For the last 32 years, a Chinese Foreign Minister typically begins his new year with an official state visit to Africa. This year, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also started 2022 with visits to Eritrea, Kenya and Comoros in Africa. This Chinese diplomatic custom for the new year highlights the importance Beijing attaches to the resource-rich continent of Africa. However, the latest tour of the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had more to it beyond resources. Also, the nations Wang Yi choose for his visit clearly show China’s foreign policy and strategic priorities.
Djibouti is the country that gave China land and water for its first overseas military base. Eritrea, a next-door neighbour of Djibouti, is thus a natural choice for China to enter in its quest to expansion.
Before the East Africa tour, Wang Yi visited Eritrea’s other neighbour, Ethiopia. Ethiopia and Eritrea are on the same side when it comes to the Tigray conflict. Both the nations are opposed to Ethiopia’s Tigray rebels. However, the US has backed Tigray and slapped sanctions on Ethiopia and Eritrea. China has used precisely this point to enter this region.
Moreover, just before Yi’s arrival, Eritrea joined China’s BRI and set the tone for his visit. Eritrea is at the strategic intersection of the Indo-Pacific Region and the Mediterranean Sea and is crucial for control over the Red Sea, which leads up to the Suez Canal. This is the area which sees 12% of the world trade. Control over this region will help China project its maritime influence over the Mediterranean Sea and, consequently, Europe.
Besides, while on this tour, Wang Yi announced the appointment of a ‘special Chinese envoy’ for the Horn of Africa region that includes the countries of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya. The move is aimed to tighten the Chinese grip further over the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean region.
Kenya and Comoros
Recently, Kenya paid China $255 million to ease the repayment of debt. This fact makes it evident how deeply is Kenya stuck in the Chinese debt trap. Chinese engagement with Kenya and Comoros, both Indian Ocean countries and quite close to Mauritius and Seychelles, appear the part of a plan to undercut Indian outreach in the region. India wields significant influence in Mauritius and Seychelles.
Moreover, from Africa, Wang Yi went straight to the Indian backyard countries of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. It directly signals to India that China will ramp up its Indian Ocean engagement in 2022.
Recently, France, India, the US, and even Russia have started to counter and replace China in Africa actively. It has led to talks about Chinese retrenchment from the continent. However, China has promised to deliver 1 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to Africa in 2022. Thus, it now appears that China will use the pretext of the pandemic, which it has created, to spread its tentacles in Africa under the garb of vaccines and post-pandemic recovery aid. Moreover, this Chinese outreach in Africa will be used by the CCP to contain India, the United States and the European countries at the same time.