Building on Past Two Decades of Achievementsfor a Brighter Future in the New Era: Marking the 20th Anniversary of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation

By Wu Peng

A Response to the Call of the Times

China and Africa enjoy a profound, long-standing friendship. In their struggles for national liberation and independence, in their endeavors of safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity and building a stronger nation,China and African countries have all along stood by each other’s side with mutual respect and mutual support. This has made China-Africa relationship a fine example of solidarity and collaboration among developing countries.

Two decades ago, as the 21st century began to unfold with peace and development as the order of the day, China and African countries jointly proposed the establishment of an innovative mechanism, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). There was often a misperception that FOCAC was entirely China’s idea. On the contrary, it was our African friends who first made the proposal. In May 1999, then Foreign Minister of Madagascar Lila Ratsifandrihamanana visited China. Born in a family of famous writers, she is a talented, well-read and broad-minded woman, and she is friendly to China. In her talks with then Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, she said that African countries had a strong wish to establish partnerships with China and exchange views on issues of shared interest concerning peace and development,and thus suggested setting up a forum between China and Africa. 

Establishing a mechanism for joint consultation and cooperation between China and Africa would help the two sides deepen mutual understanding and friendship, broaden consensus and boost cooperation. It would also be conducive to upholding the legitimate rights and interests of China and African countries, and promoting global peace, stability and development. The two sides agreed on the idea right away. Afterthorough preparations, the FOCAC Ministerial Conference Beijing 2000 was successfully held in October 2000, marking the birth of FOCAC and the beginning of a new chapter for China-Africa relations. China-Africa cooperation entered a new stage of rapid development.

Mutual Political Trust

Over the past two decades, dialogue mechanisms at different levels under the FOCAC framework have been established, and enriched and improved along the way. Three summits and seven ministerial conferences have been held. The Forum offers an effective platform for summit diplomacy between China and Africa, and has played an important role in promoting high-level exchanges, deepening the traditional friendship, enhancing strategic mutual trust and strengthening the coordination of positions between the two sides. 

Recent years have witnessed frequent high-level mutual visits between China and Africa. Africa was the first continent President Xi Jinping visited after both he took office and was reelectedas President. He put forward the principles of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith, and of pursuing the greater good and shared interests, chartering the course for the further growth of China-Africa relations.

The 2018 Beijing Summit of FOCAC marks a new milestone in China-Africa friendship and cooperation. The Summit set new records in terms of the scale of participation and level of representation compared with past multilateral events China hosted. 

Delegates of the 54 FOCAC members attended the Summit, including 40 Presidents, 10 Prime Ministers, one Vice President andChairperson of the African Union (AU). 

President Xi had a busy schedule meeting African friends, both old and new. He attended nearly 70 events, witnessed the signing of nearly 150 cooperation agreements, and met or held talks separately with all heads of state and government attending the Summit. There was one time when he met separately with Presidents of 11 African countries in 10 hours. His leadership and charisma made a deep impression on the leaders of African countries, giving an unprecedented boost to China’s national image and appreciation of China’s vision in Africa.

Practical Cooperation

Over the past two decades, under the FOCAC framework that emphasizes equality, real results and efficiency, new measures on deepening China-Africa cooperation have been introduced and effectively implemented on a sustained basis, yielding outcomes for manyAfrican countries and benefiting the people in both China and Africa. 

China-Africa trade volume has been consistently rising, reaching US$208.7 billion in 2019, 20 times of the level in 2000. China has been Africa’s largest trading partner for 11 consecutive years since 2009. China’s investment in Africa started from nil and has grown rapidly, with total investment stock reaching US$110 billion. 

Over 3,700 Chinese businesses are investing and doing business in Africa, and dozens of China-Africa economic and trade cooperation zones and industrial parks are up and running, lending impetus to the sustained growth of African economy. China has built in Africa agricultural technology demonstration centers and such infrastructure as railways, highways and ports, supported Africa in its industrialization, agricultural modernization and integration, and helped African countries transform their natural resources endowment into driving forces for growth. All these efforts have generated development opportunities and concrete benefits to both China and Africa.

The Mombasa-Nairobi Railway is a signature project of practical cooperation between China and Africa under the Belt and Road Initiative. Connecting Kenya’s port city Mombasa and its capital Nairobi, this 472-kilometer railway is an important part of the railway network in east Africa. The project was completed in just two and a half years, with China’s support in financing, construction and operation services, contributing 1.5 percent to Kenya’s GDP growth in 2018and adding 46,000 local jobs. The freight volume of this railway grew by nearly 10 percent despite COVID-19, making it a trunk line for the transportation of anti-epidemic supplies and essential items.

Friendly Exchanges

The past two decades have seen continued efforts under the FOCAC framework in strengthening people-to-people exchanges, leading the way in the exchanges and mutual learning between the Chinese and African civilizations, and garnering stronger public support for China-Africa friendship. 

Under FOCAC, important mechanisms and platforms for people-to-people and cultural exchanges have been established, including the China-Africa Youth Festival, the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum, the Forum on China-Africa Media Cooperation, the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Program, the China-Africa Young Leaders’ Forum and the China-Africa People’s Forum. 

