Understanding China’s Foreign Policy And Economic Priorities In Africa And America’s Response
While Americans are focused on the Chinese spy balloon controversy or who will win the Superbowl, China is redefining foreign policy objectives abroad. What the general public may be less aware of is a diplomatic strategy led by Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang aimed at promoting Chinese interests abroad. Elected to this post in December 2022, Qin has spent his first couple of weeks embarking on a foreign policy blitz enhancing China’s “soft” and “sharp” power. This effort is primarily aimed at “South-South” cooperation targeting emerging economies, many of which are in Africa. Sino-African relations have deep historical roots that were enhanced to a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership in 2018 during the Beijing FOCAC Summit. Twenty years after the creation of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) it has become the cornerstone for enhancing both bilateral and multilateral relations. The bottom line is China’s ultimate objective is to institutionalize Sino-African public-private partnerships by utilizing dollar diplomacy to create an ecosystem to support strategic interests. Objectives include identifying not only areas of cooperation, but also placing a priority on developing long-term relationships, cultural competence, and predictable and measurable outcomes.
Qin has continued the tradition of previous Chinese foreign ministers and conducted his first overseas trip to the African continent. This marks the 33rd year in a row that China’s foreign minister has made this his initial trip abroad. Qin was able to reaffirm partnerships with allies throughout the region and returned to Beijing in late January 2023. Beijing’s investment in political capital, reaps lucrative returns seen through commercial, social, and geostrategic outcomes.
Qin’s scheduled visit to Africa and the reasoning behind the move were first announced by Wang Wenbin, Deputy Director of The Foreign Ministry Information Department. He stated, “It shows that China attaches great importance to the traditional friendship with Africa and the development of China-Africa relations.” Qin Gang’s first stop was in Ethiopia. On January 10, 2023 he met with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen. The two sides reached a high-level consensus stating that there is a need to consolidate and deepen mutual trust and continue partnering on topics relating to their core interests. They also reiterated a desire to continue deepening their economic partnership, highlighted by the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway. Furthermore, Qin stated that the recent conflict and subsequent peace deal between Addis Ababa and Tigray is an internal matter.
The next country that Qin Gang traveled to on his Africa tour was Gabon. Qin met with President Ali Bongo Ondimba on January 12, 2023. In addition to stating support for each other’s core interests, Qin declared China’s desire to assist in advancing the “Gabon Emergent” strategic plan and pursue Belt and Road (BRI) cooperation.
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In the following days, Qin then traveled to Benin and Angola. In Benin, Qin met with President Talon and discussed Benin learning from China’s development experience and signed a number of cooperation agreements. This included an agreement on people-to-people and cultural exchanges. While in Angola, Qin met with President João Lourenço and highlighted recent Chinese infrastructure projects that supported China and its role in post-war construction. President Lourenço also reiterated Angola’s support for the One-China principle.
On the final leg of Qin Gang’s trip, he stopped in Egypt and met with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. The two officials discussed bringing Egypt-China relations to new heights. China has been Egypt’s largest trading partner for nine years in a row and is working on numerous infrastructure projects in the country, including an express electric train. The two officials also talked about a potential influx of Chinese tourists into Egypt as Cairo attempts to revive its struggling tourism sector. Egypt’s influence in the region is significant, and, thus, it is a vital partner for Beijing to secure. Cairo also assists in advocating the One-China principle.
Qin’s recent moves abroad and home reflect a whirlwind of diplomatic activity, highlighting China’s foreign policy and regional priorities. More importantly, the diminishing asymmetry of power and technology will give rise to fierce competition. President Biden emphasized during his State of the Union address, “Today, we’re in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world.” However, many in the U.S. and abroad question if this is true. China is currently engaging in a foreign policy that bolsters its influence in a region that is becoming increasingly important in the global economy and diplomatic arena. The United States must take steps to counter Chinese action on the African continent. This includes continuing to forgive money owed by debt-ridden nations and pushing China to do the same, as well as engaging African States in a meaningful manner. The United States must conduct high-level diplomatic visits to the continent and host events such as the recent African-American Summit. It must also work to include African countries as members of multilateral initiatives that focus on the continent, like the Mineral Security Partnership which aims to bolster critical mineral supplies, yet contains no permanent African State members. This competitive rivalry will only increase. America must be more intentional in engaging the continent of Africa and its leaders utilizing American technology, innovation, social entrepreneurship, diplomacy, and trade along with targeted public-private partnerships. Failure to do so will erode U.S. credibility both at home and abroad.
Special thanks to Nathaniel Schochet, Analyst at CJPA Global Advisors and graduate student at American University SIS for his exceptional research and editorial skills.
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