Bongo Bets Big on China

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba was on a four-day official visit to China as from 18 April 2023. During the visit, President Xi Jinping proposed to upgrade the bilateral ties from “Comprehensive Cooperative Partnership“ to “Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership.”

In terms of pecking order, the Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership with Gabon is just behind the “China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination” and the “China-Pakistan All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership.”

However, the case of Gabon is not so unique since another 10 African states can also lay claim to having this level of relationship with China. With Gabon joining the league in April 2023, the African Countries with Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership with China are:

  1. Congo, Republic of
  2. Ethiopia
  3. Gabon
  4. Guinea
  5. Kenya
  6. Mozambique
  7. Namibia
  8. Senegal
  9. Sierra Leone
  10. Tanzania
  11. Zimbabwe

At one rung lower on the ladder, we have South Africa, Egypt and Algeria enjoying a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” with China.

The Gabon-China bilateral trade volume stood at USD 2.7 billion in 2021. Gabon distinguishes itself as one of the few countries with a positive balance of trade with China. In 2021, Gabon exported to China goods worth USD 2.3 billion while China exported to Gabon for only USD 440 million. Gabon exports to China include crude oil, manganese ore and wood. On the other hand, China exports are quite varied and include vehicles, electrical wiring and a variety of finished products.

From an economic perspective, Gabon is a relatively small country with a population of 2.4 million souls and a GDP (Atlas method) of USD 22 billion. Nevertheless, Gabon is a respected player in the Central and Western Africa region. It is worth highlighting that Gabon is currently one of the 10 non-permanent member states of the UN Security Council and is also the Chair of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) on #ClimateChange. Gabon also currently chairs the Economic Community of Central African States (CEMAC).

Officially, Gabon established diplomatic relations with China on 9 December 1960. Former Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba visited China 11 times during his 41-year rule. Now his son Ali Bongo Ondimba is undertaking his 5th visit since taking office in 2009. On the other side, Chinese leaders and high-level officials visited Gabon 12 times since 2000.

In recent years, China financed and built the 36MW Fe2 – Mitzic hydroelectric power project. Chinese firm TBEA will execute the project and estimated the cost to about USD 210 million back in 2018.

Gabon is keen to cash in on its tourism industry. Gabon boasts 13 national parks teeming with wildlife and the country is seeking #FDI for eco-tourism projects. One Chinese company has secured a contract to sustainably manage over 6 million hectares of forest in Gabon and exports the timber mostly to China.

Gabon is promoting its Emerging Gabon as its National Development Plan (#NDP). The NDP is further divided into strategic sectors called Green Gabon, Blue Gabon and Digital Gabon. The general strategy of Gabon is to diversify its economy away from oil by developing new promising sectors.

China is deepening reforms to pursue ‘modernization’ and ‘high-quality development.’ Both countries are working closely under the #FOCAC and South-South Cooperation frameworks.

Other than the ‘One China Policy’, Gabon also supports China’s initiatives such as the #BRI or the newly minted #GDI and #GSI. Rather than exporting crude oil and manganese ore, Gabon would like to see more #LVA. By upgrading the partnership, Gabon is betting big on China to support its goals to achieve a greater share in the Global Value Chain (#GVC) and to undertake economic diversification.