China-Africa relations in 2020

Image source: Martin23230

Our partners at the China Africa Project have a post, and podcast, on China-Africa in 2020: Three trends to watch. In short:

  • “Twitplomacy” — many Chinese diplomats in Africa have their own Twitter accounts now, and like other parts of the Chinese foreign ministry apparatus, have become at times shockingly candid and confrontational.
  • Debt — the “debt trap” narrative, though flawed, continues to bounce around the developing world, even as China is becoming more risk-adverse in its loans.
  • Sustainable energy — one report showed that 43 percent of investment into African infrastructure is energy-related. China is more than happy to provide help, even if it means new coal plants dotting the continent.

“If you want to win, you first have to show up,” Eric Olander notes in a separate post, writing that “Chinese Foreign Minister Wáng Yì 王毅…as is customary for Chinese Foreign Ministers, begins every year with a visit to Africa first.” So while U.S. diplomacy is now laser-focused on Trump’s self-created Iran crisis, China continues to build relationships in Africa:

A lot of Americans are genuinely perplexed as to why a growing number of senior-level African stakeholders are increasingly aligning their foreign policies with Beijing’s priorities. What they don’t seem to understand is that the political relationships between Chinese and African leaders are often highly personal and not just transactional.

More China-Africa news bites for the new year:

SCMP has a report on Wang Yi’s African tour: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi looks to boost ties with Africa on five-nation new year tour. The five nations he is visiting are Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea, Burundi and Zimbabwe.

Kenya unveiled plan to convert commercial debt to more affordable concessionary loans:  Acting Finance Minister Ukur Yatani said the government will work with “friendly nations” (most likely China) to restructure its debt, per Reuters. Kenya’s debt-to-GDP ratio now stands at a relatively high 62 percent.

Tunisia has awarded a contract to build a 100mw solar power plant to a Chinese-led consortium. TBEA Xinjiang, a large Chinese new energy company, will build the new solar power station in the northern desert city of Kairouan, according to Construction Review Online. The cost of the project has not been disclosed.

Nigeria’s trade with China is very unbalanced: Nigerians bought $3.3 billion worth of Chinese goods in the second half of 2019, according to the National Bureau Statistics, representing a quarter of the country’s entire import balance. While China sells a lot to Nigeria, it doesn’t buy very much. India remains Nigeria’s top export market. For more, see this report by Nigeria-based outlet Punch.

Korea is gearing up to compete with China in Africa: The Korean foreign ministry is expanding its Africa division to keep pace with China and Japan, according to Korea Times.

—Lucas Niewenhuis and Eric Olander