China-Africa cooperation scales new heights

by Munetsi Madakufamba in Johannesburg, South Africa
Since the formation of the China Africa Forum 15 years ago, relations between the two sides have continued to scale new heights in the areas of economic, cultural, political and security spheres.

The 2015 Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation has taken further bold steps to cement mutual benefit between the two sides while taking the ties to even higher levels, including a new US$60 billion Chinese fund to support development on the African continent.

Although relations between China and Africa span several centuries – from the precolonial relations which were largely trade driven through colonial era relations when political and military cooperation blossomed, to the post-colonial era when economic cooperation has taken centre-stage while political ties have remained important – China has recently shown unprecedented interest in Africa more than any other part of the world.

The Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) enunciated in 2000 has provided a more structured platform for deepening the ties between the two sides in a broad spectrum of fields from political to economic areas.

Latest figures indicate that trade between the two sides reached US$220 billion in 2014 while China’s direct investment in Africa topped US$30 billion in the same year.

In an address to the opening ceremony of the Johannesburg Summit of FOCAC on 4 December, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced 10 China Africa Cooperation Projects which will be supported by a US$60 billion fund.

The plan covers development in a wide range of sectors of the African continent, including improvement of the continent’s industrial capacity, agricultural modernisation, infrastructure development, upgrading rural and urban settlements, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction, health improvement, culture and people to people exchange, and peace and security cooperation.

Outlining his country’s vision for Africa, Xi said the fund, which consists of grants, favourable concessionary loans and other investment funds, will be channelled into areas selected by African countries as opposed to priorities imposed by others.

He said China’s foreign policy on Africa was guided by five principles that include political equality and mutual trust, win-win economic cooperation, mutually enriching cultural and people to people exchanges, mutual assistance in peace and security, and solidarity and cooperation in international affairs.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who is the African Union chair, led African leaders in thanking the Chinese President for his generous assistance to the continent.

“Here is a man representing a country once called poor; a country that never colonised us, doing what those who once colonised us ought to be doing,” he said, calling on the continent’s erstwhile colonial powers to take notice.

On his part, South African President Jacob Zuma, who by virtue of his country hosting the 2015 FOCAC Summit said China has been a “consistent friend of Africa”.

He said the theme of the 2015 Summit, that is, “Africa-China Progressing Together: Win-Win Cooperation for Common Development”, dovetails with Agenda 2063, the continent’s long term vision.

Everyone from the United States of America to Europe is seeking to do business with China, aiming for a share of the Asian giant’s US$4.3 trillion reserves.

Africa is no exception. Much more important, African leaders are seeking mutually beneficial cooperation with China. Both Mugabe and Zuma made this point quite clear.

Mugabe spoke for the majority of Africans when he said the west has a distorted view of relations between China and Africa.

He said the west has “sought to portray and reduce our relations to purely commercial eyes driven in their view, as they say, by China’s appetite for and desire to extract raw materials from our continent… On the contrary, reality, fortunately, does not conform to such distorted imaginative creations”. He said the “relations go much deeper than the extraction of resources”.

The fact of China not moving into Africa for the continent’s resources has been allayed by Chinese authorities on many occasions. Xi in particular has consistently spoken of the “new normal” where the world is undergoing profound changes.

Part of that “new normal” has no doubt manifested itself in the maturation of the Chinese economy, which is now seeking to shift from one that is resource hungry to a new economic system that is consumer-driven with a strong middle class.

It is an economy that is seeking to export some of its labour-intensive industries into Africa, for example building industrial parks that will take advantage of the continent’s demographic dividend.

Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is AU Commission chairperson, said Africa is set to benefit from investment by Chinese enterprises as the continent “has a young population in an aging world”.

She said the move was even more welcome given the continent’s quest to beneficiate and value-add in order to create jobs and hedge against the volatility of the prices of its primary commodities on the international market.

The Johannesburg Summit, running from 4-5 December, was preceded by meetings of senior officials and ministers, as well as fora for the private sector, academia and the media, all of which set the momentum for the summit.

This is the 6th FOCAC at ministerial level since 2000 and only the second summit. The first summit was held in Beijing in 2006. The Johannesburg Summit was attended by 50 African countries, mostly at head of state level, as well as representatives of the African Union and its regional economic communities.