Enhancing Solidarity, Building on the Past and Making New Progress in Forging a China-Africa Community with a Shared Future
By Deng Li
Sharing a long-standing tradition of friendship, China and Africa have always been a community with a shared future. As President Xi Jinping pointed out, on the path of pursuing peace and development, China and Africa should be trustworthy friends and sincere partners forever. In the face of unprecedented global changes and a once-in-a-century pandemic, China is speeding up the formation of a new development paradigm, and Africa is also marching forward on the path of development and revitalization. This presents new historical opportunities for growing China-Africa relations and building an even stronger China-Africa community with a shared future.
2020 was an extraordinary year for China, Africa and their relations. The sudden onslaught of COVID-19 plunged the world economy into difficulties, and the “political virus” raging in certain countries has seriously jeopardized international solidarity and cooperation. In such trying times, China and Africa have stood side by side and supported each other in overcoming the difficulties, writing a new chapter in the history of China-Africa relations.
1. Deepening political mutual trust. In June last year, as the fight against the pandemic entered a critical moment, President Xi Jinping and African leaders jointly initiated the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19, which sent a powerful message of enhancing solidarity and cooperation, supporting multilateralism and building a China-Africa community with a shared future, and boosted the determination and confidence of the international community in overcoming the pandemic. Since the start of COVID-19, President Xi Jinping has had phone calls with eight African leaders, and State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has spoken on the phone with 17 African counterparts and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC). In January this year, despite the impact of the pandemic, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a successful visit to five African countries on his first overseas trip of the year, a tradition that has been kept by the Chinese foreign minister for more than three decades. In February, Yang Jiechi, Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, visited Uganda and Zambia. The two visits were highly commended by African countries. Such close high-level exchanges provide strong underpinning for the robust growth of China-Africa relations. Facts have proven that despite major difficulties and challenges, China-Africa political mutual trust has not weakened but grown deeper and stronger; China-Africa brotherhood has stayed as strong as ever and taken deeper roots in people’s hearts.
2. Effective cooperation on COVID-19 response. At the height of China’s battle against the virus, the African Union (AU) and the governments and people of African countries offered us valuable support. The AU was the first major regional organization to publicly voice support for China after the epidemic emerged. When Africa was hit by COVID-19, China also took swift actions to help. China sent several batches of anti-epidemic supplies, dispatched expert teams and short-term medical teams to 16 African countries, signed agreements or reached consensus on debt suspension with 16 African countries, reduced or canceled the debt owed by 15 African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that were due to mature by the end of 2020, and started the construction of the headquarters of the Africa Centers for Disease Controland Prevention (CDC) ahead of schedule. China has also donated or exported vaccines to over 30 African countries in an ongoing effort. Such acts testify to China’s sincerity in helping Africa fight against the virus and speaks volumes about the profound friendship and solidarity between China and Africa.
3. Robust and resilient practical cooperation. Since last year, while overcoming the impact of the pandemic, China and Africa have made every effort to implement the outcomes of the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), particularly in the fields of public health, economic reopening, and people’s livelihood. Some 1,100 cooperation projects between China and Africa are still up and running. Nearly 100,000 Chinese technicians and engineers have stayed in their posts, and a large number of major cooperation projects such as railroads, highways and power stations have resumed or started construction. According to statistics, despite the impact of COVID-19 and other adverse factors, the overall implementation rate of the eight major initiatives announced at the FOCAC Beijing Summit has exceeded 85 percent, and 70 percent of the US$60 billion in supporting funds have been either put into use or arranged. In 2020, trade between China and Africa reached US$187 billion, making China the largest trading partner of Africa for 12 consecutive years. This fully demonstrates the resilience and high quality of China-Africa practical cooperation, which has served as an example for international cooperation with Africa.
4. Closer coordination on international affairs. China and Africa firmly support the World Health Organization (WHO) in playing a leading role in international cooperation against COVID-19. United in rejecting the practices of putting labels on the virus and politicizing the pandemic, China and Africa have stood up for what is right and rallied the world behind the battle against COVID-19. On issues related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and human rights, China and Africa stand firmly together to jointly defend the interests of developing countries and international equity and justice. China steadfastly supports African countries in seeking strength through unity and resolving African issues in their own way, steadfastly supports Africa’s just fight against racial discrimination and against interference in countries’ internal affairs, and steadfastly supports Africans to head the WHO and WTO. China is taking concrete actions to help Africa increase its representation and voice on the world stage.
COVID-19 has reshaped the international landscape in profound ways. In an increasingly fluid and changing world with rising global challenges, China-Africa relations, though confronted with some uncertainties, also face unprecedented opportunities for development.
1. Pursuit of common development creates new opportunities for cooperation. China was the first country to contain the virus and resume economic activities, and was the only major economy to achieve positive growth last year. This year marks the launch of China’s 14th Five-Year Plan and the start of a new journey toward fully building a modern socialist country. China is stepping up efforts to foster a new development paradigm with domestic circulation as the mainstay and domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other. Driven by this major strategic deployment, the Chinese market, with a population of 1.4 billion, a middle-income group of 400 million and a total of 120 million market entities, will be fully invigorated. As China opens its door wider to the outside world, it will engage in even deeper exchanges and cooperation with countries around the world. In the coming decade, total import into China alone is estimated to top US$22 trillion. Meanwhile, Africa has made commendable progress in the battle against COVID-19 and is steadily moving forward with economic reopening. In particular, with the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the huge African market, with a population of 1.3 billion and a combined GDP of US$3.4 trillion, is capturing the eyes of the world. Going forward, Africa’s development potential will only be further unleashed. China and Africa are in successive development stages and highly complementary to each other. We are convinced that with concerted efforts of both sides, the road of common development of China and Africa will become wider and wider.
