Africa, China aim for deeper cooperation

The announcement that Africa and China will work together to align their development plans presents another key milestone in relations between the People’s Republic of China and the emerging continental giant, Africa.

The Summit of leaders of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Beijing on 3-4 September, agreed “to form a strong synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU), as well as the development strategies of African countries.”

A closer synergy of China’s Belt and Road Initiative with Agenda 2063 of the AU and other development strategies has the capacity to ensure the smooth implementation of commercial activities, programmes and projects, thereby promoting infrastructure development, industrialisation and trade in Africa.

Agenda 2063 titled “The Africa We Want” was adopted in 2015 as a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over a 50-year horizon with five 10-year implementation plans that cover 2013-2063.

It is founded on the AU vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”

Another key aspiration for Agenda 2063 is an African continent with world class, integrated infrastructure that crosses the continent; seamless borders and management of cross-border resources through dialogue; and dynamic links with the African diaspora.

The Belt and Road Initiative was announced by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 as a development policy with a holistic vision of economic, political and security development to reach out and initiate joint action to build a new world order that is development-oriented, for mutual prosperity and human security.

This vision for an overland Silk Road Economic Belt, and the Maritime Silk Road by sea has the potential to change the global political and economic landscape through rapid development of infrastructure and transport corridors in countries along the routes.

The initiative will establish new routes linking Asia, Africa and Europe. It has two parts — a new Silk Road Economic Belt linking China to Europe through Central Asia; and the Maritime Silk Road that links Chinese ports with India and the African coast, and through the Suez Canal to Europe.

In this regard, the decision by Africa and China to work together to align their developmental plans is welcomed since deeper cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative and Agenda 2063 will generate more resources and means, as well as expand the market and space for African development, and broaden its development prospects.

“The closer connectivity in policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people ties, strengthened industrial capacity cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, and greater cooperation in the planning of African infrastructure and industrial development will lend new impetus to the win-win cooperation and common development between China and Africa,” reads part of the statement.

The 3rd FOCAC Summit, a platform that provides an opportunity to further stimulate growth and unlock new opportunities between China and Africa on trade and other matters also agreed on the need for China to strengthen its cooperation with the AU and its regional economic communities (RECs) such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Most of the engagement between Africa and China had remained largely bilateral between individual African countries and China, although the previous FOCAC Action Plan began to focus on regional development in Africa.

On peace and security, the leaders said the United Nations Security Council (UNSG) should be reformed as it is out of date and out of touch with reality.

The UNSG, which is tasked with the primary duty of maintaining international peace and security, continues to be dominated by a few powerful nations at the expense of the majority.

Of the five permanent members with veto power, none is from Africa yet the continent provides the largest membership of the UN.

The five permanent members are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The permanent members enjoy the veto right, meaning that the council cannot implement any decision if one of the five permanent members objects to it.

This arrangement and structure where some countries are “more important than others” is what Africa and other developing regions want to be reformed.

Furthermore, with global power shifting in recent decades while China has emerged as a major global economy and Africa is fast emerging, means reforms to the council are more urgent to ensure that it is aligned with new realities and emerging geo-political dynamics.

The FOCAC Summit also hailed the opening of an AU liaison office in Beijing, saying it is evidence that China and Africa are determined to strengthen their cooperation.

The AU office in Beijing is expected to ensure the smooth, effective and timely implementation of various activities, programmes and projects under the China-Africa partnership.

China has a permanent mission to the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which was established 2015.

In this regard, the establishment of an Africa office in Beijing is expected to consolidate cooperation between the two sides by exploring new models and approaches towards a more equitable and inclusive system that promotes sustainable socio-economic development.

China-Africa cooperation has brightened Africa’s prospects in many ways through investment, trade and development that has enabled the continent to experience socio-economic growth at a faster rate than most other continents, with economic growth measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimated at 4.5 percent for 2015.

During the same period, China’s development has accelerated at a pace faster than most industrialized countries, although its pace of growth was deliberately slowed to avoid overheating.

In his speech at FOCAC, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a new financing plan for Africa and pledged US$60 billion to fund eight cooperation initiatives in Africa for the period 2019 – 2021.

The eight initiatives are targeted at various sectors namely Industrial Promotion, Infrastructure Connectivity, Trade Facilitation, Green Development, Capacity Building, Health Care, People-to-People Exchanges, and Peace and Security.

President Xi, who is also the co-chair of FOCAC said the funding will be in the form of government assistance and investment and will be financed by various Chinese institutions and companies.

He said Chinese companies will be encouraged to make at least US$10 billion of investment in Africa in the next three years.

Outgoing co-chair of FOCAC, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South African President said it is critical for Africa and China to strengthen relations including people-to-people exchanges through various initiatives such as student exchange and tourism.

He said investing in people-to-people exchanges makes sense since people are the greatest asset in any partnership.

Senegal was appointed co-chair of the FOCAC, and will thus host the eighth FOCAC Ministerial Conference in 2021.