China's foreign minister Wang Yi visits Eritrea at start of Africa tour

Mr Wang Yi's trip aimed to deepen cooperation with the African countries. PHOTO: AFP

NAIROBI (AFP) - China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived on Tuesday (Jan 4) in Eritrea, one of the world's most closed-off countries, on the first leg of an African tour.

His visit follows a trip to Africa by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken in November last year that was in part aimed at countering China's growing influence on the continent.

Mr Wang will on Wednesday hold talks with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Foreign Minister Osman Saleh, Eritrea's ministry of information said in a statement.

China has ramped up its involvement in Africa in its search for resources and has embarked on an infrastructure-building blitz.

China is the continent's largest trading partner with direct trade worth more than US$200 billion in 2019, according to official Chinese figures.

But Beijing is often accused of using its creditor status to extract diplomatic and commercial concessions, with concerns that it is driving many African countries to take on unmanageable levels of debt.

Eritrea, which has been sanctioned by the US over its involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Ethiopia, joined the Belt and Road Initiative, China's global investment strategy, in November.

After meetings with the Eritrean leaders, a joint statement said China is opposed to the "unilateral" sanctions.

“Both sides agreed to uphold the common values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom for all mankind, and oppose hegemonic interferences in the internal affairs of other countries under the pretext of democracy and human rights,” said a joint statement by the two foreign ministers.

“The Chinese side stands against any unilateral sanctions on Eritrea,” it said, adding: “The Eritrean side reaffirms adherence to the one-China principle.”

From Eritrea, Mr Wang is due to head to Kenya and the Comoros before going to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said last month that Mr Wang's trip aimed to deepen cooperation with the African countries and support them "in defeating the pandemic and bringing about economic recovery at an early date".

At an Africa-China summit in Senegal in November, Beijing pledged to offer one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to Africa and to help African countries to overcome their coronavirus-related economic woes "without imposing its will".

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