China-Africa Cooperation: At the Forefront of International Cooperation with Africa

Dai Bing

China and Africa enjoy a time-honored history of friendly exchanges. In this traditional friendship, China and Africa have always supported each other in trying times and shared weal and woe. As President Xi Jinping said, China and Africa are friends tested by adversity. Such a friend must never be forgotten. No matter how the international landscape evolves, strengthening solidarity and cooperation with African countries is always an important pillar of China’s foreign policy. It is a strategic choice of China made with long-term commitment and it will not be changed by any particular incident at any time.

1. Major diplomatic achievements in China-Africa relations since the 18th CPC National Congress

(1) China’s diplomatic thinking on Africa hasbeen enriched and the cooperation framework further improved. President Xi Jinping attaches high importance to developing relations with Africa. In 2013, he chose Africa as the destination of his first foreign trip as President of China, and during the visit, he put forward the policyof upholding justice and friendship while pursuing shared interests and the principle of sincerity, real results, affinity, and good faith. In 2015, when co-chairing the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), President Xi Jinping announced the decision to upgrade the China-Africa relationship to a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership featuring political equality and mutual trust, win-win economic cooperation, mutually enriching cultural exchanges, mutual assistance in security, and solidarity and coordination in international affairs, charting the course for future development of China-Africa relations. During the Forum, a new document, China’s Africa Policy, was issued, defining the guiding philosophy, basic principles and key areas of China’s foreign policy related to Africa. In 2016, China proposed that China-Africa cooperation should follow the five-point principle of cooperation,i.e. ensuring common, intensive, green, safe and open development, which has become the new consensus between China and Africa in their efforts for win-win cooperation and common development. These new thoughts, concepts and measures form the pillars of China’s Africa policy. Top-level design and strategic planning of China’s overall relations with Africa have gradually matured with the thinking and theoretical framework ever improved. 

(2) Strategic mutual trust has deepened with high-level exchanges more frequent than ever. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, President Xi Jinping and other CPC and state leaders have paid over 30 visits to Africa. Over 60 African heads of state or government have paid visits to or attended international conferences in China. China has intensified its efforts to build a network of partnerships in Africa, with strategic partnerships or comprehensive cooperative partnerships established with over 20 African countries. Over 180 state leaders and leaders of political parties from 52 African countries and Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union (AU) sent congratulatory messages on the successful convening of the 19th CPC National Congress and the re-election of President Xi Jinping as the General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee. Dialogues and interactions have been increasingly frequent between political parties, legislatures and localities of China and Africa, with hundreds of visits at or above the provincial and ministerial level and hundreds of exchanged visits between political party delegations.Various dialogue mechanisms including national bilateral committee meetings, strategic dialogues, consultations between foreign ministries and meetings of joint trade and economic committees are operating smoothly. Communications between China and Africa on governance and development experience are deepening. In June 2017, China and the AU jointly held the China-Africa High-Level Dialogue and Think Tank Forum on Fighting Against Poverty for Common Prosperity, during which participants conducted in-depth discussions on China and Africa joining hands in addressing the poverty challenge. Out of Poverty,a book authored by President Xi Jinping, was well received in many African countries. 

(3) Pragmatic cooperation has been expanded with win-win cooperation making new achievements. In 2017, trade volume between China and Africa reached USD170 billion. China has remained Africa’s largest trading partner for nine consecutive years. Chinese investment in Africa exceeded USD100 billion, increasing as much as 100 times on the basis of that of 2000. There are over 3,200 Chinese companies in Africa, representing an important force for local economic and social development. The implementation of the outcomes of the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit has made smooth progress. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway, Hisense South Africa and other projects in such fields as infrastructure, industrial parks, special economic zones, and industrial and production capacityhave been completed, put into operation or accelerated. In particular, the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway, as the biggest infrastructure project of Kenya since it gained independence, has created nearly 50,000 jobs, contributed 1.5% of GDP growth in Kenya and cut regional logistics cost by 14% to 40%. 

China has always rendered support within its capacity to the efforts made by Africa to improve people’s living standards. China took the lead in helping Africa fight Ebola with assistance worth RMB 750 million. China has sent over 25,000 medical workers to Africa, treating more than 300 million patients, including more than 7,000 cataract patients who have been cured through the China-aided “Brightness Action” program. China has also sent medical teams to some African countries to help prevent and control plague and cholera. Since 2016, China has provided emergency food aid to 18 African countries struck by droughts and floods to help them through difficulties. 

