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Why China’s Foreign Ministers Tour Africa Every New Year: A 31 Year Tradition

china foreign minister tour africa
Credit: Global Times

For the past three decades, China has upheld a diplomatic tradition of making its foreign ministers go to Africa for their first visit every year. Defying interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, on January 4, Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a five-country tour to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Botswana, Tanzania, and Seychelles.  

In a comment reported by Xinhua Net, Wang Yi said such a concrete diplomatic action by China also embodies the traditional friendship between China and Africa. It shows China’s firm support for Africa’s development and revitalization. He added that it also illustrates an important diplomatic principle that China always stands together with developing countries.  

In another statement during the visit to Nigeria, Wang said, “nowadays, the world is becoming less peaceful, especially in recent years, unilateralism and power politics prevailed, the Cold War mentality is overflowing…There is an urgent need to strengthen communication and coordination between China and Africa, reveal the power of solidarity, send a common voice, safeguard the legitimate rights of the Chinese and African people to oppose outside interference, pursue fairness and justice, and lead a better life.” 

But why do China’s foreign ministers tour Africa every New Year? Apart from some observers believing that the tradition truly demonstrates what the old Chinese saying “a friend in need is a friend indeed” means, what other significance does the diplomatic ritual stand for?

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Credit: Golden Times

Liu Guijin, former Chinese Government’s Special Representative for African Affairs, told the Global Times that “among all the powers, only Chinese foreign ministers have chosen Africa as their first destination at the beginning of each year for 31 years, which shows the great importance China has attached to friendships with African countries.”

In a Global Times article, Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy advisor at Beijing-based consultancy Development Reimagined and co-founder of think tank Afripolitika, is reported to have said “there is no other nation in the world that has shown willingness for such consistent diplomatic engagement with Africa. It feeds the perception among Africans that China makes Africa a priority, the way other partners don’t.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying is also reported to have said in a routine Press conference that Wang’s visits demonstrate the long-standing friendship between China and Africa through weal and woe, and also represent China’s firm and consistent choice to develop good ties with African countries.

 The next Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit will be held in Senegal this year.

What other significance does China’s yearly tradition of making her foreign ministers visit Africa have on Africa-China relations?

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