On Friday, the leaders of China and Zambia declared the enhancement of their relationship to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership, as the world’s second-largest economy strengthens its connections with countries in the Global South.
Chinese President Xi Jinping also met new Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet earlier the same day, and with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro earlier this week.
The trio of leaders from Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America speak to China’s growing role in those parts of the world. Chinese state banks have financed roads and other infrastructure projects and Chinese companies have built factories, mines, hotels and casinos.
China has in turn won diplomatic support from many Global South countries on contentious debates and votes at the U.N. and from Cambodia in China’s territorial disputes with other Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea.
Its outreach to the Global South has taken on greater geopolitical import as China seeks allies to push back against growing pressure from the United States and its partners on multiple fronts.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported online that Xi and Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema announced the upgraded partnership at a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, a monumental building on one side of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
That came two days after China announced it had upgraded diplomatic ties with Venezuela to an “all weather” partnership — a status China has granted to only a handful of countries — after the Xi-Maduro meeting.
Development loans from China and others have saddled some countries, including Zambia, with unsustainable debt levels, sparking debt crises that stymie economic development. More than 40% of Cambodia’s $10 billion in foreign debt is owed to Chinese institutions.
Hun Manet made China his first official foreign visit after succeeding his father, Hun Sen, who ruled Cambodia for 40 years.
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.