(4) With continued development in peace and security cooperation, China makes its contribution to peace in Africa. China’s active engagement in peace and security affairs in Africa has been carried out under the principle of being peaceful, justifiable and constructive. China supports efforts of African countries to solve African problems independently. To support Africa’s collective security mechanisms and capacity building for independent peace operations, President Xi Jinping pledged USD 100 million of military aid grant to the AU in the next five years at the UN Peacekeeping Summit in September 2015. China has actively participated in mediation for hotspot issues such as the South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi issues, and provided Chinese wisdom for peacefully resolving conflicts on the continent. Among the five permanent members of the Security Council, China is the largest contributor of peacekeepers in Africa and the second biggest contributor of peacekeeping assessment from 2016 to 2018. Over 2,000 Chinese peacekeepers are on active duty in five mission areas in Africa. Since 2009, Chinese navy has operated in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the coast of Somalia. By now, 29 Chinese fleets have conducted escort missions for the safe passage of over 6,000 Chinese and foreign ships. In 2017, the Chinese naval hospital ship Peace Ark visited seven African countries, completed its first sail around Africa, and provided high-quality medical services to the local people.

(5) People-to-people and cultural exchanges have become more vibrant, tightening the bond between the Chinese and African peoples. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, China has provided Africa with over 60,000 training opportunities and over 40,000 government scholarships, and trained over 200,000 African technicians and professionals. China and Africa have held over 100 people-to-people exchange activities and carried out over 200 people-to-people exchange programs. China and South Africa held the Year of South Africa and the Year of China in each other’s countries. TheChina-South Africa High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism became the first regular exchange mechanism between China and Africa. The African people are now more enthusiastic about learning the Chinese language and culture. There are 54 Confucius Institutes and 27 Confucius Classrooms in 41 African countries. Some Chinese TV series are big hits in Africa, such as A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era, A Story of Lala’s Promotion and Jin Tailang’s Happy Life. The number of visits between Chinese and Africans has grown rapidly. In each of the recent years, Chinese tourists made over a million visits to Africa and African tourists over 600,000 visits to China.

(6) China and Africa worked closely together in international affairs and supported each other on major issues. On multilateral occasions, especially in the discussions over African issues at the Security Council, China always speaks out for African countries. When it comes to issues involving China’s core interests and major concerns, such as the Taiwan question and the South China Sea issue, African countries always give China their firm support. China and Africa are also collaborating with each other on major international issues such as reform of the UN, climate change and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. China invited African countries to important international conferences it hosted, such as the G20 Hangzhou Summit, the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation and the BRICS Xiamen Summit, where China called on the international community to support African development.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, important achievements have been made in China’s relations with Africa, which has consolidated the traditional friendship, strengthened strategic mutual trust and promoted rapid progress in cooperation in various sectors. These achievements have also enriched the China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership and significantly contributed to a closer community with a shared future for China and Africa. Thanks to the robust growth of their relations, China-Africa cooperation is standing at the forefront of international cooperation with Africa. First, the principles guiding China’s cooperation with Africa have great strength and vitality. China’s commitment to upholding justice and friendship while pursuing shared interests and to sincerity, real results, affinity, and good faith is different from the law of the jungle by which the strong bullies the weak or the zero-sum game in which one’s gain is another’s loss. The commitment is based on sincerity, equality, mutual respect, win-win benefits, openness and inclusiveness. It fully demonstrates China and Africa’s common historic mission and shared goal of pursuing win-win cooperation and common development, and is widely recognized by the international community including African countries. Second, China is committed to delivering on its promise. No matter on what occasion a promise is made on supporting the development of Africa, China will deliver on it with quality and on time, so that the tangible benefits of China-Africa cooperation will be shared by the African people. Third, since its inception in the year 2000, FOCAC has followed the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, focused on practical results and efficiency, and provided strong institutional support for the all-round development of China-Africa cooperation. Now it has become an efficient mechanism for collective dialogue between China and African countries, an important platform for practical cooperation and a pacesetter for international cooperation with Africa.

2. New Development Opportunities for China-Africa Relations

The world is undergoing great development, profound changes and major adjustments. Against the backdrop of a changing international landscape, the overall strength of developing countries continues to rise and the international governance system is becoming more favorable to emerging markets and developing countries. These developments present precious opportunities and greater space for the growth of China-Africa relations. Meanwhile, rising uncertainties in the international situation and the lingering impact of the international financial crisis pose challenges to China and African countries in their respective development, and put more pressure on their efforts to independently explore the development paths suited to their national conditions. Developing countries, including China and African countries, earnestly hope to forge a new type of international relations that feature mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation and build a community with a shared future for mankind. Such an aspiration speaks volumes of the importance and necessity of greater solidarity and cooperation between China and Africa. 

