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Premier Li's visit to Africa consolidates growing relations

2014-05-11 16:45 Xinhua Web Editor: Wang Fan

Experts have welcomed the ongoing visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to four African nations as one which consolidates growing and deepening bilateral relations. [Special coverage]

Premier Li visited Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya on May 4-11, his first trip to Africa since taking office in 2013.

Alex Vines, the head of the Africa Program at Chatham House think-tank in London, said the visit was significant because it emphasized the importance for Africa of Chinese investment.

"I think some of the pledges that have been made in some of the African countries -- in Ethiopia, in Nigeria, and in Angola -- have solidified the growing and deepening relationships that are already there and remind everybody that China is an important player in Africa today," said Vines.

Vines said the visit was "also a reminder to the rest of the world that they have been neglecting Africa."

"The real impact is that this visit to Africa by Premier Li emphasizes to the rest of the world that actually Africa is a continent of the future. There are opportunities for partnerships and for business," he added.


For Dr. Andrew Brooks, a lecturer in development geography at King's College of the University of London, China's strengthening relations with Africa is just one element of a significant shift in the early half of the 21st century.

"We are seeing China rising as a global power, and the pivot of geopolitical influence moving from West to East," he said. "So, China's increasing engagement with Africa is part of a broader set of patterns."

"What is more interesting is the diversity of Chinese business interests. So, a small independent shopkeeper operating in a market in Johannesburg is very different to the Chinese national oil companies which are engaging in the west coast of Africa," he said.

"I think it is better to think of not one China, but a diversity of different Chinese businesses, individuals and other organizations which are going to have various impacts on Africa," Brooks said.

Vines said he expected a "robust" Western response to the Chinese premier's visit.

"Already a U.S.-Africa summit is planned in Washington in August. That is already I think a sign that countries which have become complacent about Africa are reappraising the way they look at it, and I think we have to thank China for its re-engagement in Africa for having got the focus back on the continent," said Vines.

In 2009, China overtook the United States as Africa's biggest trading partner, and some 2,500 Chinese firms are now operating on the continent. Bilateral trade between China and African countries reached 210 billion U.S. dollars in 2013.

However, Africa accounts for just 5 percent of China's global trade, and 3 percent of foreign direct investment.

Other parts of the world would also look at the China-Africa relationship as a reminder of what Africa has to offer.

Vines said, "Some of the South American countries, Brazil for example, all are deepening their relationships. Indeed there is a Turkey-Africa summit planned for November this year in Equatorial Guinea."


Vines said Premier Li's visit was about consolidating the China-Africa relationship.

"We are in a multi-polar world with many different relationships," he said. "And African governments in particular can choose. So, for example, the trip of Premier Li to Angola shows just how important that relationship is, particularly for Angola but also for China. I think we will see Western countries working harder at their relationships with Africa."

Brooks said the visit was likely in the short term to create "a lot of buzz and excitement" but the important legacy would be in trade and business links.

"I don't think the relationship between Africa and China is going to be defined by a visit like this. Instead it is the businesses which come before the visit and the new enterprises which open in their wake," he said.

"So visits like this maybe highlight attention but really it is the businesses and the interactions between individual Chinese people and African people which shape the relationship rather than the high-level policy makers which always determine what happens between two regions of the world," said Brooks.

There was a "remarkable continuity in terms of China's approach to Africa," said Brooks.

"Many of the soundbites and terms which are coming out of Premier Li's visit are very similar to (former Chinese president) Hu Jintao back in 2006. The phrases, the ideas, and the soundbites which keep occurring are ideas around South-South cooperation, friendship and mutual dependency," said Brooks.

Li's trip was "mostly about consolidation," said Vines.

"There have been some announcements about more loans, more infrastructure projects, but more or less it is the same sort of message that has happened previously with previous investments. It is about consolidation and continuing to grow the relationship," he said.

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