Returning Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi On Africa Visit

Returning Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi On Africa Visit
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

The Lede: China’s top diplomat Wang Yi has been on a tour of key African countries as well as Turkey this week to discuss future cooperation and promote closer relations. The Chinese state made an abrupt announcement that he would be assuming the role of foreign minister again to replace the mysteriously absent Qin Gang, who had only been in the position for seven months.

What We Know:

  • Wang’s itinerary began with a surprise visit to Ethiopia before returning to his scheduled destinations including Kenya, South Africa, Turkey, and Nigeria.
  • In Addis Ababa, Wang discussed Chinese investments in Ethiopia with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as well as easing the country’s debt burden and aid in reconstruction and recovery after the Tigray War. Abiy expressed a continued willingness to take part in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Wang’s engagement with Kenya’s William Ruto comes as the administration in Nairobi has boosted its ties with the U.S. and other Western countries in recent months. Ruto has been vocal about China’s role in Kenya’s debt issues due to the country’s financing of its infrastructure projects. Yet, the two leaders discussed strengthening relations and projects such as a major highway that passes through the Rift Valley to Western Kenya, upgrading the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport,  and projects in the ports of Mombasa and Lamu.
  • In talks with South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor, Wang higlighted the countries’ friendship as fellow Global South nations and promised cooperation on key minerals, digital economy, clean energy, environmental protection, marine resource development, and poverty reduction among others. Wang also attended the BRICS security meeting in Johannesburg ahead of the BRICS block summit in August.
  • In Ankara, Wang met with his counterpart and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about holding a meeting of the High Level Working Group, which was set up to coordinate the BRI with Turkey’s Middle Corridor project to link the country to Central Asia by way of the Caspian Sea. It is China’s first high-level trip to a NATO country after the military alliance discussed security challenges in the Indo-Pacific at its Vilnius Summit three weeks ago.
  • China will be engaging with Nigeria’s new government on this trip in an effort to shore up ties and boost its presence in Western Africa.

The Background: China re-appointed Wang Yi as its foreign minister after several weeks of uncertainty regarding the whereabouts and status of the out-going Qin Gang. Ethiopia has an estimated $13.7 billion in debt to China. Chinese capital has played a role in funding the $4.5 billion Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, the capital’s Riverside Green Development, and a light-rail network. Relations between Addis Ababa and Western countries deteriorated in recent years due to the conflict in Tigray. Criticism of China played a role in Kenya’s Ruto’s domestic political rise on the campaign trail and the country has pulled back recently on BRI projects. The upcoming BRICS summit is scheduled for August and has been controversial regarding the attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin. African countries have generally walked a middle path between the growing gap between the West on one side and the Chinese and Russian-dominated alternative order on the other.

Likely Outcomes:

  • The four African countries Wang visited constitute the economic centers of gravity for East, South, and West Africa in addition to the seat of the African Union in Ethiopia. These visits represent a likely ramp-up in China’s engagement with Africa, especially as Qin Gang, the foreign minister that Beijing recently phased out, visited Africa at the beginning of this year for his inaugural Africa trip.
  • Aside from South Africa, China may view the other countries as potential candidates for membership or accession to the bloc BRICS nations. However, other BRICS members, particularly India and Brazil, have been voicing opposition to expanding membership as the bloc discusses the prospects of accession for Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Thus, BRICS prospects for African countries may still be a distant idea.
  • There has been increasing interest in African countries for alternatives to Western economic ties, especially since the imposition of sanctions following the start of the Russian war in Ukraine. However, the U.S. and Western countries have also been stepping up engagement in the continent recently. African countries will likely diversify their economic ties and deals between the increasingly bifurcated world to reap the greatest benefits.


"Talk about hitting the ground running: news broke when Wang Yi was on tour as the director of the foreign affairs commission of the party's central committee. His tour, now as foreign minister, includes South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Turkey — all big players in the Global South.” - Lauren Johnston, senior China-Africa researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs

“It is rather unusual to have two high-level multicountry visits within a space of six months, because remember Qin Gang was in Africa at the beginning of the year for the inaugural Chinese foreign affairs visit.” - Paul Nantulya, research associate for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies

"Wang's upcoming visit to the three countries reflects the importance China attaches to its relations with Africa and its efforts to promote African integration. Nigeria is a major energy-exploiting country, but at the same time it faces some deficiencies in the construction of its energy system and a potential threat of energy crisis.” - Song Wei, professor at the School of International Relations and Diplomacy

“China encourages powerful and reputable enterprises to invest in Ethiopia and is willing to play a positive role in easing Ethiopia's debt pressure.” - Wang Yi, foreign minister and State Councilor of China

Good Reads:

Amid Chinese Foreign Ministry Shake-Up, Wang on Africa Tour (VOA)

China-Africa relations: Wang Yi pledges Beijing will help Ethiopia recover and boost ties with Kenya and Nigeria (SCMP)

Top diplomat Wang Yi to visit Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, showing efforts in bolstering African regional integration (Global Times)

Wang Yi Meets with South African Coordinator for the Meeting of BRICS National Security Advisers and High Representatives on National Security and Minister in the Presidency of South Africa Khumbudzo Ntshavheni (Chinese Foreign Ministry)

Turkey's Erdogan, Fidan talk economic ties with China's foreign minister (Al Monitor)

China’s Push to Expand BRICS Membership Falters (Bloomberg)