Xi Jinping’s Camaraderie with Macky Sall: A valuable piece of the New Silk Road

  • + Xi is looking to expand China’s reach within Africa, endorsing South-South trade relations.
  • + China has made Senegal the first West-African nation to join the One Belt, One Road Initiative.
  • + As such, Senegal is China’s strategic gateway to the West-African region.
Source:  Quartz Africa

Why is Xi Jinping  in camaraderie with Macky Sall?

Answer: XI Jinping has been fostering a relationship with Macky Sall (Senegal’s president) in the hope to make China a central player in Africa’s development and growth. 

Today, China represents Senegal’s biggest trading and investing partner. Moreover, China has replaced France’s dominant role as Senegal’s biggest FDI contributor, as China has now poured billions of  dollars into the West African nation. According to the UNCTAD 2019 World Investment Report, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Senegal is rising year after year, and a big percentage is coming from China. This increase in Chinese FDI is in part due to the declining share of FDI and imports from EU countries.

Under Xi’s mandate, China has undoubtedly been repositioning itself in the international ecosystem. China, under Xi, has been making its way to be a key player in the new global integrated arena by developing its soft power strength, and more specifically, through FDI. In this regard, Xi has shown a particular interest in investing in and partnering with developing nations. The Sino-Senegalese relations are a good example of this cooperation. This South-South alliance provides an alternative for African nations to the old-fashioned, largely outdated, Western development models. 

China’s investment in Africa is largely concentrated on transport infrastructure, energy and resources. Such projects are part of the bigger picture of the Chinese macro-project: the One Belt and One Road Initiative;” also referred to as the “21st century silk road.”  Xi’s oeuvre-maitre will connect 71 nations, from Asia to Europe, to foster trade in an unprecedented way. Interestingly, from those countries, a significant number are in Africa; with Senegal leading the charge. 

What does Xi want?

Answer: Xi wants to foster a new partnership with Senegal, which will represent a major puzzle piece for his ‘New Silk Road’ project.

Xi is carefully crafting China’s strategy to become a hegemon and expand their domain in the global trade system. By amplifying Beijing’s diplomacy around the world, China is becoming a powerful player. Xi will accomplish such foreign policy objectives so long as he maintains China’s dominant posture in matters of international economy and trade; particularly in Africa. By seeking investment opportunities, Chinese firms have signed loans and contracts to build dams, roads, stadiums, airports and railways in Senegal.  But all this comes at a cost.

For Xi, Senegal has a strategic position for his One Belt, One Road Initiative. His plans to develop a trans-African highway running from Dakar to Djibouti;  as well as the Dakar-Bamako rail line, will form part of a larger set of communication channels that will allow China to reach new corners of African countries. As a result of Xi’s desire for more African highways, Chinese investment and loans in Senegal have been largely concentrated in infrastructure and trade in the region. Some examples include the financing of a highway from Dakar to Touba; Senegal’s second largest city ,and an industrial park on the Dakar peninsula

In 2018, in an official visit from China to Senegal, Xi made Senegal the first West African country to become part of their One Belt and One Road initiative. The strategic location of Senegal is extremely convenient to China since it is located where the Saharan and the Sub-Saharan regions intersect. Dakar’s deepwater main port also plays a crucial role as it is likely to be China’s gateway to  the West African coast. During the last Sino-Senegalese Summit, Xi and Sall focused on fostering trade, investment and infrastructure to strengthen their country’s camaraderie. Interestingly, the next Forum on China Africa Cooperation Summit (FOCAC),  in 2021, will occur in Dakar; where Sino-Senegalese are expected to flourish even more. 

What does Macky Sall want?

Answer: Sall wants to have foreign funding for his programs that doesn’t  just come from the West. 

Senegal’s fast-growing population has been keen to welcome China’s development plans. With his political slogan “Emerging Senegal” and his  Sénégal Emergent Plan (PSE), President Sall has been engaged in accelerating economic growth. Specifically, Sall is committed to raising the entire population to middle-income status by 2035. In order to achieve this, the president has been adopting new measures to accelerate his development model (PSE) as well as transform Senegal into an emerging economy. For example, Sall has been working hard to attract foreign investment beyond Europe in an attempt to redefine the processes and stereotypes associated with starting a business in Senegal. In addition, Sall has worked to diminish the possible obstacles for potential investors through attractive aspects such as lower, non-transparent regulations and certain high factor costs. As a result, Senegal has shown no discrimination when it comes to conducting or negotiating with investors (e.g. China) as there are no barriers to full ownership of businesses in most sectors. 

