China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Chad yesterday, the last stop on a trip that included Zimbabwe, Guinea, Gabon, and Togo. Yang has made three prior journeys to Africa, and this trip reflects China’s continued engagement across the continent. Once again, economic themes dominated the agenda, and Yang ‘s policy statements affirmed China’s willingness to work with African leaders that the West finds controversial and its willingness to do business amidst political turmoil.
In Zimbabwe, Yang met with President Robert Mugabe. Yang “signed an agreement to give Zimbabwe’s government a 50 million- yuan ($7.6 million) grant and called for sanctions against the southern African country to be lifted.”
In Guinea, Yang spoke with President Alpha Conde and announced “two cooperation agreements worth 170 million yuan ($26 million).”
In Gabon, Yang sat down with President Ali Bongo Ondimba “and they pledged closer cooperation in trade, economy and infrastructure.”
In Togo, “Yang and his Togolese counterpart, Elliott Ohin, signed a deal for a six million euro grant in Kara, the ruling party’s home base and native region of longtime leader General Gnassingbe Eyadema, whose son is now president state media said.”
And finally, in Chad economic cooperation also took center stage.
On each stop, then, Yang announced new agreements and urged further cooperation. Many of these countries have already seen huge increases in their trade with China in recent years.
The differences between Chinese and American styles in Africa remain striking. A high-ranking American diplomat who visited countries like Zimbabwe and Gabon, where political turmoil has profoundly shaken the legitimacy of rulers, would have almost certainly concentrated on political themes, urging reform and greater democratization. China’s strategy continues to center on identifying shared interests (unequally shared, some would argue) and building ever-closer relationships with leaders, no matter how controversial those leaders are, based on those ties.