Cooperation in the fields of culture, education and media is in full swing, and the exchanges between youth, women, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions of the two sides are becoming increasingly close. China has set up several cultural centers, and opened 61 Confucius Institutes and 48 Confucius Classrooms in Africa. More and more African young people choose to further their study in China. Over 10,000 African friends visit China each year for short or mediumterm training programs. Thirty-four African countries are now approved destinations for Chinese tourist groups, making Africa a new popular choice for outbound Chinese tourists.

There are numerous touching stories about China-Africa friendship. In 2010, when a strong earthquake hit Yushu of China’s Qinghai Province, the Republic of the Congo made donations for the building of a local primary school. President Sassou personally named the school Sino-Congolese Friendship Primary School. In 2011, the Swahili version of Chinese TV series A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era was broadcast in Tanzania and became an instant hit, giving the Tanzanian audience a glimpse of the joys and sorrows in ordinary Chinese families. 

To date, over 20,000 Chinese medical workers have gone to Africa defying hardships, and treated more than 200 million African patients. These Chinese medical workers were acclaimed by the local people as “angels in white”. In 2014, when Ebola broke out in several West African countries including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, over 1,000 Chinese health experts and medical workers rushed to the aid of the people in the affected countries. They were hailed as heroes in harm’s way.

A New Chapter of Cooperation

The unexpected outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to countries around the world. In the tough times of China’s fight against COVID-19, African countries, the AU and other regional organizations as well as people from all sectors in Africa stepped up and provided China with strong support. Over 50 African leaders conveyed sympathies, and African countries and various sectors donated in kind and in cash. 

When the virus hit Africa, China rushed to Africa’s aid and sent in multiple batches high-demand medical supplies to all African countries and the AU. China also dispatched medical expert teams and held video conferences with African health experts to share without reservation its experience in fighting COVID-19.

In June this year, President Xi chaired the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 in Beijing, which was attended by 13 African leaders and AU Chairperson. UN Secretary-General and WHO Director-General participated as Special Guests. Connected via video link, Chinese and African leaders discussed joint response to COVID-19 and renewed the fraternity between China and Africa. President Xi underscored the need to consistently enhance China-Africa cooperation and accelerate the follow-ups to the FOCAC Beijing Summit, with greater priority given to cooperation on public health, economic reopening and people’s livelihood.

Since the Summit, China and Africa have stepped up cooperation focusing on combating the virus while stabilizing the economy and protecting people’s livelihood. The Chinese government has signed with the AU an agreement on building the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention Headquarters, and is making intensive preparations for the start of the project.

China is pressing ahead with vaccine research and development, and is carrying out vaccine cooperation with African countries such as Egypt and Morocco. China will fulfill its promise that once the development and deployment of the vaccine is completed, African countries will be among the first to benefit. 

In addition to providing much needed containment supplies, testing reagents and medical products, China has also supported Africa in building its COVID-19 response capacity and is helping improve the accessibility of local medical products in Africa. Chinese enterprises have built face mask factories and virus testing labs in several African countries. A nucleic acid testing reagent factory jointly built by China and Ethiopia in Addis Ababa will soon start operation.

Despite COVID-19, economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa on non-medical fronts has not halted. Over 1,100 cooperation projects have kept running. Chinese investment in Africa grew by 4.4 percent between January and April, and two-way trade topped US$80 billion in the first half of the year. In support of the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative, China has reached agreement on debt suspension with more than 10 African countries to help lessen their debt burden.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of FOCAC. China and Africa will hold a series of celebrations to jointly review the fruitful outcomes of the Forum over the past two decades. The Forum will again convene in 2021, where the two sides will plan for the future development of China-Africa relations.

In the post-COVID-19 era, China-Africa cooperation will focus more on forging a synergy between the development strategies of the two sides and on enhancing African countries’ capacity for independent development. There is hope that more Chinese enterprises will carry out localized production in Africa to add more jobs, bolster Africa’s manufacturing sector and help Africa realize industrialization. 

We will continue to strengthen cooperation between the two sides in infrastructure, manufacturing and other traditional areas of strength, and actively explore new space for cooperation in mobile payment, e-commerce, 5G, smart city and other emerging industries. China takes seriously the concern of African countries on climate change, and stands ready to work with Africa to pursue green development. 

The two sides also need to further enrich and improve the mechanisms of the Forum. We need to jointly develop new thinking, new ways and new approaches for the Forum’s development, continuously raise the overall profile of China-Africa cooperation, make our cooperation an exemplary model in the international cooperation with Africa, and contribute more to upholding multilateralism and the common interests of all developing countries.

Long and winding the road ahead may be, we shall reach our goal if we keep forging ahead. In his keynote speech at the International Seminar on the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the international community to take joint action to uphold multilateralism and move in the right direction of human progress. 

Facing the complex international situation, China and Africa need to unswervingly pursue multilateralism in keeping with the theme of our times for peace, development and cooperation, pull together as partners along the path of win-win cooperation and common development, and join hands in building an even stronger China-Africa community with a shared future. 

Looking ahead, we are confident that with the joint efforts of China and Africa, FOCAC at a new historic starting point will show sustained vibrancy and provide a stronger underpinning for the building of a community with a shared future for mankind. 

Wu Peng is Director-General of the Department of African Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.