Sierra Leonean president’s China visit to enhance cooperation, friendship
Published: Feb 27, 2024 10:20 PM

The national flags of China and Sierra Leone are displayed at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on February 27, 2024 to welcome the visit of President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio. Photo: VCG

The national flags of China and Sierra Leone are displayed at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on February 27, 2024 to welcome the visit of President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio. Photo: VCG

President of the Republic of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio started a state visit to China from February 27 (Tuesday) till March 2, during which he is scheduled to meet with Chinese leaders and to further promote cooperation in various fields and friendship. 

Analysts believe that President Bio's visit, the first by an African country's head of state in 2024, may also be part of efforts to boost China-Africa cooperation, as Chinese and Sierra Leonean leaders may further exchange views on the ninth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) gathering scheduled to be held in the second half of 2024 in Beijing.

President Bio arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, with Chinese vice foreign minister Deng Li greeting him at the airport, according to Xinhua News Agency. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Monday that President Xi Jinping will hold a welcome ceremony and banquet for President Bio, and that the two heads of state will hold talks. 

Mao noted that China and Sierra Leone enjoy a traditional friendship. She said that since the establishment of diplomatic ties more than half a century ago, the two sides have firmly supported each other on issues concerning each other's core interests, carried out efficient cooperation in the field of economic and social development, and maintained close coordination on international affairs.

"In particular, our two peoples have forged a deep friendship by joining hands to fight against Ebola and the COVID-19 pandemic," Mao said.

It is believed that this visit will inject new impetus into the comprehensive and in-depth development of China-Sierra Leone ties, and push for more achievements in the friendly cooperation between the two countries, Mao noted.

With this visit, Bio becomes the last foreign head of state to visit China before the 2024 annual two sessions, analysts said. 

Inviting President Bio to visit China ahead of a special event demonstrates the profound friendship between the two countries, and also highlights the political mutual trust between China and Africa, He Wenping, a director with the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Given that African countries including Zambia and Ethiopia have upgraded diplomatic relations with China in 2023, He noted that it cannot be ruled out that China and Sierra Leone will further enhance political mutual trust by upgrading bilateral relations.

In an interview with the Xinhua News Agency ahead of Bio's state visit, Sierra Leonean Minister of Information and Civic Education Chernor Bah hailed the two countries' friendship as "one of Sierra Leone's most important relationships," which "has delivered tangible results across multiple areas."

Bah thanked China for assisting Sierra Leone's infrastructure needs by constructing roads, bridges and major buildings. The minister also extolled the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other initiatives China has championed, which he said will benefit the Global South and beyond.

In recent years, China has supported Sierra Leone in various areas such as infrastructure construction, fishing cooperation and education, as well as public health, according to Song Wei, a professor from the School of International Relations at Beijing Foreign Studies University. 

China is also Sierra Leone's largest trading partner, and Chinese companies have also increased their cooperation with Sierra Leone in the mining and steel industries in recent years, Song noted. 

Under the frameworks of BRI and FOCAC, the two sides are likely to further strengthen cooperation in agriculture, infrastructure, education, people-to-people exchanges, and China can also offer assistance in trending areas such as digital economy, cross-border e-commerce, 5G networks, and new-energy vehicles, He said.

"The FOCAC is a large-scale cooperation platform for China and African countries to jointly synergize their development plans… Chinese and Sierra Leonean leaders are also expected to discuss the FOCAC issues and China-Africa practical cooperation around it," said Song.