How China’s new FM Qin Gang can reset relations with Africa

By Cobus van Staden
Posted on Wednesday, 11 January 2023 13:43

China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang (L) and Moussa Faki (R), Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, shake hands during their meeting at the Africa Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 11, 2023. (Photo by Amanuel Sileshi / AFP)

Qin Gang is taking over as Foreign Minister at an inflection point in Africa-China relations. While Chinese investment transformed African skylines, the relationship has also hit some problems. These include sky-high debt for projects that didn’t necessarily deliver hoped-for development outcomes.

But how should Beijing tweak its Africa policy for better outcomes?

Ken Opalo, an Africa-China expert and an assistant professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, recently posted a fascinating set of suggestions to reset Africa-China relations in his newsletter, An Africanist Perspective:

Ken Opalo on how Africa-China relations should evolve in the 2020s:

  • Export Chinese bureaucratic competence:

“Mostly under-governed and misgoverned, African states would particularly benefit from assistance to boost their bureaucratic capacity. In this regard, China has unique advantages.

Inured by centuries of strong statehood, most Westerners only ever think of governance reforms as constraining government (even in contexts where governments barely exist!) China would provide a different approach that professionalises and extends the reach of African governments.”

  • Pour money into African agriculture: 

“Investing in African agriculture would be a win-win proposition for China. First, it would provide its African partners with a strong basis for economic development and political stability.

Second, it would contribute to China’s strategic foreign investments in agriculture to supply its domestic market — especially its growing middle demand for meat and dairy. Third, it would help reduce the yawning trade deficit with African countries and reduce associated tensions.”

  • Boost knowledge of African political realities:

“China can no longer hide behind its non-interference policy. Economic development is as political as it gets. Any constructive partner in that effort necessarily has to invest in knowing and appropriately responding to host political economies.”

  • Why is this important? :

The creeping debt crisis threatening some African economies offers the kind of crisis opportunity that could move the Africa-China relationship to the next level.

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