By Wang Yingying
Premier Wen Jiabao's Africa tour, which starts tomorrow, will take him to seven countries Egypt, Ghana, the Republic of Congo, Angola, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. It follows President Hu Jintao's visit to three African nations in April.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Sino-African relations, marked by the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between China and Egypt in 1956. To add to the importance of this anniversary, the first summit of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation and its third ministerial meeting are due to open in Beijing in November.
In this landmark year for Sino-African ties, both sides hope to see a further deepening of their relations.
To help achieve this, the Chinese Government released a paper in January 2006 entitled "China's African Policy." This document outlines the steps taken to promote Sino-African relations in the context of the new international situation. The Africa visits by the Chinese president and premier further demonstrate that Sino-African ties are high on China's diplomatic agenda.
China and African nations have traditionally enjoyed friendly relations thanks to their common struggle against imperialism, colonialism and hegemonism in the mid-20th century.
However, profound and complex changes have taken place in global politics and economics since the late 20th century, and the situation in China and Africa has also changed significantly. But the foundations of Sino-African co-operation remain unchanged, as does the general situation of China-Africa friendship.
Friendly ties with developing nations, including many African countries, are the cornerstonesof Chinese diplomacy. As a result, China has always supported African nations' rational claims and rightful interests at the United Nations and other international forums.
African countries, for their part, supported the restoration of China's seat in the United Nations in 1971. They have also supported China on questions such as Taiwan and human rights.
In the face of dramatic changes taking place in international politics and especially the challenges posed by the accelerating economic globalization, China has been exploring new ways of deepening Sino-African co-operation and upgrading its economic aid.
The first ministerial meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, co-sponsored by China and African nations, was held in Beijing in October 2000. Since then, it has served as an important platform for dialogue between the two sides.
Economic co-operation between China and Africa has made great progress over the past five decades. Sino-African trade in 1956, for instance, was a mere US$12 million, but reached US$817 million in 1979 and hit US$39.7 billion in 2005. What is worth special mention is that the economies of both sides complement one another. Africa possesses rich natural resources and boasts an extensive market, while China's cheap and high-quality commodities meet African consumers' demands.
In addition, China has been providing African countries with economic aid, interest-free loans and preferential credits. Chinese companies have been engaged in the construction of highways, hospitals, waterworks and apartment buildings in Africa.
In addition, co-operation has also proved beneficial in the fields of education, public health and culture. By 2005, for example, China had offered scholarships to 18,000 students from 50 African countries and had sent a total of 16,000 doctors to the continent.
But some problems exist, largely as result of the Western media fanning the flames of the "China threat" and claiming that China wants to "plunder" Africa's natural resources.
This view is subscribed to by some Africans, owing to the fact that the younger generation lacks a clear understanding of China. Meanwhile, their Chinese peers do not know much about Africa.
Some frictions have also emerged in Sino-African trade ties in recent years.
In view of all this, exchanges need to be strengthened and understanding promoted to tackle the problems.
It is for the sake of promoting Sino-African ties that President Hu Jintao put forward a five-point proposal during his visit to Nigeria in April promoting mutual trust politically, following up the win-win situation economically, learning from one another culturally, strengthening co-operation in the area of security and working together on international affairs.
Premier Wen Jiabao's upcoming visit is aimed at "deepening friendship, promoting mutual trust, expanding co-operation and bringing about common development."
All of the seven African countries Wen will visit maintain good relations with China.
Egypt, which is the first stop of Premier Wen's Africa tour, is a major developing country with a significant influence in the Middle East and in Africa. The seven years since China and Egypt forged a strategic co-operative partnership have seen both sides' senior officials frequently exchange visits. The premier's visit coincides with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Egyptian diplomatic relations.
During his visit to Ghana, one of the first sub-Saharan countries to establish relations with China, Premier Wen will attend a ceremony marking the completion of a highway expansion project backed by Chinese aid.
The Republic of Congo enjoys long-standing and friendly relations with China. Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso is the current chairman of the African Union, and the country plays an important role in African affairs.
Angola is an important African nation and has achieved significant accomplishments in its post-war reconstruction and in the field of petroleum co-operation with other countries.
Since the establishment of Sino-South African diplomatic ties in 1998, both sides have frequently exchanged high-level visits. During his visit, Premier Wen is expected to deliver an important speech on China-South Africa relations, China-Africa ties and economic co-operation between China and the continent.
China enjoys extremely good relations with both Tanzania and Uganda. Co-operation in the fields of politics, trade and business, education and culture and health has witnessed steady progress. Premier Wen will pay his respects at the graves of Chinese experts who died while undertaking various aid programs in Tanzania. He will also visit the construction site of Tanzania's national stadium, which is being built with China's assistance. Wen is also expected to visit Uganda's AIDS prevention center.
The one-week visit, short as it is, is expected to have profound impact on Sino-African relations.
The author is a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies.
(China Daily June 16, 2006)