China-Gabon relations lifted to strategic level
China confident to strengthen cooperation with Africa amid growing influence of major powers in the continent
Published: Apr 19, 2023 05:42 PM
Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan welcome visiting President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and his wife before the two leaders held talks at the Great Hall of the People on April 19, 2023. The two sides agreed to lift bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan welcome visiting President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and his wife before the two leaders held talks at the Great Hall of the People on April 19, 2023. The two sides agreed to lift bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, who is on a state visit to China, at the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday, and the two leaders reached an agreement on the elevation of the comprehensive cooperative partnership between the two countries to a "comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership."

Chinese analysts said this is a signal that China has confidence to continually strengthen its long-standing, high-level and comprehensive cooperation with African countries including Gabon when all major powers around the globe are expanding their influence in the continent.

Xi extended a warm welcome to President Bongo at the meeting. Calling President Bongo "an old friend" of the Chinese people, Xi said President Bongo is the first African head of state he has hosted after being reelected as the Chinese president, which fully demonstrates the importance and high level of the China-Gabon relations, the Xinhua News Agency reported. 

China and Gabon signed a joint statement on Wednesday, covering broad fields including strategic consensuses on opposing hegemony, power politics and the behavior of abusing the values of democracy to interfere in other countries' internal affairs. The joint statement also stated that the two countries will deepen cooperation in areas like infrastructure construction, agriculture, energy, mining, tourism and climate change. 

He Wenping, senior research fellow of the African Studies Section at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "in 2023, Chinese diplomacy is marching with full speed ahead. From Xi's state visit to Russia to receiving leaders of France, the EU, ASEAN countries and Brazil, these diplomatic activities reflect China's strategies in the continents of Europe, Asia and Latin America. The latest visit of President Bongo is not only reflecting the China-Gabon relations, but also representing the high-level strategic ties between China and Africa."

Xi said at the meeting with the Gabonese president that "In recent years, under the leadership of President Bongo, Gabon has been exploring a development path tailored to its national conditions and pursuing national stability and economic diversification. Significant achievements have been made in national development. Gabon has also been promoting the regional integration process and mediating hotspot issues in Africa. It has held a successful One Forest Summit and taken over as the President of the Economic Community of Central African States not long ago." 

Xi noted, "Gabon's influence in the region and beyond has grown markedly. As a sincere friend of Gabon, China wishes the country still greater progress in all its endeavors and early realization of its strategic goal toward an Emerging Gabon."

Traditional friendship

Gabon has a traditional friendship with China, and it is also one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the continent, and has achieved remarkable economic development, He noted. "Gabon has natural resources like oil and woods, and apart from traditional trade, the country is also interested in exploring cooperation with China in the fields like maritime economy and digital economy." 

In recent years, Gabon has also become the non-permanent member state of the UN Security Council, so Gabon is a country with regional and international influence, and this creates condition for China and Gabon to further develop their existing ties, He said.

President Xi noted the 50th anniversary of China-Gabon diplomatic relations to be celebrated next year. "Over the last half-century, thanks to the commitment and guidance of generations of leaders on both sides, the China-Gabon friendship has stayed rock-firm as ever. In a world undergoing profound changes, China and Gabon have supported each other in advancing their shared interests and upholding international fairness and justice." 

The strong and sustained growth of the bilateral ties serves the shared long-term interests of both countries and plays an exemplary role in building a community with a shared future for mankind, Xi said. 

China-Africa relations

As the world is still in turbulence with increasing uncertainties caused by geopolitical crisis in Europe and the bloc-to-bloc confrontation launched by the US and some of its allies, the international community, including many developing countries in Africa, is still facing the problems of food, energy and finance, so in 2023, the world has entered the stage of post-pandemic recovery, China and African countries will seize the chance to boost recovery and overcome the challenges of this era, said experts.  

Major powers worldwide including the US, Russia and the EU are all working on improving ties with Africa, making Africa increasingly popular in the international arena, He said. "The US is boosting its ties with Africa to serve the strategic demand for great powers competition; Russia is increasing its activities in the continent as it wants to break the isolation launched by the West to seek more new partners; the EU is exploring more sources for energy imports in Africa as it has been forced to decouple from Russia," He said.

As a result, China-Africa ties face new challenges and new opportunities, experts said. The US will definitely add more uncertainties to the successful China-Africa relations, because Washington's policy is not driven by kindness to help Africa to realize modernization but to confront China and Russia, said Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University.

The shortage of the US is where China has advantage, because the China-Africa ties have long-standing friendship and traditional mutual-trust, and China will never use its influence and capability in Africa to engage in confrontation with other countries, and this is why China is confident that the China-Africa relations can withstand any impact and keep improving, Li told the Global Times on Wednesday.

African countries are able to make decisions based on their own interests, as they pursue strategic autonomy, and no one can force them to take a side or join the bloc-to-bloc confrontation, and China is also confident that African countries' cooperation with other major powers will not affect the China-Africa friendship, said experts.