One Belt One Road: A Brand-New Strength for a Deep-Rooted China- Madagascar Partnership

China and Madagascar have a very long-term relationship. Their connection finds its way back in history. A silky road has already tied the two countries centuries ago. Indeed, from the 13th and 14th centuries, in the Yuan dynasty, China already had three routes to Africa, one of them includes Madagascar.

In the 19th century, a number of Chinese people settled down in Madagascar, it can explain the existence, especially in the coastal regions of the island, of a generation of Chinese, also called “ancient Chinese in Madagascar” who differs from the newcomers. If the former was seeking for shelter, the latter is more focused in business and is investment-oriented.

This friendly exchange was later, in 1972, materialized by the establishment of diplomatic relations. The ratification of the relationship between the two countries strengthened the friendship which has promoted the bilateral cooperation. These projects are divided in various fields.

Since then, the two countries have a prosperous partnership, not to mention that China has become the largest commercial partner of Madagascar.  

Nowadays, Madagascar is one of the African countries that polled the most number of Chinese nationals. The question is how one belt one road can strengthen the relationship between the two countries? 

One belt one road is a promise of a new level of cooperation that will have a considerable impact into the development of the two countries.

As we know, the One Belt One Road project, launched by China in 2013, involves the participation of several countries from different continents all over the world, including Africa. This call can be considered as an express manifestation and a reiteration of China’s willingness to cooperate with the African continent.

While some researchers are studying the motivation of China’s approach to African States, others are more focused on the studies of practicability and the benefits (both short-term and long-term) of this latter.

In the beginning of this year 2017, China has engaged on an African tour with a successive visit of Chinese representatives in different countries.

Madagascar has been connected to this Chinese representatives’ itinerary and was the first State to honor the Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi. During his visit, he has warmly welcomed the participation of Madagascar in the One Belt One Road initiative.

This invitation has been acknowledged, a few months later by Madagascar. It was brought to pass by an official visit held in Beijing between the two leaders, respectively the President Xi Jiping and the President Rajaonarimampianina Hery. This official visit advances a mutual desire to intensify diplomatic relations and particularly economic relations.

Through the areas involved in this project, we can already have a clear idea about the advantages of both parties.

First, thanks to its geographical location, Madagascar may represent a geostrategic pillar to connect Africa with China in the proposed shipping route. Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world and situated in the Indian Ocean is the African country with the closest access to China geographically. This may explain China’s choice of making Madagascar the bridge between Africa and China. Thus, Madagascar has undeniably a role to play to the accomplishment of this structure.

President Rajaonarimampianina says that Madagascar not only supports the construction of ports and airports but also will bring its support in the field of energy and aviation.

Moreover, the official visit of Malagasy’s President in China, was also accompanied by the signature of different categories of cooperation. These agreements engage the domain of fisheries, agriculture, security and the application of the law.

The Sino-Malagasy relationship through this project One Belt One Road indeed implicitly agrees the existence of alliance between the two countries. The construction of this infrastructure would concretize the proximity of the two countries. This opens the opportunity for China to have a strategic partner in the Indian Ocean. As for Madagascar, it will be an opportunity to make its ascension on the international scene by participating in a project linking several recognized and powerful actors.

Second, as one of the poorest countries in the world, Madagascar’s participation in the one belt one road project is a major contributor to the country’s development. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Madagascar emphasizes that: “this project will enable our country to integrate its economy on a global scale through the establishment of infrastructures linked to industrialization and trade, namely sea and river ports, railway construction …”

China, on the sidelines of its visit, has announced several donations for this year 2017. These donations include the construction of 200 drinking water wells in the south-west of the country (in the regions of Menabe, Atsimo Andrefana), the construction of a 19 km road known as the “egg route”, to open up the Mahitsy region, which produces chicken eggs and is connected to the RN4, the donation of two coastguard ships, and the financing of works to rehabilitate the buildings of the Malagasy Ministry of Foreign Affairs, estimated at 1 billion ariary (280,000 euros), the whole without counterpart.

Infrastructure is indeed at the center of development insofar as it facilitates the linking of the regions of the island. Indeed, one of the biggest problems encountered in the country is the isolation of several productive regions or districts. The presence of roads and railways would make it possible to establish a link between these regions and the capital in order to make these productions profitable.

Even though the relationship between the two countries is deep-rooted, it encounters some limits.  In fact, some Malagasy natives are reluctant and remain on the defensive when discussing the subject of cooperation with China. Indeed, the experience of Madagascar, especially the population living in exploitable and exploited mining areas, returns a negative image on the presence of investors in Madagascar. Fortunately, China has reformulated its willingness to respect the law by calling all its investors to follow the binding rules in Madagascar.

Besides, these projects might raise concern and conflict with some other partners of Madagascar, particularly, France. In fact, France as a former colonizer of Madagascar still keeps a jealous eye on the big island.

[1] in the daily newspaper of Madagascar

Heritiana Randrianantoandro
Heritiana Randrianantoandro
PhD Candidate in International relations at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China. Currently conducting research on international sanctions, power politics, international law, foreign policy and bargaining strategy. Holder of a MPhil in Public law &Political Science and a Master degree in Business and international law, my focus has been writing and conducting research on international political economy, international investments, interregionalism / regionalism, democracy.