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Top Chinese Diplomat begins Africa tour in Ethiopia


China’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang has begun a five-nation tour of Africa in Ethiopia, kicking off a week-long trip aimed at bolstering Chinese-African ties.

Qin, who had been ambassador to the U.S. until December, will also visit Angola, Benin, Egypt and Gabon. Analysts say trade and investment are expected to be top priorities as China and the U.S. compete for influence in Africa.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed welcomed Qin to Addis Ababa Tuesday before a visit to the African Union headquarters.

David Monyae, head of the Center for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg, offered some insight into what Qin and his hosts are likely to discuss.

“At AU level there might be some issues in terms of requests by Africans for China to help on the issues of reform of the United Nations,” he said. “The AU itself is going to get a seat within the G-20 and there are a number of issues within multilateral institutions and China is a permanent member of the Security Council.”

China’s investment in Africa is focused on infrastructure and telecommunications.

According to the Chinese General Administration of Customs, in the first three months of 2022, trade between China and Africa reached nearly $65 billion, a 23% increase over the same period in 2021.

Cliff Mboya, a researcher at the Afro-Sino Centre of International Relations, said economic revival will be at the top of most African countries’ agenda.

“What I expect [Qin] to address is China-Africa relations post-COVID,” he said. “China is gradually opening up to the rest of the world and they are trying to embrace the post-COVID world which some of us have already embraced. So, economic recovery would be key and we must factor in that there is a lot of renewed interest coming from the U.S. and Europe. So, China would want to put its stake in the relationship and just affirm to African countries that it’s here to stay and just to build on what it has.”

Western nations have accused China of using massive loans for infrastructure projects to put African countries in debt to Beijing, both politically and economically.

Rights groups say China also promotes corruption and ignores human rights concerns, while seeking access to Africa’s natural resources.

Monyae said Africans are to blame for the corruption involving big projects in the continent.

“My blame goes more on ourselves, Africans,” he said. “I don’t think we have clear laws and are tough on corruption. The idea of blaming Chinese or Americans on anything is not something I buy into. There are issues. No doubt. Is there corruption in some of the Chinese projects? Yes, is there corruption in some of the American projects in Africa? Yes. What are we doing? And there is no one we can say is better than the other.”

Last month, the U.S. government hosted African leaders in Washington, where both sides agreed to support infrastructure projects on the continent as well as invest in digital transformation, health and telecommunications.

Mboya said African nations will see if they can get similar or greater benefits from interaction with Qin and China.

“The African Union, the leaders who are there, would want to establish personal contact with him just to get an idea of his ideas and his strategy and see how to align themselves with what he will have to say or what China intends to do going forward,” he said.

In Egypt, the foreign minister is scheduled to meet with the Arab League. The visit is set to conclude Saturday.