled towards development projects. The remaining US$2 million would be used to support DRC’s mandate as head of the African Union bloc for the next financial year. China also committed to funding refurbishment of the Congolese foreign ministry headquarters.
On Wednesday, DRC became the 45th country to join the belt and road, President Xi Jinping’s pet trade and infrastructure development plan, which has funded construction of highways, railways and power plants across Africa.
The visit was discussed at Hua Chunying’s January 7 press conference.
With regard to Tanzania, on January 8 Reuters reported that: “Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday requested China to forgive some of the East African nation’s debts, including one incurred 50 years ago for the construction of a railway to neighbouring Zambia. … Magufuli said he had presented the request to visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as the two witnessed the signing of a deal for the construction of a 341 km rail line by two Chinese firms.” More details on the rail line contract are here.
As to Seychelles, on January 10 Xinhua reported:
“We believe that Seychelles will also continue to support China on issues concerning China’s core interests. We are ready to take the opportunity of jointly building the Belt and Road and implementing the outcomes of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Summit to take our cooperation to a new level and build a community with a shared future for both sides in light of the economic and social development needs of Seychelles,” said Wang.
Wang said that China is willing to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with Seychelles in the three areas of green environmental protection, blue ocean and tourism.
And Seychelles News Agency reported:
The Chinese government has given Seychelles $11 million, including $4.6 million to help with a project that will help the country generate more renewable energy.
The Minister of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment, Flavien Joubert, told the press that the project will have different components that have to do with renewable energy.
“Some are off-grid. For example, we have been talking about Curieuse Island becoming autonomous in terms of energy. Under this project, we would be able to do so,” said Joubert.
Another component of the project is to install solar panels on public buildings such as state schools, which will reduce their energy consumption.
Separately from Wang Yi’s Africa trip, China and Mauritius notified (WTO Doc. WT/REG442/N/1) the WTO Committee on Regional Trade Agreements of their FTA that recently came into force. The WTO notification states:
The Agreement establishes a free trade area for trade in goods and services consistent with Article XXIV of GATT 1994 and Article V of GATS. The Agreement includes provisions on Trade in Goods, Rules of Origin and Implementation Procedures, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, Technical Barriers to Trade, Trade Remedies, Trade in Services, Investment, Competition, Intellectual Property, Electronic Commerce, Economic Cooperation, Transparency, Administrative and Institutional Provisions, and Dispute Settlement.
The WTO website explains the process for consideration of regional trade agreements here, noting that “[WTO] Members will consider the notified RTAs on the basis of a factual presentation by the WTO Secretariat.”