Last week U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly insulted Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations by asking “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” at a meeting on the U.S. immigration policy. Although Trump later denied having used such vulgar terms — tweeting “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used” — the incident deeply irritated African nations.
So far, Botswana, Senegal, South Africa, and Ghana have reportedly summoned U.S. diplomats to express their concerns. South Africa even issued a rare diplomatic protest to the United States.
Trump’s remarks, like a godsend from Beijing’s perspective, will effectively push African countries closer to China’s side. Beijing has been actively embracing Africa and trying to include the continent in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship foreign policy.
From January 12 to 16 — just as Trump’s insulting incident hit headlines — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited four African countries: Rwanda, Angola, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe.*
During his visit, Wang urged all African countries to join China’s BRI, claiming that “the African continent was part of the ancient maritime silk road.”
“China has already started to explore cooperation opportunities with a number of African countries, especially those on the eastern coast of Africa and has achieved positive progress in this regard,” said Wang during his visit in Madagascar.
During a joint interview with Chinese media, Wang explained China’s vision for the African continent, as well as the whole community of developing countries, using much more pleasant language than Trump’s remarks.
“Many African countries appreciate and support the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and China hopes to inject new impetus into cooperation with Africa through jointly building the initiative,” Wang said.
“As a natural and historical extension of the Belt and Road, Africa should not be absent in the co-building process, nor should it be left behind in the mutual development of China and the world,” he added.
While Trump’s administration was hurriedly mending relations after Trump’s remarks, Wang further said that “Africa is always a priority in China’s diplomacy” during his visit in Rwanda on January 13. As proof, Wang noted that it is a tradition for China’s foreign minister to make the first trip of the new year to African countries. “The tradition has been kept for 28 years till now,” he pointed out.
This year will be an especially important one for China’s relationships with African countries, as Beijing is set to host FOCAC, a set of ministerial conferences between China and the African countries held every three years. The first one was held in 2000 in Beijing, and the latest in 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2015, China announced a $60 billion package plan for the China-Africa cooperation.
This year, to demonstrate that China highly values the relationship with Africa, Beijing decided to upgrade the 2018 FOCAC to a summit, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.
*A previous version of this article mistakenly included additional countries on Wang Yi’s itinerary.