Journal

China’s Cooperation with Africa — A Different Story from That of the West

Zhang Hongwei n observer of international affairs
At the first US-Africa Leaders Summit, the US, as so often before, found fault with China’s cooperation with Africa, claiming that “China obviously has a need for natural resources that colors their investments in a way that’s less true for the United States.” Once again, China’s cooperation with Africa was blamed out of no reason. The author perceives such comments as unfair, and sees no logic in the US’ statement. China, being no stranger to such absurd arguments, normally waste no time on repudiation. However, as far as the author is concerned, since the nature of China-Africa cooperation was touched, I believe there is a need to make the following points.   
 
As is known to all, both China and African countries belong to the developing world. Hence, China-Africa cooperation is mutual assistance between brothers under the framework of South-South cooperation, aimed at bringing mutual benefit to sincere partners. Our cooperation is obviously different in nature from the North-South cooperation, in particular, the donor-recipient relationship with the US and western countries as donors and African countries as recipients. Such difference can be further elaborated in the following fields.
 
To help Africa achieve food security: teach people how to fish is more important.
 
Food is the first necessity of the people, and to feed the people is the top priority on the agenda of poverty reduction and development. Despite its endowment of vast and fertile land, Africa, however, has long suffered from food shortage and has to rely heavily on international food assistance over the years. Western countries have a historical responsibility to this. Back then, western colonialists forced African countries to plant designated cash crops to serve western industrial systems. As a result, many African countries, left with a shattered agricultural production system, were unable to feed their own people. Even today, the West shows little sincerity to redress the historical wrongs. What they have done is limited to food assistance, and they have made little efforts in helping Africa establish an independent agriculture production system.
 
With a huge population, China is keenly aware of the importance of having the full control of its food supply. We also fully understand African countries’ aspiration for agricultural development and food security. China not only offers food assistance to Africa in times of emergency, and, more importantly, helps our African brothers to achieve food self-sufficiency with all sincerity. China started agricultural cooperation with Africa as early as in the 1950s. To date, China has sent around 10,000 person-times of agricultural technicians to Africa, set up 22 agricultural demonstration centers there and had more than 900 experts and technicians who have worked in Africa under programs of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Experts and technicians from China brought training and demonstration programs directly to the farmers. Taking African farmers by hand, they taught the locals agricultural skills and helped them raise food production. In 2014, a rice growing project covering 70,000 mu (one mu equals about 666.67 m2) carried out jointly by a Chinese company and Mozambique yielded a bumper harvest. All the crop was processed and sold locally, greatly boosting local food security. In addition, the Chinese side has promoted rice growing technology in Mozambique and built irrigation and drainage pumping stations as well as road drainages and pipe networks covering hundreds of thousands of mu of farmland. And local rice production has been significantly increased from 100-150kg to 400kg per mu. 
 
To facilitate Africa’s medical and health programs: align our cooperation projects to Africa’s needs and priorities.
 
People are the foundation of a nation. People’s health holds the key to a nation’s development. Although the West has talked a lot about helping Africa fight HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and established various "presidential foundations" and "charity funds", many are merely high-sounding projects. China started its medical and health cooperation with Africa as early as over half a century ago. The very first medical team sent by the New China arrived in Algeria in 1963. Over the past 50-odd years, China’s support for Africa’s medical and health programs has never stopped. A total of 18,000 person-times of Chinese medical workers have worked in 51 African countries, 68 hospitals have been built with Chinese assistance and a large amount of Chinese medicine and medical supplies have been delivered to African countries. Chinese medical workers working in Africa have treated more than 200 million person-times of African patients, and the locals call them “Chinese angels”. Since 2010, Chinese ophthalmologists have engaged in the Brightness Action Program in Africa by conducting free surgeries for African cataract patients, helping nearly 2,000 African patients regain eyesight.
 
The Ebola virus lately wreaked havoc in West Africa, putting our African brothers in a dangerous situation. At this critical juncture, China was the first to extend a helping hand to the epidemic-hit countries. We promptly mobilized a total of RMB30 million yuan worth of disease treatment and control supplies, and without delay delivered these supplies via chartered flights to the three hardest hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which is a move unprecedented in Chinese external assistance. Facing the ravaging epidemic, Chinese medical staff working in the disease-affected countries have laid aside their personal safety and held their ground. The Chinese government has also sent another 18 public health experts in two teams to the front-line of the battle against the epidemic. As for western countries, however, some evacuated a large number of their volunteers from the affected areas, while others called back their medical staff from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Therefore, it was not surprising for Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to speak movingly about it at a hand-over ceremony of China-donated medical supplies. She said that China’s heroic assistance goes one step ahead of the rest of their international partners and China has proven to be “a friend in need”.
 