(1) The significant development of China-Africa relations is compatible with the development of China’s major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. The 19th CPC National Congress set the overall goal for this kind of diplomacy, that is, to build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind. Africa is an indispensable partner for achieving this goal. The 19th CPC National Congress elevated the principle of upholding justice and friendship while pursuing shared interests and the principle of sincerity, real results, affinity, and good faith to the guiding principles for strengthening China’s solidarity and cooperation with other developing countries. This fully demonstrates that China-Africa relations are a fine example of such solidarity and cooperation and, indeed, of South-South cooperation. Africa is the region where the positive spillover of China’s peaceful development is the most salient, and Africa is a priority in advancing major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. Deepening strategic mutual trust and practical cooperation with Africa is an inherent requirement for China as a developing country, and also a natural step for building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind. 

(2) The significant development of China-Africa relations meets Africa’s urgent need for development. Since the turn of the century, Africa has enjoyed a relatively long period of rapid economic growth, and is now at a key stage for economic takeoff. It is the common aspiration of African countries to explore development paths that suit their respective national conditions, break bottlenecks in infrastructure, capital, human resources and other areas, and accelerate industrialization and economic diversification. China has accumulated comparative advantages in such areas as capital, technology, equipment and human resources after 40 years of reform and opening up, and is willing to share its development experience with Africa. Enhanced win-win cooperation will serve to leverage complementarity between China and Africa, enable Africa to translate advantages in natural resources, demographic dividend and market potential into growth momentum, and help Africa achieve economic independence and self-reliant sustainable development. 

(3) The significant development of China-Africa relations receives strong support from the Belt and Road Initiative. The Initiative plays a positive role in making economic globalization a more open, inclusive and balanced process that delivers win-win outcomes to all. African countries are enthusiastic in participating in the Belt and Road Initiative. Leaders from Kenya and Ethiopia came to China for the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. China has signed cooperation agreements under the Belt and Road Initiative with five African countries. Egypt, Ethiopia and four other African countries became members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Belt and Road Initiative provides a broader vision and stronger momentum for China-Africa cooperation, and brings about new historic opportunities for enhancing policy, infrastructure, trade, financial, and people-to-people connectivity between China and Africa. 

3. Outlook for the FOCAC Beijing Summit

Under the joint initiative of China and Africa, the FOCAC Beijing Summit will be held this September. Leaders from China and African countries will, after 12 years, gather in Beijing again to renew traditional friendship and discuss cooperation in a new era. This Summit will be another milestone in China-Africa relations, and will play a positive and significant role in further deepening China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership and consolidating the community with a shared future for China and Africa.

(1) The Summit will send a positive signal of lasting solidarity and friendship between China and Africa. China and Africa have always been good friends, good partners and good brothers. China-Africa traditional friendship, having stood the test of time and the changing global environment, is full of vitality, strength and new contents. It is a valuable asset shared by our two peoples and should be cherished for generations to come. The FOCAC Beijing Summit will further cement the consensus of renewing China-Africa traditional friendship and working together for a better future, send a strong message of China-Africa solidarity and cooperation to the world, and inject richer contents and new features consistent with the times into the endeavor of building a community with a shared future for China and Africa. As a new starting point, the Summit will add new momentum to China-Africa friendship and cooperation, and contribute to the steady progress of their win-win cooperation and common development. 

(2) The Summit will form synergy between development strategies of China and Africa. This Summit will endeavor to forge a closer community with a shared future for China and Africa, and synergize the Belt and Road Initiative with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and development strategies of African countries. China and African countries will actively explore priorities, key areas and specific ways of future cooperation, focus on areas of greatest interest to African countries, such as infrastructure, industrialization, agriculture, people’s livelihood, peace and security, and explore common ground where the needs, advantages and interests of the two sides converge, so as to deliver more benefits to the two peoples. 

(3) The Summit will contribute to the transformation and upgrading of China-Africa cooperation.Such cooperation is on the verge of a breakthrough, shifting from being government-led to market-based, and its priorities changing from trade in goods to production capacity, and from engineering contracts to investment and business operations. The Beijing Summit will focus on strengthening policy guidance for the transformation and upgrading of China-Africa cooperation, foster new growth drivers and highlights in investment, financing, new economy, people-to-people exchanges and other areas, and strive for wider, deeper and better cooperation. 

(4) The Summit will make international relations more democratic. China and Africa have a lot of common language and interests in making international relations more democratic. The two sides will deepen solidarity and coordination in international affairs, strengthen the momentum of South-South cooperation and safeguard the common interests of developing countries through the FOCAC Beijing Summit. Facts have proven that the development of China brings more opportunities to that of Africa, and the development of Africa means greater driving force for China and the whole world. When China and Africa are well developed, the world we live in will be a fairer and more just place.Together, China and Africa will make bigger contribution to the building of a new type of international relations and the community with a shared future for mankind.  

Dai Bing is Secretary General of the Chinese Follow-up Committee of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, and Director-General of the Department of African Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.