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Date: 13 January 2022 Author: Łukasz Kobierski
Wang Yi in East Africa
Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi visited Eritrea, Kenya, and the Comoros between January 4 and 7. It was an opportunity for further declarations of support in many domains of African countries and the presentation of new initiatives. Thus, Beijing continues to build good relations with African countries.
China continues the 32-year-old diplomatic tradition to organize the first trip of the year of its Foreign Minister to Africa. Wang Yi visited Eritrea, Kenya, and the Comoros between January 4 and 7. Later, he traveled to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.[i] Wang Yi outlined three main goals of his stay in Africa. First, cooperation in the fight against the pandemic and support for the African countries in this regard. Second, ensuring the proper pace of the implementation of the outcomes of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to help Africa accelerate its post-pandemic recovery and embark on the path of independent and sustainable development. Third, firmly defending the common interests of China and Africa in international and regional affairs.[ii]
In Kenya, Wang Yi announced the Initiative of Peaceful Development in the Horn of Africa and the appointment of a Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Through this, he seeks to strengthen intra-regional dialogue, encourage the debate on security, as well as accelerate infrastructure expansion in the region to meet development challenges.[iii]
Wang Yi addressed the accusation that China’s cooperation with Africa has created a “debt trap.” According to him, if there is any “trap” in Africa, it is the “poverty trap” and the “underdevelopment trap,” which can be overcome with Beijing’s help. He also assured that China has never imposed any political decisions on others.[iv]
In November 2021, Eritrea joined the Belt and Road Initiative, which is expected to help China strengthen its foothold in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea.[v] This decision was noted and rewarded with, among others, the visit of Wang Yi. Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which borders Eritrea, is in the midst of a civil war, therefore the new Special Envoy could help resolve the conflict.
The visit to the island state of the Comoros shows that Beijing also pays importance to African Indian Ocean states. Last year Wang Yi flew to the Seychelles, this year to the Maldives and Sri Lanka. China sees the Indian Ocean as one of its strategic maritime areas. With the expansion of land routes through Pakistan and Myanmar, it can avoid the Malacca Dilemma.[vi]
The PRC has funded a railway from the capital of Ethiopia Addis Ababa to the Red Sea port of Djibouti. In 2017, China established its first foreign military base there. Other projects in East Africa include a railway from the coastal city of Mombasa in Kenya to Malaba on the border with Uganda.[vii]
This year’s visit indicates a willingness to strengthen existing relations in East Africa. China’s growing commitment to security issues in the Horn of Africa is in line with its growing investment presence in the region and is only expected to intensify.
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