China welcomed Gambian President Adama Barrow for a state visit on Thursday, using the opportunity to encourage African states to abandon diplomatic relations with Taiwan and pursue burdensome loans and development projects with Beijing instead.
The Gambia maintained diplomatic ties to Taiwan for decades until 2013 and established formal ties with China in 2016.
“Upholding the one-China principle and the big picture of bilateral friendship, China and Gambia should understand and support each other on issues relating to core interests and major concerns, and be sincere friends and partners on an equal footing,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping said during a joint meeting with Barrow on Thursday, according to state media outlet Xinhua.
The “one-China principle” dictates that the Republic of China is not a sovereign state, but rather a wayward province under the control of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The People’s Republic of China demands that all nations that maintain bilateral ties with it fail to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty.
The United States abides by its own “One China policy,” in which it does not formally accept Taiwan’s sovereignty but maintains independent bilateral ties with the island nation from its diplomacy with China. Taiwan maintains representative offices in the United States that act independently of Beijing and are recognized by Washington as such.
In addition to heralding Gambia’s decision to cut ties to Taiwan, Xi offered Barrow the opportunity to cooperate more closely on a variety of economic projects. “China is willing to increase cooperation with Gambia in security and to step up communication and coordination in international and regional affairs to contribute to peace and stability in west Africa,” he reportedly said.
Xi also offered “more exchanges in culture, education, media, youth, women, health and tourism” to strengthen China’s presence in the country. The two presidents signed an agreement to establish the “Confucius Institute at the University of The Gambia” to promote Chinese communist thought in the nation.
Despite making clear that any cooperation with China requires foreign nations to accept all Chinese communist policies, Xi insisted, “China’s cooperation with foreign countries is not attached to any political string. The essence of China-Africa cooperation is to combine China’s development with that of Africa to realize win-win cooperation and mutual development.”
Barrow, in turn, reportedly stated that “Gambia would like to learn from China’s reform and development experience and enhance its own capacity-building” and thanked Xi for the support to his administration.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had previously met Gambian counterpart Ousainou Darboe in August when the official made a visit to Beijing. At the time, Darboe reportedly stated that “Gambia speaks highly of Xi’s Africa policies and major cooperation measures China raised at the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2015.” His nation, he added, sought more Chinese investment and involvement in their development.
Gambia is part of a broader campaign by the Chinese communists to establish deep economic ties in Africa through intense lending programs and infrastructure development projects, in some ways an outgrowth of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project. While OBOR spans the land and sea between Beijing and western Europe, seeking to sign $5 trillion in infrastructure projects that could result in developing nations in central Asia and the Middle East facing insurmountable debts to China, Beijing has also attempted to woo Africa into participating.
China has signed numerous railway, road, and other infrastructure deals with nations like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, as well as Djibouti, where China recently built a new military base. Djibouti’s proximity to the Arabian peninsula, particularly Yemen, now make China a player in the ongoing turmoil in the region.
One Chinese infrastructure plan even proposes a bid to “connect all 54 African countries through transportation infrastructure projects, including modern highways, airports, and high speed railways.”
These projects have raised concerns in the United States, where observers note the potential for predatory lending and, in essence, colonization of African states by the Chinese Communist Party. President Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy (NSS), released this week, urges his administration to propose “an alternative to state-directed investments, which often leave developing countries worse off” while noting that “China and Russia target their investments in the developing world to expand influence and gain competitive advantages against the United States.”
In October, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that China’s policies may turn the Indo-Pacific region, where many of the similar OBOR projects are being proposed, into “a region of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics.”
“We have watched the activities and actions of others in the region, particularly China, and the financing mechanisms it brings to many of these countries, which result in saddling them with enormous levels of debt,” he explained.