Due to Sall’s attractive policies, Chinese companies have increasingly incorporated themselves into Dakar. This has consequently led to an increase in Chinese migration to Senegal; mostly workers of these companies and their families. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Survey in 2015, Africans had significantly more positive opinions of China in comparison to people in other parts of the world (e.g. Europe, Asia and Latin America). It has also been the case that such migration movements and flows have sparked certain competition between the Senegalese and Chinese for business; particularly with the Chinese shop-owners who have supplied the growing Chinese neighborhoods.

The bilateral economic relations have grown so deep between Sall and Xi that the construction of a new city mostly funded by China, is now in development near Dakar. This new city; complete with a new airport, universities and an industrial park, is meant to become Senegal’s new business hub. With increasing investments into infrastructure, agriculture and business, Sall has officially caught the attention of China; making them a serious partner and moving away from the long-lasting French (Western) dominance in Senegal’s economy. 

What is Xi doing?

Answer: Xi is offering developing nations; like Senegal, an alternative route to growth and development, allowing China to spread its soft power in the West African region.

Xi’s deals offer an alternative to the Western investment mantra of the Washington Consensus; the long dominating development model. Rather than follow this model, Xi has been negotiating partnerships with developing countries, like Senegal, with (presumably) no strings attached. As such, China’s investment is often characterized as being “neutral” and respecting the receiving nation’s absolute sovereignty as China endorses a policy of non-intervention. This policy is especially evident in that China invests regardless of the nation’s governance, democracy, environmental standards or human rights conditions.  

Who is winning and what about you?

Answer: China is profiting the most from this camaraderie as Senegal remains more reliant on China than China is reliant on Senegal; an increasing trend in Chinese-African relations…

Xi is confidently building the grounds and laying strong pillars of what will be a new global China. Xi’s vision will ensure that China becomes the number one economy and consequently, the most sought after trade partner. Xi has also wisely identified that such a powerful China will require huge amounts of resources such as minerals, food, and oil to remain the powerhouse that it has become. Enter Sall. Africa is the most resource rich continent on the planet with Senegal as no exception. Luckily for Xi, Sall seems to be content and cooperative with this partnership. 

While investment has been growing year after year, the results are not always as promising for Sall as the cooperation remains unbalanced with Xi benefiting much more than his Senegalese counterpart. For instance, Senegalese imports to China are much smaller than the total Chinese exports to Senegal, making Senegal more reliant on China than China is reliant on Senegal. Moreover, Chinese investors and firms have focused on close contracts to exploit mineral resources and manage Senegal’s maritime port. Not to mention that Chinese companies often bring their nationals on short-term contracts to work on their projects in construction, infrastructure, mining, and oil; generating greater unemployment in Senegal and a more irritated population for Sall. 

Professor Ahamadou Aly Mbaye from the University of Dakar is one of these citizens who is not particularly pleased with all the Chinese business. He argues that Senegal is accustomed to developing business deals with France, under their terms. Now, China is playing by different rules and the Senegalese are not prepared. Other scholars claim that African nations, such as Senegal, will completely submerge themselves in Chinese debts they will not be able to repay; leading China to control the capital, assets and profits from everything they have invested in and created. This has been the case of Kenya. According to Quartz Africa, over 70% of the nation’s bilateral debt is owed to China; a scenario that could very soon be the case for Senegal. In fact, many consider Xi’s investment strategy in Senegal as debt trap diplomacy with neocolonialist intentions. Ultimately, China’s blended foreign aid is an offering of the One Belt, One Road Initiative as a method of fostering development. That is a deal hard to turn down for many African nations, including Senegal. As such, Sall’s eagerness to develop his country’s economy brought himself and Xi into a closer camaraderie today.

Isabel Barquin

Research and Analysis Intern