Visit to renew commitment to continent

By Yang Jingjie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-5-5 0:58:01

Premier Li Keqiang, accompanied by his wife Cheng Hong, arrived in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on May 4 for his eight-day visit in Africa.

Yielding more benefits to Africa will be the major theme of Premier Li Keqiang's visit to the continent, experts noted, projecting increasing investment in Africa by Chinese companies despite a slowdown in China's economic growth.

Li arrived in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Sunday for the first leg of his eight-day visit. The tour will also take him to Nigeria, Angola and Kenya.

It is his first visit to Africa since taking office last year.

The trip is widely believed to be China's renewed commitment to Chinese-African cooperation, following Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the continent in March last year.

During his trip, Xi referred to China and Africa as "a community of shared destiny," and vowed to continue providing no-strings-attached aid to African countries. A $20 billion credit-line was pledged to the continent over the following three years.

Zhang Yongpeng, a research fellow with the Institute for West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the agreements to be inked during Li's visit would be an upgraded version of the previous package raised by Xi.

"The visit will stress mutual benefits and a win-win result. China is expected to yield more benefits to Africa in their projects, instead of playing a dominant role in the cooperation," Zhang told the Global Times.

According to China's foreign ministry, nearly 60 cooperation documents will be signed during Li's trip, covering areas such as trade, health, culture, rail, aviation and electric power.

A deal worth more than $3 billion will be inked in Kenya for building a new rail link from the coast on the Indian Ocean to its border with Uganda.

China replaced the US to become Africa's largest trade partner in 2009, and bilateral trade volume surpassed $210 billion in 2013. Its direct investment in Africa reached $25 billion by the end of 2013, data from China's commerce ministry showed.

Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo recently wrote on The Huffington Post that "Chinese trade flows are not only a welcome investment in the global growth and poverty reduction agenda, but they can also play an enormous impact in staving off civil unrest and instability by creating local job opportunities."

However, the fact that natural resources are a predominant part of China-Africa trade has fuelled accusations about China's plundering of Africa's resources.

Africa is a major source for China's import of oil and copper.

A manager with a Chinese State-owned Enterprise (SOE), who asked not to be named, told the Global Times that in recent years, his company, which invested across Africa in infrastructure development, has brought not only funding but also Chinese techniques and experiences to the continent.

While China is expanding its economic presence in Africa, concerns have been rising over what impact the slowdown in the Chinese economy will bring to Africa.

Last month, the IMF released a regional economic outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa, warning a slowdown in China may reduce demand and lower prices for commodities and a tightening of lending may weaken the appetite of Chinese companies for investments abroad.

While noting China is believed to contribute nearly one-third to Africa's 5 percent annual growth, Zhang said the impact wouldn't be severe, as Africa is diversifying its industrial structure. Meanwhile, most Chinese SOEs wouldn't scale back investment, as their projects there are long-term and for strategic consideration.

The manager with the Chinese company also disagreed with the IMF's projection, noting that despite a slowdown, the central government's support toward investment in Africa is increasing rather than falling.

Premier's tour itinerary

May 4-6 Ethiopia (Delivering a speech at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa)

May 6-8 Nigeria (Attending the World Economic Forum on Africa)

May 8-9 Angola

May 9-11 Kenya (Meeting heads of UNEP and UN-Habitat)

'Wife diplomacy' in focus

Cheng Hong, who is accompanying her husband Premier Li Keqiang during his Africa tour, has drawn wide public attention as it is the first time for her to join a state visit since Li took office last year.

The Xinhua News Agency posted a photo of Cheng's on one its official Sina Weibo accounts on Sunday, along with a brief profile.

Information about Chinese leaders' family members is scarce.

Existing reports show Cheng is an English professor at the foreign language department of the Capital University of Economics and Business.

Cheng is a leading expert in China on nature writing and eco-criticism, and has translated a series of US literature works.

Zhou Jiali, a lecturer with the Department of Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs Management at China Foreign Affairs University, said wives of senior officials often attend activities on the topics of women, children and charity during foreign visits, which is helpful to fully show a country's national image.

"Wife diplomacy" contributes to public diplomacy, which aims to increase soft power and gain a reputation for a country in the international community, Zhou told the Global Times.

The spouse of a Chinese president or premier accompanying a state visit was not rare in the past but the recent tours of Peng Liyuan with her husband, President Xi Jinping, have drawn heated online discussions. Things like what dresses the First Lady wore and what brand of cellphone she used have become hot topics, a phenomenon rarely seen for previous Chinese leaders.

Newspaper headline: China to yield more benefits to Africa

Posted in: Diplomacy

blog comments powered by Disqus