The New Silk Road project (the NSR) mapped out by China in 2013 envisaged the development of a network of land transport routes originating in China and interconnecting Eurasian countries, thus creating a single Eurasian economic space. A Maritime Silk Route is being developed within the framework of the NSR. Its mission is to connect Asia not only with Europe but also with Africa. The possibility of construction of a railway network on the African continent as part of the NSR is being currently considered. To engage African countries in the NSR, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Wang Yi paid a visit to selected countries of the continent at the beginning of 2017.
The original Ancient Silk Road revived by China also branched to the African continent, and in January 2017, Mr. Wang seized the opportunity to inform heads of Madagascar, Zambia, Tanzania, Congo and Nigeria of this fact.
The first country Mr. Wang stopped in while touring the African continent was the Republic of Madagascar. This island country occupies the entire territory of the largest in the world eponymous island, located off the African eastern coast. This is the first major African country one would encounter on his way from China to Africa, and it has good potential for becoming a valuable Maritime Silk Route’s destination. After the arrival, Mr.Wang was accepted by President of Madagascar Hery Rajaonarimampianina. In the course of the meeting, the Madagascar’s President and the Foreign Minister of China discussed the status of China-Madagascar relations and bilateral economic cooperation in such domains as fishing, agriculture and tourism. Following the meeting, the President of Madagascar acknowledged high potential of country’s participation in the China’s One Belt, One Road project. In fact, Madagascar and China have been engaged in a long-standing cooperation. The Government of this island republic is taking steps to increase the country’s appeal to Chinese investors and to facilitate their activities. China has been investing in the development of Madagascar’s agriculture, infrastructure, power production, health care and other important sectors of economy.
The Republic of Madagascar is a country with rather poorly developed economy and is in need of foreign investments. However, it has one indisputable advantage – a convenient geographical location, which might bring lucrative dividends if the country engages in the Sea Silk Road project. Participation in the project would also improve Madagascar’s economy by raising it to the ranks of an important regional trade and transport hub.
On January 9, 2017, Mr. Wang Yi arrived in Zambia, where he met with the country’s President Edgar Lungu. During the meeting, Mr.Lungu extended his gratitude to China on behalf of his people for giving impetus to the country’s development. He also noted that Zambia perceived China as the closest reliable partner especially valuable at the time of the country’s rapid development. Zambian President reaffirmed his commitment to further strengthen cooperation with China and stressed that his country fully supported Beijing’s policy, including in such controversial areas as Taiwan and the South China Sea. Replying to Mr.Lungu’s speech, Mr. Wang said that China also viewed Zambia as a trustworthy partner and intended to continue supporting country’s industrialization and development of its agriculture and other sectors of economy.
Zambia’s foreign trade has been sluggish because this landlocked country has no access to seaports. However, China stepped in and backed the construction of a railway connecting the country with Tanzania, thus contributing to a tangible improvement of Zambian economy. It is quite possible that this railway will eventually become a part of a larger network China is building in Africa. Just in case these plans materialize, Zambian authorities offered an advanced consent to the country’s participation in the NSR.
On January 10, 2017, the Head of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs arrived in Tanzania and met with his counterpart Mr. Augustine Mahiga. The parties reiterated their assurances of friendship and mutual trust. One of the key topics discussed during the meeting was China’s participation in the extensive modernization of the Tanzanian railways and upgrading of their management system. The parties stressed that they would mainly focus on the construction of seaport-to-rail connections. Tanzania, unlike Zambia, is a coastal country. It is situated on the African eastern coast close to Madagascar. There are good chances for the Madagascar-Tanzania-Zambia axis to become a starting point for the African branch of the NSR. However the situation might develop, the Head of the Tanzanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, just like the rest of Mr. Wang’s meeting partners, said that the country was committed to further development of relations with China, supported the NSR project and was willing to join it. Mr. Augustine Mahiga noted that Tanzania embraced the idea of integration of East Africa, which would be instrumental in the development of the entire region.
Having left Tanzania, Mr. Wang made a stop in the Republic of the Congo, where he held talks with the country’s President Danny Sassou Nguesso, who also confirmed his full support of Chinese policy and its economic projects. Mr. Wang Yi urged Tanzanian President to take steps to fully and swiftly unlock the potential of participation in the establishment of a special economic zone in the city of Pointe Noire as well as in the construction of numerous industrial and logistic centers that Congo is planning to implement in alliance with China.
On January 12, 2017, the Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs arrived in his last destination, Nigeria, and met with the country’s President Muhammadu Buhari.
Having completed his January tour, the Head of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued holding meetings with leaders of African states. In early February 2017, Mr. Wang Yi met with Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius Anerood Jugnauth. The parties invested much time in the discussion of Mauritius’ participation in the NSR. Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean located 900 km east of Madagascar. Like Madagascar, Mauritius with its favorable geographic location might become an important part of the Chinese Maritime Silk Route.
Reporting on the results of his African affairs at the session of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China held on March 8, 2017, Mr. Wang Yi said that China and Africa had a common destiny and gave a pledge that China would never cease supporting African countries. China is committed to continue assisting the development of African states and to fulfill all its promises made at the Johannesburg Summit held on the sidelines of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in December 2015. In Johannesburg the parties adopted an Action Plan for 2016-2018, according to which, within three years, China would invest $60 billion in the development of African countries and would implement a number of railway and port construction projects. Mr. Wang confirmed that milestones of the Action Plan were being timely and fully reached.
Until recently, the New Silk Road project was commonly associated with the economic integration of Europe and Asia, while cooperation with the African continent was given low priority. Today, however, it is becoming obvious that Africa is coming forward as a full-fledged NSR partner, and only time will tell what dividends it will bring to African countries.
Dmitry Bokarev, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.“