Thursday February 27, 2020


March 29, 2013

Less than one week after officially being named President of China, Xi Jinping embarked on his first international trip, making stops in Russia, Tanzania, South Africa, and the Republic of Congo. Many have speculated on the potential meaning behind the selection of these initial visits, with some suggesting they highlight new thinking and priorities in Chinese foreign policy. While there may indeed be significance in the coordinating of these visits, they also reflect a continuation of tradition.

Russia has typically been the first foreign destination for China’s new leaders, including Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, and Hu Jintao. The only two leaders to not begin their foreign travel with Russia were Deng Xiaoping (whose first visit was to Myanmar) and Jiang Zemin (who first traveled to the United States to participate in the annual APEC meeting). Xi’s present visit to Africa similarly coincides with the Fifth BRICS Summit being held in South Africa.

Xi and Putin discuss expanding cooperation

Though still faced with ideological differences and occasional tension as they compete for regional influence, the leaders of China and Russia met and made several announcements regarding increased areas of cooperation. Xi Jinping noted in a speech that Russia’s supplies of oil and natural gas to China have become one of the most important aspects of their relationship. The two signed a memorandum on a 38 billion cubic meter per year eastern gas line to commence in 2018, although an agreement on price—a critical roadblock in the actualization of similar past agreements—was not reached. Both sides additionally called for a “new type of great-power relations” not based on a zero-sum mentality.

Many western scholars and journalists appeared skeptical of the material importance of these agreements, with scholar Minxin Pei arguing that most of their “cooperative talk” was for show—particularly for the U.S.—and that both sides are likely to remain suspicious of the other’s intentions in the region. Others stress that the key to Sino-Russian cooperation is pragmatism and that differences between the two countries will likely prevent these agreements from moving beyond paper. Conversely, the Chinese media maintains a positive outlook on the agreements, emphasizing that suspicion of China-Russia cooperation is ill-grounded and unnecessary.

Xi attends BRICS Summit, pledges continued support to Africa

Xi Jinping began his Africa tour with a stop in Tanzania, an African country with a long history of friendly relations with China, followed by stops in South Africa and the Republic of Congo. He used this visit to address—predominantly Western—complaints, accusing China of neo-colonialism and of taking advantage of Africa’s natural resources. While similar criticisms have also come from within Africa, a majority of African nations have explicitly welcomed China’s presence and see it as a healthy counterbalance to Western influence on the continent. However, as relations progress, African policymakers and economists are now calling for more balanced trade deals with China, in addition to greater opportunities for their domestic workforce in the construction of China’s many projects throughout the continent.

During his visit, Xi emphasized China’s commitment of assistance to African with no political strings attached and said that China would “train 20,000 African professionals, offer 18,000 scholarships to African students and increase technology transfer and experience.”

While in Africa, Xi, along with leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa attended the Fifth BRICS Summit. With economic cooperation a key focus of the meetings, the member countries discussed the feasibility of establishing a new development bank and collective emergency reserve, which, if established, could provide an alternative to the World Bank.

Similar to their coverage of Xi’s visit to Russia, western news reports have generally expressed skepticism regarding China’s intentions and the viability of its agreements with Africa and the BRICS nations. The state-run Chinese press has emphasized that such criticisms are not objective and that the West should not define the China-Africa relationship.


For further information on the Xi’s recent international visits, please see the following news sources:

Caixin – “What Xi’s Travel Plans Say about China’s Foreign Policy?

CNN – “China and Russia: Best frenemies forever?

CNN – “China’s Xi promises equal trade relations with Africa

The Economist – “China and Africa: More than Minerals

Financial Times – “Xi in Africa: ‘A galloping African lion’, and other interesting phrases

Global Times – “African communities in China hail Xi’s visit

Global Times – “China, Russia outline cooperation priorities, urge new type of great-power relations

Interfax — “China, Russia gas deal set, but clash over price

New York Times – “China’s Leader Argues for Cooperation With Russia

New York Times – “Mr. Xi Goes to Moscow

NPR – “BRICS Nations Reveal World Bank Alternative

Reuters – “China’s Xi tells Africa he seeks relationship of equals

Xinhua – “Chinese president pledges never-ending support for Africa

Xinhua – “Xi Jinping’s Russia visit to prompt oil, gas deals

XinhuaXinhua special site for all coverage on Xi Jinping’s visits to Russia, Tanzania, South Africa, and the Republic of Congo and his attendance at the BRICS summit


For Chinese language commentary on Xi’s recent international visits, please see the following news sources:

Caixin (财新网)金砖国家讨论建立应急储备安排

Caixin (财新网) – 从莫斯科到德班:金砖做实

Caixin (财新网)中国梦的非洲机会

PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (外交部) 习近平接受金砖国家媒体联合采访

Xinhua (新华网) 习近平抵达达素斯萨拉姆开始访问坦桑尼亚


Edited and compiled by Catherine Beck.