The African Union will open a permanent mission in Beijing this year in what could signal intent to strengthen ties with the continent’s biggest trading partner.
Heads of state and government gathered in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa this past weekend endorsed a proposal by the Council of Ministers, the body of foreign ministers from member states, which had asked for the establishment of a permanent mission to directly engage with China.
A document on the resolutions reached after the 35th Ordinary Assembly of Heads of State and Government said leaders had adopted the creation of the mission as part of new offices to be established under the reforms by the continental body.
The AU Permanent Mission in Beijing will have at least 10 staffers, including the Permanent Representative and could cost the continental body $1,277,164 worth of salaries a year to run.
The Mission will have various senior officials including policy officers in charge of economic and commercial cooperation, technical cooperation, technology, science and education, culture, tourism and engagement of the Diaspora.
The AU did not specify when the Mission will open but suggested that the appointment of officials will be staggered.
“The recruitment of those positions should be phased and subject to budget availability,” the Assembly decided on Sunday.
The creation of this Mission now means the continental bloc will have permanent missions to the US in Washington, to the UN in New York, to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, to the European Union in Brussels, to the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC) in Lilongwe and another Mission to the League of Arab States in Cairo.
The creation of the Mission to China may have been forthcoming for years. The Chinese, like most global powers, often send diplomats to the African Union headquarters.
And the African Union itself is a full member of the Focus on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), a triannual forum between the continent and Beijing, since 2011.
Besides, the Chinese have grown over the last two decades to become Africa’s biggest trading partner, with diplomatic relations with in all member states except the Kingdom of eSwatini, which recognises Taiwan as a separate country from China.
Despite the pandemic and its restrictions, Beijing’s trade with Africa still grew by a third to more than $254 billion, exporting medical protective equipment and other essential goods to Africa at the height of the pandemic.
A report from the Chinese General Administration of Customs showed on Monday that the trade deficit between China and Africa still favoured China, which sold more than $150 billion worth of goods to Africa.
Africa’s biggest exporters to China are South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville and Zambia, whose sales reached about $70 billion, according to the agency.
Beijing itself has said it is ready to work with African countries to improve on exports. Its investments in Africa have been growing steadily and reached $44 billion in 2020 in foreign direct investments to Africa, according to a report by China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment.
It means China is the fourth largest direct investor in Africa with most of the money going to South Africa, Nigeria, DRC, Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Algeria, Zimbabwe and Angola.
However, China has also loaned African countries huge amounts of money for infrastructure development.
By end of 2020, China had loaned about $150 billion since 2003, making it the biggest bilateral creditor on the continent.