To pay close attention to education and human resource development in Africa: make our cooperation in these fields produce real results.
 
Education bears on the future of Africa. Some western countries have preached about “investing in Africa’s future” and helping Africa enhance capacity building. What they are actually doing is turning their training programs in Africa into platforms to peddle western values of democracy and human rights. Certain countries even have their state departments in charge of such programs, a testimony to their political utilitarianism. The so-called “investment in Africa’s future” is only to ensure their long-term influence on and control of African people’s mind.
 
“Empty talks would lead the country astray, only hard work can rejuvenate the nation.” This principle guides China’s human resource cooperation with Africa. By the end of 2013, China has helped build 132 schools in Africa and trained 62,000 African personnel. At the fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2012, China announced the “African Talents Program”, under which China would train 30,000 Africans in various professions and offer 18,000 government scholarships from 2013 to 2015. We have shared with African countries without reservation our precious experience gained through years of development, and supported their endeavor in exploring a development path suited to their own conditions. In our training programs, we advocate the idea of combining learning with practicing. Our programs not only offer courses of applicable technologies in bamboo and rattan weaving and mushroom growing, but also provide R&D equipment for African PhD candidates who pursue further studies in China. Our goal is to help them turn what they have learned in China into real productivity back home.
 
To work together for infrastructure development in Africa: break the bottleneck restraining Africa’s development.
 
Africa’s underdeveloped infrastructure has greatly restrained its industrialization and modernization process. Infrastructure projects, however, with need for huge input and relatively small short-term returns, are of little interest to the West. The West, having done little in this field before, are now less willing to contribute, citing the excuse of “financial restraints”.
 
As a Chinese idiom goes, “Better roads lead to better life.” Making good use of its own successful experience in the reform and opening-up, China has helped Africa build a large number of infrastructure projects. Among others, there are the TAZARA Rail, also known as the Uhuru railway (meaning freedom railway in Swahili) and the African Union Conference Center, the “new landmark of African integration”, as well as many other projects that bear on Africa’s future development, including 1,046 complete projects, 2,233km of railway, 3,530km of highway, 11 bridges and hydro-power stations of different scales. Malawi, for example, had repeatedly called on the West to help build a highway connecting Karonga and Chitipa, but got no response for 40 years. After China established diplomatic relationship with Malawi, however, it took only three years for China to build this 101km-long highway. In May 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed to work together with Africa on three major networks of high-speed railway, highway and regional aviation on the African continent. We could well foresee that this “project of the century” will put in place the main arteries on the continent, which will boost Africa’s economic development and serve as a new milestone in China-Africa cooperation.
 
To uphold peace and stability in Africa: support the efforts to solve African problems in the African way.
 
Western interference in African affairs breeds turbulence and conflicts. A few years ago, ignoring the role of African countries and the African Union, the West was bent on overthrowing the Gaddafi regime in Libya by force, leaving Libya deep in a quagmire of chaos and violence to this very day. Its spillover effect keeps expanding, leading to continued deterioration of the security situation in the whole Sahel region.
 
Different from western way of wanton interference in African internal affairs and supporting one group to attack another, China has never created trouble on peace and security of Africa. We firmly support Africa in playing a leading role in upholding regional peace and stability, back African solutions and work extensively with relevant parties to promote peace talks. China has provided support on several occasions to AU peacekeeping operations in Sudan, Somalia and Mali. In addition, China is the largest contributor of peacekeepers to Africa among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. It has participated in 16 UN peacekeeping missions in Africa, with over 1,800 Chinese peacekeepers posted on the continent. In 2013, China deployed formed units of its security force, for the first time, to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali and will send to South Sudan another peacekeeping troop of the same nature within the year.
 
From the above analysis, we can see that China’s cooperation with Africa is undoubtedly a different story from that of the West. Treating African countries as equals, China has never picked or chosen its cooperation partners or practiced value-based diplomacy that draws lines along ideologies. In our cooperation with Africa, we offer sincere support for Africa’s development; it has never been a hard sell with a condescending attitude. Our cooperation means real actions and produces tangible results; it has never been an “all-talk-no-action” trick. Picking fault with China-Africa relations is, in essence, the result of the overweening arrogance of some western countries and their reluctance to see the success of a cooperation model in Africa that is different from theirs.

* The author is an observer of international affairs.


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