China-Africa Relations: Things you need to know



Diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and African countries date back to 1956, when Beijing established official ties with Egypt.

Africa is a high priority in Chinese foreign policy.

Out of all 54 African countries, Swaziland is now the only one which is yet to have diplomatic relations with Beijing. It is Taiwan’s last remaining ally in Africa, the world’s second largest and second most populous continent – behind Asia in both categories.

1535690028(1)The upcoming Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) will be an important opportunity to deepen Sino-African cooperation. The summit, themed “China and Africa: toward an even stronger community with a shared future through win-win cooperation”, will convene on Monday and Tuesday.

Below, our editors have listed some key facts and milestones of China-African relations.



China is one of the first countries in the world to recognize Guinea’s independence, and Guinea is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to establish diplomatic relations with China, in Oct 1959.

In 1960, Guinean president Ahmed Sékou Touré became the first African head of state to visit China.


The picture above shows Chairman Mao Zedong entertained Touré in Beijing.


1964 and 1971

Both years are remarkable in China’s diplomatic relations with African states.

In 1964, China established ties with six African nations, Tunisia, Republic of Congo, Central Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Benin, more than any other year.

In 1971, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Senegal established ties with Beijing.

Chinese diplomats still take pride in the 26 votes from Africa in Oct, 1971, to restore the PRC’s seat in the United Nations. Beijing received 76 votes in total.

Mao Zedong has famously said: “It’s was our African friends who brought us into the UN.”

Then China’s vice-foreign minister Qiao Guanhua (L) and representative to the UN Huang Hua laughed as the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2758 to restore Beijing’s seat.


Burkina Faso

On May 26, 2018, Burkina Faso was the latest African country to establish diplomatic relations with China, leaving Swaziland Taiwan’s only ally.

It was the second time for Burkina Faso to join hands with Beijing. The two countries maintained diplomatic ties from 1973 to 1994, when then president Blaise Compaoré abandoned Beijing to align with Taipei.

Interestingly, Compaoré was also the first state-leader to visit Beijing after June, 1989.


Zhou Enlai’s cross-year Africa tour

Between Dec 13, 1963 and Feb 4, 1964, the then Chinese premier became the PRC’s first major leader to land in Africa, visiting Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Somalia, as well as Tunisia and Ethiopia, which was yet to establish diplomatic ties with China then.

Zhou was accompanied by then vice-premier Chen Yi.



The TAZARA Railway

Also called the Uhuru Railway or the Tanzam Railway, it is a railway in East Africa linking the port of Dar-es-Salaam in east Tanzania with the town of Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia’s Central Province. The single-track railway is 1,860 km long.


The project was built from 1970 to 1975 as a turnkey project financed and supported by China. At its completion, the TAZARA was the longest railway in sub-Saharan Africa. TAZARA was also the largest single foreign-aid project undertaken by China at the time, at a construction cost of $406 million (the equivalent of $2.56 billion today).


2000, the FOCAC

The first Ministerial Conference, of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, was held in Beijing from 10 to 12 October 2000. Then Chinese president Jiang Zemin attended it, together with more than 80 ministers from China, and 44 countries and representatives from 17 international and regional organizations.


The FOCAC has since then alternated its venue between Beijing and African cities every three years.

Addis Ababa of Ethiopia, Sharm el-Sheikh of Egypt, and Johannesburg of South Africa were the three African cities to have hosted the FOCAC, in 2003, 2009, and 2015 respectively.


1991-2018, first destination for China’s top envoy

Chinese foreign ministers had Africa as the first destination of their official visits every year since 1991, when Qian Qichen visited Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in Jan.

Wang Yi, current foreign minister, calls this arrangement a “diplomatic routine”.



On Aug 1, 2017, China opened its first ever military support base overseas, in Djibouti on the eastern coast of Africa.


It was to “fulfill China’s international obligations regarding humanitarianism aid and escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia”, Xinhua News Agency said.



China now has 2090 peacekeepers in Africa, 83 percent of the country’s all peacekeepers abroad.


Some 36,000 Chinese have served in UN peacekeeping missions in the past 27 years, with 13 killed in these operations, according to the PLA. China has nine units serving in UN missions at present – some 91.5 percent of its peacekeeping force, the PLA said.

Beijing sent security forces to Mali in 2013 and, the following year, a battalion of combat troops to South Sudan – the first time the PLA had sent combat forces overseas to protect civilians.


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