2. Connectivity of development strategies opens new ground for cooperation. In recent years, through FOCAC, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other mechanisms and platforms, China has enhanced synergy with the AU Agenda 2063 and the development strategies of African countries. The pillars supporting future China-Africa cooperation are now by and large in place. During the visit by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in January this year, DR Congo and Botswana signed MOUs on promoting BRI cooperation with China respectively, and became the 45th and 46th BRI partner countries in Africa. Currently, nearly one third of the countries that have signed Belt and Road cooperation agreements with China are in Africa, which makes the continent one of the most active BRI participants. Not long ago, the AU and China signed a plan on jointly promoting BRI cooperation, the first such document signed between China and a regional organization. With improved structure, richer contents and expanded scope, the strategic framework of China-Africa cooperation is bound to play a more important role in driving the growth of China-Africa relations.
3. Economic transformation generates new engines for cooperation. Last year marked the 20th anniversary of FOCAC. Over the past two decades, China and Africa have jointly drafted and implemented ten cooperation plans and eight major initiatives, taking practical cooperation to an unprecedented height. As both sides are picking up pace in their economic transformation and industrial restructuring, cooperation has moved from government-driven to market-driven, from trade in goods to industrial cooperation, and from engineering contracts to investment and operations. Examples of successful cooperation can be seen in infrastructure, industry, trade, investment, poverty reduction and other areas. In addition, COVID-19 has catalyzed the growth of new business forms and models, creating new opportunities and space for China-Africa cooperation in such fields as health, digital economy, green economy and integration of industrial and supply chains.
4. Global changes call for a new vision of cooperation. China is the biggest developing country, and Africa is the continent with the largest number of developing countries. The two sides are natural partners for strategic cooperation. The unprecedented global changes and the once-in-a-century pandemic have revealed the urgency of reform in the global governance system. China and Africa, as major members of the developing world and an important force for international equity and justice, have both the need and responsibility to strengthen strategic communication and coordination, champion the principles of peace, development and win-win cooperation that are most needed in our times, uphold multilateralism and democracy in international relations, oppose unilateralism, protectionism and power politics, and promote a more equitable and reasonable global governance system.
A promising journey lies ahead of us, and now is the time to march forward. This year is the concluding year for the implementation of the follow-up actions of FOCAC Beijing Summit, and a new FOCAC meeting is scheduled to be held in Senegal. Moving forward, under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy, we will continue to act in the principle of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith, follow the approach of pursuing the greater good and shared interests, and work with African friends to break new grounds in promoting cooperation with higher quality, better structure, greater vitality and stronger sustainability.
1. Pushing for greater synergy of strategies. Guided by the vision of building a China-Africa community with a shared future, we will continue to pursue win-win cooperation and uphold the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. We will strengthen exchanges with Africa at all levels and in all fields, and ensure the success of a new FOCAC meeting. We will synergize development strategies with the AU and African countries, and introduce new initiatives for China-Africa cooperation through consultation. We will steadily advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, promote integrated development by strengthening the cooperation system, and ensure China and Africa develop in a mutually reinforcing way to inspire greater international cooperation with Africa.
2. Deepening cooperation in combating COVID-19. We will continue to provide support for our African friends, including sending medical expert teams to countries in need and speeding up the construction of the Africa CDC headquarters. We will work with Africa in rejecting vaccine nationalism and promoting fair and equitable distribution of vaccines. To deliver our commitment of making COVID vaccine a global public good, we will export vaccines and provide assistance to African countries in need and help them tide over the difficulties. Meanwhile, we will step up efforts to fully deliver the health care initiative under FOCAC and speed up the construction of China-Africa Friendship Hospitals and the cooperation between paired-up Chinese and African hospitals, in an effort to help African countries enhance public health capacity in diseases prevention and treatment. Together, we will build a China-Africa community of health for all.
3. Boosting the effectiveness of cooperation. While coping with the pandemic, we will continue to push for an upgrade in China-Africa practical cooperation and support Africa’s sustainable development and industrialization. We will lay out new growth drivers for cooperation and grasp the opportunities created by the trend towards digital-driven, Internet-based and smart growth. We will explore new business forms and models for cooperation and work with Africa to upgrade cooperation in such areas as health, manufacturing, regional connectivity, agriculture, digital technology, environment, security and human resources. We will promote exchanges and mutual learning between our two great civilizations. This year is the AU Year of Arts, Culture and Heritage. We will seize the opportunity to deepen cooperation with Africa in education, culture, media and other fields, and advance cultural and people-to-people exchanges in all dimensions, at all levels and in all areas.
4. Strengthening coordination on international affairs. We will enhance strategic communication, continue to firmly support each other on issues concerning core interests and major concerns, and maintain communication and coordination in multilateral frameworks such as the UN, WHO and WTO and on regional hotspot issues. We will defend the UN-centered international system, the international order based on international law, and the multilateral trading system represented by the WTO. We will promote greater democracy in international relations and a new type of international relations, and jointly safeguard the legitimate development rights and overall interests of developing countries. We will also step up cooperation in peace and security, climate change, poverty reduction, sustainable development and other areas, actively participate in the reform of the global governance system, and jointly uphold international equity and justice.
As a Chinese saying goes, one tree does not make a forest,and one flower does not make spring. Standing at a new historical starting point, we will continue to deepen traditional friendship with our African friends, staying forever as good brothers sharing weal and woe and good partners for common development. A stronger China-Africa relationship will serve as a model for building a community with a shared future for mankind, and make greater contribution to world peace and development.
Deng Li is Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs.