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What is at stake as China’s foreign minister begins Africa tour?

africanews– Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi started his five-nation tour in Africa on Monday, which will take him to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and Seychelles in line with the ministry’s 30-year diplomatic tradition of paying new year visits to Africa, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a press briefing.

Chinese foreign ministers have chosen Africa for their first overseas visit each year since 1991.

“China and Africa’s friendship had withstood the pandemic and risen to a new height in 2020. The Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 jointly held by president Xi Jinping and the African leaders has set the example for global anti-epidemic cooperation. 2020 marked the 20th anniversary of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC)”, said Hua.

Wang finds a continent desperate for Covid-19 vaccines, medical supplies and debt relief.

With the Chinese economy having taken a hit from the pandemic, there’s concern in African capitals that lending will dry up or decrease significantly.

What explains the choice of countries Wang Yi is visiting?

Nigeria

Wang will fly to Abuja first for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. While China does not buy a lot of Nigerian oil, it has lent the country a sizeable chunk of money for infrastructure building.

In months following the outbreak of Covid-19, Nigeria has seen an increase in anti-China sentiment.

After reports that Africans in Guangzhou had been discriminated against, African envoys in a joint letter to Beijing demanded an explanation for the maltreatment of Africans in China.

The speaker of Nigeria’s parliament then summoned China’s envoy to Abuja and berated him publicly.

At the end of April, Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed a motion targeting Chinese immigrants and businesses in the country before another representative, Ben Igbakpa tabled a motion calling for a review of Chinese lending to the country since 2000 with a view to cancel those deemed costly.

Wang’s visit is seen as a way to patch up relations with Abuja which have faced serious strain in 2020.

But there is also some good news to smile about. Nigeria in December began operations for the Lagos-Ibadan railway built by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCEC).

Tanzania

President John Magufuli has just won re-election. His victory was criticized by the West. Beijing has sensed an opportunity to forge even closer ties with the east African country.

China could also be looking to restart talks on the Bagamoyo port deal which have stalled for a long time.

Negotiations between the two sides broke down in 2019 after failure to agree on the terms.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is by far the world’s largest producer of cobalt, accounting for roughly 60 percent of global production, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Cobalt is a critical element used to make batteries for electric vehicles.

President Felix Tshisekedi’s government enjoys closer ties with Washington.

Wang’s visit to Kinshasa could be looking to facilitate the entry of more Chinese firms into the country’s mines, which are increasingly the subject of strategic competition between China and the United States in central Africa.

Botswana

President Mokgweetsi Masisi has been friendlier to China and less controversial compared to his predecessor Ian Khama.

In southern Africa, South Africa is Beijing’s biggest ally. Wang’s visit to landlocked Botswana is to show that Beijing cares about Pretoria’s smaller neighbors as well.

Seychelles

As India’s influence grows globally, countries such as the Seychelles and Mauritius have increasingly fallen in New Delhi’s orbit.

China is looking to cut away at Delhi’s influence in Victoria with Wang Yi’s visit.

Wang’s visit comes just days before a new government sets up in Washington. There’s concern that US-China rivalry in Africa will only escalate.

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