China-Africa and China-Zimbabwe: Past, Present and Future: Part 2 Relations with China — The Present

by Phyllis Johnson – SANF 15 no 60
Following the liberation of South Africa in 1994, Africa entered a new phase with the achievement of political independence on the continent and preparations for the new millennium.

China continued to support African development into the 21st century and Africa’s growing commitment to enhance its collective strength through unity.

The phrase “African development” indicates the focus of China’s exceptionally important role in Africa in supporting development according to Africa’s own agenda, as well as South-South cooperation, Africa-Asia collaboration, and common development goals.

China has also supported Africa’s efforts to apply economic growth to social development.

“Africa is at the initial stage of an economic takeoff and China is striving to achieve modernization.

“Both sides are fast integrating into the ongoing economic globalization,” Premier Li Keqiang said at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia in 2014, in an Africa Policy Statement from the new Chinese administration of President Xi Jinping.

“China-Africa cooperation, which is consistent with the trend of the world, requires that we base ourselves on our respective development stages, give consideration to each other’s concerns, and constantly seek and expand the areas of converging interests.”

“We should not limit our cooperation to energy, resources and infrastructure but expand it to industrialization, urbanization, agricultural modernization and many other areas, and put greater emphasis on green and low-carbon development as well as ecological and environmental protection,” Premier Li said.

“What is more, we should combine the role of the market with that of the government, enhance the synergy of business-society interactions and innovate on practical cooperation, so as to make China-Africa cooperation a model of complementarity, practical results and efficiency.”

This is known as the 4-6-1 speech. It contains four main principles, including equality, solidarity, inclusive development and innovative, practical cooperation.

Six areas are proposed to upgrade cooperation, including industrial and financial cooperation, poverty reduction, ecological and environmental protection, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, peace and security.

These will inform the forthcoming Summit of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa in December, following the 6th ministerial meeting of FOCAC.

Premier Li spoke of the need to deepen the China-Africa relationship by enhancing collective dialogue and practical cooperation through FOCAC. He noted that, coming to the 15th anniversary of FOCAC in 2015, there is need to improve this mechanism, enrich its content, and make the platform more practical and efficient.

More and more African countries have begun to “look east” in the new millennium, including South Africa which is a member of the BRICS grouping of emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa.

“Zimbabwe’s Look East policy has yielded positive results that have become an inspiration for many African countries,” one African ambassador said.

The two-way trade volume has increased, as has China’s investment and project contracting, and cooperation has expanded rapidly in the areas of agriculture, infrastructure and energy, among others.

China is Africa’s largest trading partner, having developed a mutual, vibrant partnership with trade volumes increasing exponentially over the past decade, rising from US$10 billion in 2000 to almost US$200 billion in 2012, and was projected to reach US$220 billion for 2014.

Chinese investment in Africa has grown over the past decade, with direct investment estimated at more than US$30 billion in 2014.

China has become Zimbabwe’s second largest trading partner after South Africa, with the trade volume reaching $1.24 billion for the five-year period since 2010, which is double the volume recorded for the previous five years.

Zimbabwe and at least 15 other African countries have received Approved Destination Status, as a destination for Chinese tourists, although Africa is still viewed as an unknown destination and visitor numbers remain low. Two-thirds of Chinese tourists visit neighbouring countries in Asia.

China’s principled action in the United Nations Security Council, especially over the Zimbabwe issue in 2008, has drawn ever more respect among African countries who see China as a reliable development partner that respects their aspirations and sovereignty.

The Chinese government “does not agree to any form of sanctions against Zimbabwe.”

Although there was no doubt about the course of action, it was costly, as China had to expend its own political capital at a time when it was seeking to strengthen relations with Europe and the United States.

China appreciates the consistency of Zimbabwe’s foreign policy in its support for China’s aspirations on reunification through the One-China Policy, and “views Zimbabwe as a trustworthy friend and an important partner.”

Now that China has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest economy, a feat achieved in December 2014, the wooing is in reverse, and China’s President Xi was feted this year in Washington and in London, where he resided at Buckingham Palace as guest of the British royal family.

Together, China and Africa are pressing for reform in global governance through the United Nations structures, and especially representation on the UN Security Council.

Agriculture and food security has been a main focus of Chinese cooperation with Zimbabwe, through the construction of dams and water treatment plants, as well as provision of tractors and combine harvesters for rural development.

The way forward requires deeper understanding of the realities of Past, Present and Future relations, including cultural and historical, as well as greater interaction through academic and media exchanges, volunteers, tourism, people-to-people and other sectors, and expanding the opportunities for joint research between institutions and individuals in various priority areas, such as infrastructure, poverty eradication, and history.

A key area of cooperation is that of sharing information and knowledge, strengthening the platform for collective dialogue and exchange of views, academic exchange of ideas, and an educational initiative to strengthen understanding of China-Zimbabwe relations and potential.

Both sides are frank in their assessment of the dearth of accurate information and reliable perspectives, and the need for more academic exchanges between universities, research institutes and think tanks, as well as education, sports, arts and culture, among others.

Symposia on China-Africa and China-Zimbabwe relations are a good example of the kind of interaction that can be strengthened between Chinese and African institutions and individuals, and seven have been held in Zimbabwe over the past seven years, involving some very senior scholars from both sides.

The establishment of SARDC’s Institute for China-Africa Studies in Southern Africa, in Harare, is another milestone in this regard.

This article from the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) through its Institute for China-Africa Studies in Southern Africa, is part of a series exploring the dimensions of China Africa relations in advance of the FOCAC Summit to be held in Johannesburg in early December.