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On Tour in Africa and Latin America-Caribbean: Analyzing Wang Yi’s First Foreign Visits of 2024

Tunisia's Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui (L) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi shake hands before a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing on July 19, 2017. Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP

By Oyintarelado Moses

Every year, the Chinese foreign minister launches China’s first foreign policy visit with a trip to Africa, but this year, the tour is slightly different.

From January 13-22, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is visiting Egypt, Tunisia, Togo, and Cote d’Ivoire, followed by a visit to the Latin American and Caribbean countries of Brazil and Jamaica.

While it may be easy to dismiss these trips as China’s standard annual kickoff to the foreign policy calendar and follow-up visits to implement existing policies, it is important to contextualize these visits with a holistic framing of China’s 2024 diplomatic objectives, which include development. Indeed, it is also important to analyze why China has decided to visit these specific countries.

Chinese overseas lending and development finance (OLDF) is a cornerstone aspect of China’s development promotion goals in the Global South

Research by the Boston University Global Development Center anticipates that future Chinese OLDF will focus more on economic feasibility, finance and borrower diversification, and improving socio-economic and environmental outcomes. The visits to Egypt, Tunisia, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Brazil, and Jamaica are nods to some of these trends.

Chinese Overseas Lending and Development Finance to African and LAC Countries China’s Foreign Minister will Visit First in 2024

Source: Chinese Loans to Africa (CLA) Database; Chinese Loans to Latin America and the Caribbean (CLLAC) Database, Boston University Global Development Policy Center.

In a year when China will host the ninth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), it is surprising that China’s visits only consist of one regional economic giant in Africa (Egypt) and one top loan recipient of Chinese development finance (Brazil). Last year, Wang Yi’s predecessor, Qin Gang, visited, among others, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Angola, three of China’s top 10 loan recipients in Africa from 2000-2022. Some experts suggest that the focus on North and West Africa indicates China is paying attention to conflicts and security issues in those regions.

However, security dimensions do not solely explain these country picks.

Increased diplomatic and financial engagement with West and North Africa could diversify China’s borrowers, which are heavily concentrated in East and Southern Africa. Based on recent trends in the Chinese Loans to Africa (CLA) Database, the majority of Chinese lending in 2021-2022 was directed to West Africa, a region that has historically received less Chinese OLDF, and from 2000-2022, North Africa received the least amount of Chinese OLDF.

Many countries in both regions have relatively stable economies and less debt exposure to China. Engaging with Togo, one of sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest countries by global domestic product (GDP), is a chance for China to contribute to socio-economic improvements in development outcomes. Overall, these countries are all potential opportunities for future development finance expansion in Africa.

Curiously, China is also visiting LAC countries after the African tour, a trend that appears to be different from previous years. The LAC countries of choice, Brazil and Jamaica, are also significant because they are some of LAC’s regional economic giants and diplomatic leaders, although borrower diversification may be less of a priority.

According to data from the Chinese Loans to Latin America and the Caribbean (CLLAC) Database, China’s development finance institutions have supported projects in only Brazil and Caribbean nations through sovereign loans since 2019. Brazil is the second highest recipient of sovereign loans from the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China, after Venezuela.

In the Caribbean, Jamaica has borrowed the most from these institutions. Both countries have essential environmental vulnerabilities China must prioritize in future financial engagement, as Brazil constitutes two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest and Jamaica is a small island state that is vulnerable to climate change impacts.

From different angles, these African and LAC countries represent China’s increased focus on prioritizing the Global South, even as it continues to manage relations with the United States and Russia. As the meetings take place, it is important to not only analyze the security dimensions of these visits but also understand the economic and development priorities China will likely spotlight during each tour.

Oyintarelado Moses is the Data Analyst and Database Manager for the Global China Initiative at the Boston University Global Development Policy Center. Follow her on X: @TarelaMoses.

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