Undeterred by the global ravages of COVID-19, later this week, State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China and Foreign Minister Wang Yi will undertake, what is now more than tradition, but a deeply enshrined practice and principal, by making the African continent, and five of its capitals, his first official diplomatic destination of the year 2021. Foreign Minister Wang Yi will pay official visits to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Botswana, the United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Seychelles between January 4th to 9th, 2021. Upon arrival in Botswana, he is expected to meet with and conduct talks with his Botswana counterpart Foreign Minister Dr. Lemogang Kwape, and pay a courtesy call on the nation’s President, His Excellency Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi.
The cause and content of this form of diplomatic praxis is both symbolic and pragmatic. The Chinese government believes it is important to uphold this tradition, as illustrative of the dynamism of Sino-African engagement, as well as the respect and regard, in which they hold the nations of Africa, as stipulated in China’s Africa Policy. The foundations of which are based upon the overarching goals of peace and development. And the guiding principles of which are sincerity, equality and mutual benefit, solidarity and common development. Propelled by China-Africa exchange and collaboration ad infinitum and South-South cooperation.
Put more simply, by this act, the Chinese government wishes to indicate that it will not take Africa for granted, and as such has placed this visit, by one of China’s most senior representatives as the first and therefore one of the most important of each new year. Thus, has it been, for the last 31 years. Such a visit to Botswana, was last embarked upon by then Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in January 2007. Though the current Chinese President His Excellency Xi Jinping, during his tenure as Vice-President, visited Botswana in his official capacity in November of 2010.
Despite the brevity of this visitation, beyond the symbolic, it also serves practical purposes, allowing for the Foreign Minister to update his African counterparts on matters of both mutual and international concern, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the China-U.S. relations and its implications for the global economy, China’s economic recovery (pertinent because China is the world’s second largest consumer market for diamond jewelry, with exponential potential for growth – and Botswana’s foreign earnings are derived mainly from diamond mining), BRI Cooperation (that being The Belt and Road Initiative – significant development strategies launched in 2013 by the Chinese government which aim to optimize the free-flow of goods and expand the efficient allocation of resources by integrating markets), issues around development assistance and foreign aid, other avenues of trade, climate change, peace and security. It further allows for these high-level diplomatic equivalents to take one another’s temperatures, identifying areas of concern and cementing ties.
This visit also heralds, the final year for the implementation of the outcomes of the FOCAC (The Forum on China–Africa Cooperation, the official forum between China and Africa. There have been three summits held to date, with the most recent having occurred from September 3–4, 2018 in Beijing, China) Beijing Summit, that being, a new roadmap for China-Africa cooperation in the coming era.
And finally, 2021 is the year in which the Communist Party of China celebrates its centennial birthday. And in a post-COVID-19 world, such an occasion would have been marked by pomp and splendour, in China, befitting a country that has actualised more than half a billion aspirations. Instead, this visit may be the only chance, these African states may have to congratulate the People and Government of China for ending extreme poverty and the creation of a “moderately prosperous society in all respects”.