On the second stop of his weeklong Africa tour, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spent a very busy day on Wednesday in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he met with President Félix Tshisekedi and Foreign Minister Marie Tumba Nzeza.
The breadth of Wang’s talks with Congolese stakeholders highlights the growing importance of the Central African country in Beijing’s broader African engagement strategy. The two sides agreed on a modest debt relief package, enlisting Beijing’s support for the withdrawal of UN forces in the country and signed an MoU for the DRC to become the 45th African country to join the Belt and Road Initiative.
China’s newfound enthusiasm to engage the Congolese government may be motivated in part by President Tshisekedi’s recent rapprochement with the United States. Just before Christmas last year, Kinshasa rejoined the African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA, which allows for duty-free access to the U.S. market and the two countries also resumed military ties.
Both the U.S. and China also view access to the Congo’s abundant mineral reserves, especially cobalt, as strategically vital. Cobalt is an essential ingredient in batteries used in electric vehicles and other electronic devices. Last year, China began stockpiling the mineral and expanding its already-dominant presence in the Congolese cobalt mining sector.
Wang will spend Thursday in Botswana, Friday in Tanzania, and then return to China on Saturday from The Seychelles.
Key Highlights of Wang Yi’s Visit to the DR Congo
- DEBT RELIEF: China will forgive $28 million of interest-free loans to the DR Congo. This is consistent with previous debt cancellation initiatives by the Chinese that involved only grants or other interest-free loans. Wednesday’s announcement does not impact any of the Chinese concessional or market-rate loans. Since 2008, the DRC has borrowed an estimated $2.4 billion from China, according to CARI’s China-Africa loan database.
- BELT & ROAD: Congo’s inclusion in the BRI will potentially allow Kinshasa to access new sources of development financing, especially for infrastructure. Although, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of African countries who’ve signed on to the BRI haven’t seen much in the way of new investment or financing. But given the DRC’s strategic importance to China’s tech sector, Kinshasa may in fact be well-positioned to benefit from its new BRI membership.
- SECURITY: Foreign Minister Marie Tumba Nzeza called on Wang Yi for support to help rescind UN resolution 1533 that imposed an arms embargo on the DRC dating back to 2004. The Congolese minister also asked for China’s assistance in facilitating the “gradual and responsible departure” of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Congo (MONUSCO).
- Politico.cd: The DRC signs an MoU with China (in French but translates easily using Google Translate)
- Actualities.cd: China pledges to support the DRC’s approach to the UN Security Council to obtain the lifting of the arms embargo (in French but translates easily using Google Translate)
- CGTN: China and DRC sign MoU on Belt and Road cooperation
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