This article appears in the February 17, 2023 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
Prof. Yoro Diallo
The China-Africa Deals: Flagships of Exemplary South-South cooperation
Prof. Yoro Diallo, from Mali, is Executive Director of the Center for Francophone Studies and Director of the African Museum, Institute of African Studies, at Zhejiang Normal University in China.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The world is facing enormous tensions and challenges. Unilateralism, protectionism, hegemonism, the spirit of confrontation and cold war are among many other factors that affect world peace and the development so desired by the peoples. The threats to peace are sources of instability and uncertainty. Instead of trying to extinguish the fire, some countries and organizations are energetically fanning it with the sole motivation of satisfying their ambitions of hegemony, thus exposing the deficit of global governance. Where is the UN? This is the question that peace- and justice-loving people around the world are asking themselves.
In this difficult and complex context, a source of peace and development has been unfolding for some time to enrich international relations and serve as an example for the international community. This is the Sino-African cooperation. When talking about Sino-African cooperation, it is important to take a look at contemporary history, which is an immutable witness to historical truth. History teaches us that since its foundation in 1949, the People’s Republic of China has never provoked a war or a conflict, nor has it engaged armed forces in a foreign land. Its conduct is based on the five principles of peaceful coexistence, which are shared by African countries that have difficulty getting rid of the consequences of foreign domination.
History teaches us that Sino-African relations, which were rooted in the suffering of all kinds of domination, began a new turn within the Non-Aligned Movement. Indeed, in 1955, 29 African and Asian states met in Bandung, Indonesia. The Bandung conference (conference of the damned of the earth) stressed “the urgent need to encourage economic development in the Africa-Asia zone.” Since then, China and Africa have supported each other in their desire to emancipate themselves and follow their own development paths. The struggles for independence will forge a solid and sincere friendship. It is in times of hardship that true friendships are forged, it is said.
In 1978, thanks to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, China launched the policy of “Reform and Opening” which will allow the country to achieve real miracles in all fields of development. Firmly committed to the spirit of Bandung, China and African countries decided in Beijing in 2000 to establish the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). Since then, the cooperation between China and Africa has grown stronger over the years.
In 2013, 10 years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the principles of “sincerity, effective results, friendship and good faith and the pursuit of the greatest good and shared interests in Sino-African relations.” Since then, this cooperation has been making great achievements for the benefit of both sides. The Chinese President will make many official visits to the continent and participate in video conferences with his African colleagues. China has been Africa’s largest trading partner for 13 consecutive years. The volume of Sino-African trade for the year 2022 is estimated at over US$260 billion. The growth of Chinese imports from Africa has once again outpaced the growth of Chinese exports to Africa. Fifty-two African countries and the African Union Commission have signed cooperation agreements with China under the Belt and Road Initiative.
The 2015 Johannesburg Summit established the “Sino-Africa Conference on Poverty Reduction and Development” as the official instrument of the Forum on Sino-African Cooperation. In July 2018, President Xi Jinping made his ninth visit to Africa, his fourth as President of the People’s Republic of China.
At the 7th FOCAC Summit, held in Beijing in September 2018, the two sides worked together on the theme, “China and Africa: Building an Even Stronger Community of Destiny Through Win-Win Cooperation.” Beijing 2018 gave a new impetus to Sino-African Cooperation for shared development. The Summit closely linked the FOCAC with the Belt and Road Initiative, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the African Union’s 2063 Development Agenda, and the national development strategies of African countries. At the Summit, President Xi Jinping confirmed that “China will always be a good friend, a good partner and a good brother to Africa.” The Summit also stressed the importance of synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
On August 18, 2022, the “Coordinators’ Meeting on the Implementation of the Follow-Up Actions of the 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation,” held in Dakar, Senegal in November 2021, noted the success of the 8th Conference. Despite the tensions on the international scene, hegemonic practices, and intimidation, China and Africa have stayed the course by focusing on cooperation, advancing their cooperation in infrastructure, completing several major projects, including the Foundiougne Bridge in Senegal, the Nairobi Highway, the Kribi-Lolabe Highway in Cameroon, and the 10th of Ramadan Light Rail Transit in Egypt.
In terms of loans, the billions of dollars that China is devoting to Africa are mostly long-term repayable loans. In this regard, it is important to note that 35% of the external debt of African governments is held by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank; 32% of the said debt is held by private lenders; and only 20% by China. China has forgiven the debts of 17 African countries out of 23 interest-free loans that were due at the end of 2021. China is ready to redirect US$10 billion of its SDRs to Africa and encourage the IMF to direct China’s contributions to Africa.
On the subject of debt, during the press conference on the sidelines of the 2018 Beijing Summit, the President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall said: “We [Africans] know what we want in our cooperation with China.... The debt we have with China is very well under control. There is no doubt about it.” Despite this solemn declaration, inappropriate, if not arrogant, statements are still being made about Sino-African cooperation.
Over the past two decades, through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China has helped Africa build more than 10,000 kilometers of highways, 6,000 kilometers of railroads, hundreds of airports, ports, and power plants, as well as more than 130 medical facilities, 45 stadiums and more than 170 schools. More than 21,000 Chinese health workers have been sent to Africa to treat over 200 million patients. Today, China is the largest provider of scholarships and training to African countries. From January to November 2022, Africa-China trade amounted to $258.9 billion. This exceeds the total amount of trade between Africa and China in 2021, which is $254 billion. As a result, China maintains its leading position as the continent’s largest economic partner. Chinese imports of African products reached $70.6 billion in seven months. China has signed an exchange of letters with 12 African countries on zero tariffs for 98% of their export products to China. Many African agricultural products have already reached the Chinese market. The China-Africa joint centers for exchange, demonstration and training in modern agro-technology have been launched. Chinese companies are increasing their investment in the agricultural sector in Africa. Through the “100 Enterprises in 1000 Villages” initiative, Chinese companies are helping to create jobs, reduce poverty and improve the livelihoods of rural households in Africa. In the field of health, China has supplied more than 189 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to African countries. Currently, the joint production of COVID-19 vaccine in Africa has reached an annual capacity of about 400 million doses.
The field of peace and security recorded the second China-Africa Forum on Peace and Security. China has provided military assistance to countries in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and the Gulf of Guinea. China is the first country to support the African Union’s membership in the United Nations Security Council and the G20. It intends to encourage the G20 to take strong actions to support an enhanced role for the AU and African countries in the global governance system.
On January 11, 2023, the new Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Qin Gang, dedicated his first trip abroad to Africa, when he went to Addis Ababa to participate in the ceremony marking the completion of the headquarters of the Africa CDC [Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. He thus followed the tradition established by Chinese diplomacy for 33 consecutive years [that China’s foreign minister makes Africa the destination of his first overseas visit each year]. On this occasion, he reaffirmed that “the strengthening of solidarity and cooperation with African countries remains a priority of Chinese diplomacy, and that whatever the hazards on the international scene, China and Africa will constitute a community of shared future.” The AU Conference Center, the headquarters of the African CDC, the Mombasa-Nairobi and Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway lines, the numerous road, electricity, telecommunication, port, and other projects carried out all over the continent, undoubtedly contribute to the reinforcement of the self-reliant and sustainable development capacities of African countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to conclude my speech by saying that in view of the concrete achievements, the ongoing projects, and the common ambitions for the shared development of China and Africa, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative remain flagships of sincere, exemplary South-South cooperation that bring hope to the peoples in the field of international cooperation.