(By H.E. MA Jianchun, Chinese Ambassador to The Gambia)
Just on last Saturday, January 9, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi concluded his first overseas trip in 2021 to five African countries including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. Chinese Foreign Minister always begins a new year’s overseas visit in Africa, a fine tradition of Chinese diplomacy lasting for over 3 decades to demonstrate China’s special attention to China-Africa ties and long-standing China-Africa friendship, and to reiterate China’s firm supports to Africa’s development and rejuvenation and standing with all developing countries. It could also be recalled State Councilor Wang paid an official visit to The Gambia in early 2019, the first of its kind in history of China-Gambia relations, which brought in new impetus to bilateral cooperation.
State Councilor Wang’s visit this year turned out to be of even more special significance as COVID-19 pandemic still rages globally. Touching on the considerations for insisting on visiting Africa amid coronavirus outbreak, State Councilor Wang told reporters that his visit aimed to convey China’s clear message of staunchly supporting Africa’s efforts in combating coronavirus, resuming economy, upgrading China-Africa cooperation and enhancing Africa’s international influence. During the much received visit, State Councilor Wang held series of talks and meetings with the five countries’ leadership and foreign ministers. Much consensus was made for both sides in terms of implementing outcomes of the Forum on China and Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), combating the pandemic, resuming work and production, and strengthening mutual coordination on international and regional affairs, etc. And many cooperation agreements were signed including the two MoUs on Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation with Botswana and DRC separately, bringing the total number of African partners in BRI cooperation to 46.
COVID-19 pandemic brought in many challenges to all as international travels are more than ever restricted. However, such challenges never stops the ever increasing cordial and close interactions among leaderships of China and African countries. As a Chinese proverb says, “the whole year’s work depends on good planning in spring”. State Councilor Wang’s visit at the very beginning of the 2021 in fact made a good review and planning for China-Africa friendly cooperation.
2020 was an extraordinary year for China-Africa relations, which was proven to once again stand the test through joint battle against the pandemic. Immediately after its outbreak in Africa, China took the lead in supporting African continent. China offered 53 African countries and the AU with badly-needed medical supplies, dispatched epidemic control experts teams to 16 African countries including The Gambia. In particular, the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 held in June 2020 at the call of Chinese President Xi Jinping provided strategic guidance for China and Africa’s joint efforts in finally defeating the pandemic. China-Africa cooperation in many other areas, such as infrastructure, agriculture, trade and investment, has been carrying forward in an upward trend. Over 70 percent of the outcomes of FOCAC Beijing Summit are implemented. China is expected to be Africa’s largest trading partner for 12 years in a row. We also kept good communication and coordination on major international and regional issues, jointly held high the banner of multilateralism in face of momentous global changes unseen in a century.
Recalling the China-Gambia relations, many tangible outcomes have been registered in two years since State Councilor Wang’s visit to The Gambia. We are witnessing more vibrant bilateral cooperation under FOCAC framework. The China-aid Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara International Conference Center has been officially handed over and functioning well, and would accommodate the upcoming OIC Summit as the main venue. The highly expected China-aid URR road and bridges project, which President Adama Barrow called “a dream coming true for local people” and “a symbol for Gambia-China friendship”, has been more than 80 percent completed. The joint battle against COVID-19 has been a continuing priority and highlight of our bilateral cooperation since 2020. Apart from much support in forms of medical supplies and expertise sharing, 18 leading Chinese experts in handling epidemics have been working here more than two months with their Gambian counterparts in fighting COVID-19 and strengthening local public health system. In many more areas such as agriculture, education and people-to-people exchanges, the bilateral cooperation also progressed well and delivered real benefits to the Gambian people.
Looking into 2021, China and Gambia, China and Africa are embracing new and significant opportunities to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation. China is marching forward with big strides to achieve its 14th five-year plan starting this year and foster a new development paradigm centering on high-quality development. The final year of The Gambia’s National Development Plan kicks off, converging cemented efforts by the Gambian government and people towards that. 2021 also marks the official launch of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) while efforts are being stepped up to implement the first ten-year implementation plan of AU Agenda 2063. China is ready to work with our Gambian and African friends to design a new round of FOCAC meetings, bring in greater synergy between our development agendas, form new consensus and explore new cooperation areas, and take China-Gambia and China-Africa traditional friendship to a new height.