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Li Keqiang's maiden trip to Africa focuses on economy


05-13-2014 03:47 BJT

Full coverage: China’s Leaders

Full coverage: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Visits Africa

This week saw Chinese premier Li Keqiang make his first trip to Africa since taking office. Eight days took him to four countries: Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya. Trade and development were on top of the agenda as Li sought to establish his vision of a new type of strategic partnership with African nations.

A long awaited visit.

Kenya was the last leg of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s four-nation tour of the continent, his first since taking office.

The past week saw the signing of dozens of deals between China and African nations covering areas as diverse as trade, culture and finance.

It was all part of Li’s mission to push the relationship to a new level, a vision he articulated in a speech at African Union headquarters.

The timing is also significant. 50 years ago former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made a landmark trip to Africa which proved to be a major milestone in what would prove to be a long and fruitful relationship.

From humble beginnings, trade between African and China is now worth over 210 billion US dollars, over 2,000 times what it was in 1960. And, for 5 years now, China has been Africa’s largest trading partner. What’s more, Beijing has also supported over 270 infrastructure programs across the continent.

Infrastructure, like the Tanzara Railway. Connecting Tanzania and Zambia, the project is a major symbol of China’s commitment to the region.

Li is now seeking to take this to the next level. His hectic trip included the China Railway and Aviation Show and a light railway construction project, all making the most of China’s advantage in experience and technology.

“The construction of transportation infrastructure is the foundation of achieving inclusive growth. China is willing to work with Africa in building 3 networks: with high-speed railways, high speed roads and civil aviation.” Li said.

But, Chinese investment has also brought its share of disputes. In one incident a Chinese mining boss was killed by workers rioting over working conditions. Respect for local employment and environmental regulations have also been an issue.

This might explain why Li sought to go deeper than just the economic relationship. The Chinese premier sought to highlight the good work being done by China, visiting a partly-Chinese funded vocational school, meeting Chinese medical teams and visiting cataract patients treated by China’s “Bright Journey” program.

Li’s wife Cheng Hong’s presence made the cultural links more visible. Her meeting with African women and visit to a university helped strengthen the cultural links between the world’s biggest developing country, and the continent with most developing countries.

Li’s trip saw gains on both sides. It also suggests that this generation of Chinese leaders may place a new emphasis on Africa in their foreign policy priorities.


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