left corner left corner
China Daily Website  

Ready for a new beginning as development accelerates

Updated: 2014-04-14 07:12
By Romain Dittgen ( China Daily)

Although China's increased involvement in Gabon is a recent development, diplomatic links between the two countries were first established in 1974. This followed Gabon's wish to expand political ties and Omar Bongo taking power in 1967.

Bongo's first state visit to China and meetings with late Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in 1974 took place at the height of the Cold War. Bongo attributed the growing connections with China as diversification of partnerships and part of his desire to accelerate Gabon's development.

Since that visit, bilateral ties between the two countries have strengthened over the years. During his 41 years in power, Bongo returned to China on several occasions.

From an economic viewpoint, Sino-Gabonese relations have remained limited for a long time and confined to marginal sectors. China's presence in Gabon was first felt through the dispatch of agronomic and medical teams, the construction of hospitals and the launching of agricultural projects.

It is only since the late 1990s that commercial ties between the two countries have significantly strengthened. Gabon's exports to China, particularly that of manganese, mineral ores and timber, have risen because of demand necessitated by China's strong economic growth.

Ready for a new beginning as development accelerates

Gabon's imports from China - covering a wide range of manufactured products - have remained at relatively low levels. Imports from China stood at 45 million euros ($62 million) in 2006 and rose to 108 million euros in 2009. On the other hand, Gabon's exports to China have grown considerably. From 45 million euros in 2005, exports rose to 572 million euros in 2006 and to a high of 1.25 billion euros in 2008, before slowing down to 500 million euros in 2009.

Despite the temporary decline and difficulties in obtaining precise numbers for 2010 and 2011, export patterns have more or less veered toward a continuous increase.

China has also moved up from being a marginal trade partner to a major player. Since the early 2000s China has become Gabon's second-largest customer after the US. France, Gabon's traditional partner, continues to be its leading overall goods supplier with a market share of about 35 percent.

However, there has been a decline in exchanges between France and Gabon, because of China's increasing involvement. Complementary economic links between Africa and China also helped Gabon.

China's presence in the Gabonese energy sector has until recently been limited to research and exploration. But it is also purchasing more oil from Gabon.

China's provision of financial assistance and credit lines at preferential rates has led to a change in the scale of the Sino-Gabonese relationship and prompted Gabon to treat China as a privileged partner.

Gabon's repeated attempts over the decades to obtain debt relief from Western donors failed because of its high per capita income. Interest-free or preferential loans from China thus have come as a welcome alternative.

The Gabon government has often used diplomatic and political measures to persuade foreign businesses to invest in the country.

The author is a human

geography lecturer at the

Sorbonne University in Paris. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily 04/14/2014 page15)