Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma’s recent trip to China to discuss intensifying relations and to express his nation’s appreciation for the timely Chinese support in its fight against the Ebola virus outbreak – and against which backdrop Mr Koroma awarded President Xi Jinping the highest national honor – has resulted in various significant agreements and both sides committing to scale up cooperation at bilateral and multilateral levels.
During President Ernest Bai Koroma’s state visit to China from November 30–December 6, 2016, President Xi Jinping noted that since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Sierra Leone and China 45 years ago, the two nations have shared mutual respect, equality, trust, and beneficial results for both sides that both leaders are keen to build even further.
The two-way friendship came to the fore in recent years when China took the international lead in providing aid and support when resource-rich Sierra Leone most needed it following the drop in iron ore prices and the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa.
Speaking at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Mr Koroma commented, “It has been very difficult but with the support of friends like China we have been able to roll out programs of recovery to restore our utilities, get our services back and provide support for our private sector to get the market properly operating again.”
The two heads of state committed to scaling up China-Sierra Leone relations toward a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership – the highest level of cooperation at the diplomatic level. Mr Koroma lauded China's commitment to Africa and, in particular, Mr Jinping's trebling of funding support to $60 billion at the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in December 2015, at which China announced 10 major plans for China-Africa cooperation over three years.
An enabling environment
Such support is helping Sierra Leone is getting back on its development track, with the economy now on target to grow 4.9% this year following a contraction of 21% in 2015, and is projected to expand 5.4% in 2017 and 6.1% in 2019.
The Sierra Leonean President also met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who pointed out that China is ready to bolster its partnerships not only in tried, tested and trusted areas such as infrastructure, construction, mining, agriculture and fisheries, but also explore possibilities in communications, public health and tourism, among others.
During his six-day trip, Mr Koroma spoke with several Chinese enterprises and assured the of his government’s commitment to ensuring an enabling environment for their operations in Sierra Leone. While visiting Shandong Iron and Steel Company, which owns the Tonkolili Iron Ore Project, and meeting its senior management, he highlighted the company’s outstanding contribution to Sierra Leone’s growth process, its valued commitment to the nation and its position as a major player in the country’s economy and export earnings.
Adding tangible weight to the political expressions of goodwill and intent, toward the end of President Koroma’s visit both countries signed six cooperation agreements, all aimed at raising the level of cooperation between the two nations. The six agreements signed were:
At the same time, President Xi pledged 100 million Yuan support toward building capacity for the military, particularly Sierra Leone’s Naval Wing, and 100 million Yuan in rice aid. In addition, he announced a 300 million Yuan grant aimed at boosting Sierra Leone’s health sector, which includes the construction of the Regional Center for Disease Control, and he made further clear China’s commitment to the construction of Mamamah Airport as part of its contribution to rebuilding Sierra Leone.