China opened its new embassy in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou on Thursday after the impoverished Sahel state stunned Taiwan by switching diplomatic ties to Beijing.
The official opening comprised the unveiling of a plaque in an upmarket hotel where the embassy is being housed temporarily while a new building for it is constructed.
“Today is a historic day,” declared Vice Prime Minister Hu Chunhua, who led a major delegation to Ouagadougou to oversee the event.
“As of today, the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Burkina Faso is open,” Hu said, describing the mission as the “driver of Chinese-Burkinabe friendship.”
“Burkina Faso is honoured to welcome you on its soil… after a break of 24 years,” Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba, said in reply.
The opening of the embassy “is a strong signal of the importance that the highest authorities in Burkina Faso and China attach to relations of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.”
With the exception of eSwatini – the new name for Swaziland – Burkina Faso had been the last African state to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Taipei has been competing with Beijing for international recognition since the People’s Republic was founded in 1949.
China deems Taiwan, to where the defeated Nationalists retreated, to be a renegade province, and isolating it internationally is a key objective.
On May 24, Burkina Faso announced it was breaking ties with Taiwan because of “changes in the world (and) the current socio-economic challenges facing our country.”
The move came as a shock to Taiwan, prompting the immediate resignation of its foreign minister, Joseph Wu. The island is now left with only 18 diplomatic allies around the world.
China’s diplomatic offensive south of the Sahara has gone hand-in-hand with lavish infrastructure projects and huge contracts to purchase resources.
Chinese teams have already arrived in Burkina Faso to work on cooperation schemes, including the building of a large hospital in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s second largest city.
Before leaving on Friday, Hu is expected to meet President Roch Christian Kabore and invite him to make his first official visit to China in September, when Beijing hosts a China-Africa summit.
A landlocked country of 18 million people on the southern rim of the Sahara, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest nations of the world.
It ranked 185th out of 188 states in the UN’s Human Development Index for 2016.