Full coverage: 2017 NPC & CPPCC Sessions
By Miroslav Atanasov, Ph.D., Renmin University of China
During a press conference on Mar. 8 on the sidelines of the ongoing "Two Sessions", China's annual NPC (National People Congress) and CPPCC (Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) meetings, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there will be no weakening in China's support for Africa no matter how the international situation or world economy may evolve.
The Kingdom of Morocco on the western coast of North Africa is a beautiful country with rugged mountains, large desert tracts and a long coastline.
Strategically located, Morocco has the 5th largest economy in Africa by GDP (gross domestic product). That includes a strong service sector, including industries such as mining, construction, and manufacturing.
Moroccans look for ways to generate revenue from natural gas and to diversify their energy supply by developing renewable sources, such as solar power.
But Morocco suffers from high unemployment and a large foreign debt. The high trade deficit is compensated by remittances from the Diaspora of its people employed in foreign lands.
Diplomatic relations with Beijing were established in November 1958 when Morocco became the second African country to recognize the nation. China’s involvement in Morocco has increased in recent years.
From 2000 to 2012, there were 36 Chinese-financed development projects in Morocco including a $248 million Memorandum of Understanding with Export-Import Bank of China for construction of Berchid-Beni Mellal Highway in 2011; a $14.5 million preferential loan agreement for the building and equipping of eight private general hospitals in Morocco.
Ties deepened in May 2016 when Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, a reformer, made a state visit to China and signed agreements, including a China-Africa investment fund to build a $10 billion industrial city in Tangiers, Morocco's northern hub. Last year, Morocco hosted the first Sino-African Entrepreneurs Summit in Marrakech.
Other countries including Mauritius, South Africa, and Tanzania have been viewed as China's gateway to Africa, but Morocco is positioning itself to fill that role. Chinese companies are looking at investing in factories in Morocco for export to the European Union, which is located across the straights of Gibraltar.
Financial Gateway to Africa
This year Casablanca surpassed Johannesburg as the number one financial center in Africa according to Global Financial Centers rankings. Morocco continues to court Chinese economic investments and closer ties.
Moroccan banks are interested in China and vice versa. The Bank of China opened its first branch in Casablanca this year and seeks to manage its involvement in other African markets from there.
Influential Moroccan bankers have spurred negotiations with China, hoping to capitalize on closer bilateral ties. The Moroccan BMCE bank recently opened a branch in Shanghai to assist China's involvement into West Africa where Moroccan businesses are playing a leading role.
"We think Morocco can be China’s liaison to some opportunities and we offer a stable place to do business," said Benjelloun Touimi, leader of BMCE.
Tourism and Chinese Migration
With its diverse geographical landscapes, rich history and culture, relative safety and affordable prices, Morocco is a leading world tourist destination.
The kingdom's recent removal of visa requirements for Chinese nationals increased the influx of tourists from China by over 500 %. In 2016 Chinese visitors there reached 42,000 and Morocco’s goal is set to welcome 100,000 this year.
At a Global Times event last month Morocco was named the "best potential destination" in the world.
In the last 20 years over 2,000 Chinese have relocated to Morocco. Chinese shop-owners at the wholesale market in Casablanca's Derb Omar district sell more merchandise than locals, which have cause minor squabbles, but hasn’t impacted the promising relationship.
After his meeting with President Xi Jinping in May 2016, King Mohammed VI thanked China for the long-term friendship and strategic assistance. He pledged his country would help Beijing expand its global influence in trade, infrastructure development, and climate change.
"Morocco is willing to become an important cooperative partner of China in Africa and among Arab states," said the king.
With a complementary economy, sincere friendship and shared future, Morocco is likely to become China's new major partner in Africa.
Miroslav Atanasov, Romania, Ph.D., Renmin University of China
(The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com)
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