BEIJING (AP) — China and Zambia upgraded their relationship to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership on Friday, the latest move by America’s chief global rival to forge deeper ties with the Global South.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Zambian counterpart announced the agreement shortly after Xi had exchanged cordial words with another visitor, the new prime minister of Cambodia. The flurry of diplomatic activity came just two days after Venezuela’s president met Xi and the two elevated their countries’ ties to an “all-weather” partnership.
The trio of leaders from Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America speak to China’s growing role in those parts of the world and China’s ambitions to be a global leader. Facing growing pressure from the U.S. and its partners, which fear China’s rise could disrupt the existing international order, the world’s second largest economy is trying to project itself as a powerful nation standing up for the interests of the Global South.
The collective rise of developing countries has become “an irreversible trend of the times,” Xi told Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Hichilema responded: “We appreciate your role in positively altering the global order so that the Global South can take our rightful place in the league of nations.”
The “all-weather” partnership Xi concluded this week with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is an even closer relationship than Zambia’s. It’s one that China has granted to only a handful nations and signals they will maintain close relations no matter what changes occur in the international situation.
“China aspires to shape a system that aligns with its interests and recognizes its status as a great power,” said Edward Chan, a China studies fellow at Australian National University. “Achieving this goal requires enhancing its ability to influence global discourse, which can be accomplished through garnering more international support.”
Last month, the five BRICS member countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — agreed to invite Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia to join next year in what would become an 11-nation bloc.
China also named a new ambassador to Afghanistan this week, to much fanfare from a Taliban government seeking international recognition.
In much of the developing world, Chinese state banks have financed roads and other infrastructure projects under its Belt and Road Initiative, and Chinese companies have built factories, mines, hotels and casinos.
China has in turn won access to natural resources and diplomatic support from many Global South countries on contentious votes at the U.N. and from Cambodia in China’s territorial disputes with other Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea.
Development loans from China and others have saddled some countries, including Zambia, with extremely high debt levels, sometimes sparking debt crises that can stymie economic development. More than 40% of Cambodia’s $10 billion in foreign debt is owed to Chinese institutions.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet made China his first official foreign visit after succeeding his father, Hun Sen, who ruled Cambodia for 40 years and cultivated his country’s close relationship with China.
Xi told Hun Manet that his father had made historic contributions to bilateral ties. Hun Manet said he would further develop the friendship between their countries.
The U.S. had shown disapproval of Hun Sen’s undemocratic moves and is uneasy over the expansion of a Cambodian naval facility with Chinese assistance. Hun Sen consistently denied that Cambodia had granted China the right to set up its own military base at Ream Naval Base.
After his meetings in Beijing, Hun Manet plans to join other Southeast Asian leaders this weekend in southern China at the 20th ASEAN-China Expo, which promotes cooperation in trade, investment and tourism.
China’s diplomacy has changed dramatically under Xi, said Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
“China has a near-term goal and also a long-term goal,” he said. “The long term goal will be the number one in the world. But the near-term goal is to be the leader of the Global South.”
Associated Press researcher Wanqing Chen contributed to this report.