The Reawakening of China-Morocco Relations
China-Morocco relations, although not at the forefront of China’s endeavors in Africa, have been friendly since Morocco first recognized the People’s Republic of China in November 1958. Although the Kingdom of Morocco was the second country in Africa to recognize the PRC, in 1958, following Egypt, the Atlantic-bordering country has not been given as much attention from China as it’s oil-surplussed neighbors. As China looks to expand its influence in Africa, it has a found a loyal ally in King Mohammed VI.
Geographically, Morocco is in a strategic position for China to build a relationship with. Morocco sits only 14.3 km south of Spain, over the Strait of Gibraltar, in the crossroads of Francophone Africa and the Arab World. Morocco has free trade agreements with the United States, Turkey, and Arab countries, along with an advanced status with the EU. For Morocco, China provides an alternate to its traditional ally, the United States, which has been more involved in Morocco’s human rights and territorial disputes.
Chinese investors have been looking towards Morocco at the following of their government: last July the King Mohammed VI bridge, the longest bridge in Africa, was completed by the Chinese company Cover-Mbec over Oued Bouregreg, totaling to $72 million. A few months later, in November, the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy chose China’s Chint Group Corp, along with a Saudi Arabian power company, to construct three solar power plants, a combined 170MW. Currently, there are discussions between the two countries on the building of a high-speed railway, linking Marrakech and Agadir, and the extensive project of building an industrial city, based on similar special economic zones built by China. The tourism sector has erupted in Morocco: forty-two thousand Chinese tourists visited Morocco in 2016, albeit no direct flights exist between the two countries.
Seen as a stable force in the region, a country that transitioned from a traditional kingdom to a democratically elected Islamist party during the time of the Arab Springs, Morocco is gaining recognition around the world as North Africa’s new leader. On top of the political stability, Morocco has seen a stable growth, accompanied with a growing middle class, a young workforce, and a policy of national and continental economic expansion.
Looking to East Africa, perhaps Morocco is following Ethiopia’s steps to becoming a top player in Africa; the growth of Ethiopia was partly due to the partnership with China. Even with mining only constituting 1.5% of Ethiopia’s GDP, on a continent where mining is a major industry (mining makes up almost a third of Morocco’s GDP), Ethiopia has grown to be one of the largest players on the continent. This is in part due to being one of the top choices for Chinese investment: between 1998 and 2014, over 1,000 Chinese projects were registered with the Ethiopian investment agency. Special economic zones, schools, hydro-power projects, railways, and numerous other projects have been built and installed by the Chinese in Ethiopia, similar to projects starting up throughout Morocco.
Through the agency of strengthening relations with China, a partner with many of the same goals, including in combating climate change (unlike the United States, which has seen the unraveling of laws combating greenhouse emissions), Morocco sees a new approach to investments. This revived synergism between the North African country and the leader of the Global South could be the boost that Morocco has been looking for to become one of the major African players.