Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi returned to Africa on Tuesday (January 4th). He arrived in the Eritrean capital Asmara to begin a four-day three-country tour that will also take him to Kenya and the Comoros, an island state in the Indian Ocean.
The tour marks the custom that the Chinese Foreign Minister’s first overseas trip in the New Year is always to Africa, a tradition now in its 32nd year. It also comes less than five weeks after Wang’s last trip to the mainland, when he led the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation conference in Senegal and also made a brief stop in Ethiopia.
Although the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not specify On why the three countries were selected for this year’s visit, spokesman Zhao Lijian hinted last week that pushing back the United States over the Ethiopia conflict is likely to become an important theme during the tour of Wang, especially in Eritrea and Kenya.
“As a developing country, China and African countries face the common task of safeguarding sovereignty, opposing hegemony and achieving development, ”Zhao said at a regular press conference in Beijing on Thursday. He used the same language as China’s official criticism of US sanctions against Addis Ababa and other developing countries. “We are comrades in arms in the fight against hegemonism,” he added in a not-so-subtle dig in the United States.
While bilateral issues will likely dominate Wang’s discussions with his various hosts, escalating tensions between China and the United States will undoubtedly be close to the surface at every stop on the tour. In Kenya, for example, where a general election will be held in August and the presidential campaign is now in full swing, Wang could address the issue of democracy he raised in his year-end interview with Xinhua last week. .
Even though the US Democracy Summit is long overdue and the event really hasn’t generated much interest, Chinese officials are apparently still pissed off, as evidenced by Wang’s statement that “no one is able to lecture others on democracy ”- a point, incidentally, which was also echoed by the Kenyan media.
After his tour ends on Friday, Wang will travel to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Possible items on Wang Yi’s African tour agenda this week:
- ERITREA: The war in Ethiopia will undoubtedly be at the top of the agenda of Wang’s talks with his counterpart Osman Saleh Mohammed. China and Eritrea are aligned in their support for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his fight against Tigrayian forces. The choice to go to Eritrea was also likely influenced by Beijing’s ever-growing popularity and influence throughout the Horn of Africa region.
- In addition, the two sides could unveil Belt & Road projects in response to Asmara joining the network last November. China often rewards new BIS members with loans or infrastructure development projects.
- KENYA: Ethiopia will likely be a talking point in talks with Foreign Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, but not very important. Wang will likely want to avoid any comparison with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who leaned heavily on Omamo regarding the war across the border. Instead, debt relief will likely be a much more pressing concern for Kenyans. Look for Kenyan attempts to get China Exim Bank to ease costly loan service obligations.
- Wang could also visit the nearly completed Nairobi Highway, a prominent public-private partnership with the China Road and Bridge Corporation. It highlights the new, less state-driven direction that stakeholders have advocated for China-Africa cooperation. Vaccine trade and production announcements are also likely.
- COMOROS ISLANDS: The inclusion of the Comoros Islands on the itinerary reinforces the increased importance that Beijing places on the African States of the Indian Ocean. Last year Wang visited the Seychelles and after leaving Moroni Wang will travel to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, two countries also key to the Indian Ocean. China increasingly sees the Indian Ocean as one of its most strategic maritime interests, especially with the opening of new land trade routes through Pakistan and Myanmar that are slashing shipping times by several weeks. and reduce China’s vulnerability to the so-called “Malacca trap”.
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