The two-day China-Africa summit meeting in Johannesburg last week marked another step in the decades-long process of tightening relations between the world’s soon-to-be-biggest economic power and the second fastest-rising region in the world after Asia.
President Xi Jinping’s offer of US$60 billion for Africa in the next three years in various forms of aid, interest-free loans and concessional loans justifiably grabbed headlines, marking as it does a major increase in China’s financial commitment to the continent.
Deborah Brautigam, a leading expert on China in Africa at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, commented on her blog: “We can compare this with the specific 2006 pledges of US$5 billion in preferential/concessional loans, and a further US$5 billion for the CAD-Fund [China-Africa Development Fund] from US$10 billion in financial commitments to US$60 billion over just nine years.”
The Dec. 4-5 summit of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation, established by China in 2000, was co-chaired by President Xi and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and included leaders from 50 African countries.
Days before the summit, China issued a policy paper on Africa, the second such document since 2006.
In it, China updated its policy stance on Africa and made clear the multifaceted relationship that the 1.3 billion people of China wish to develop with the 1.1 billion Africans.
President Xi, in his keynote address, announced 10 cooperation plans with Africa over the next three years.
These plans, he said, aim at addressing “three bottleneck issues” holding back Africa’s development, which he identified as inadequate infrastructure, lack of professional and skilled personnel and a fund shortage.
Xi said China would implement a China-Africa industrialization plan as well as an agricultural modernization plan, followed by an infrastructure plan, the first three of 10 plans.
He said the Chinese government would support “Chinese enterprises’ active participation in Africa’s infrastructural development, particularly in sectors such as railways, roads, regional aviation, ports, electricity and telecommunications, to enhance Africa’s capacity for sustainable development.”
While the 2006 paper talked about the development of a “strategic partnership with Africa”, this time China called for the relationship to be upgraded to a more ambitious “comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership”.
This was proposed by President Xi on Dec. 4, accepted by his African counterparts and incorporated into the Declaration of the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.
Up to now, the China-Africa relationship has been a largely economic one. However, with China establishing a military base – euphemistically dubbed a “logistical facility” – in Djibouti, political, security and even military affairs may play a bigger role in future.
Xi, in his speech, talked about five pillars of the China-Africa relationship, the most important of which was political mutual trust, the maintenance of which was essential to the upgraded relationship.
“On issues involving core interests and major concerns of each side,” Xi said the countries “should show mutual understanding” as well as “support each other”.
Another pillar was commitment to solidarity and coordination in international affairs.
China and Africa, he said, should strengthen coordination so as to make the global governance system more equitable.
“China will continue to stand up and speak for Africa at the United Nations and other fora to support Africa in playing a greater role on the world stage,” Xi said.
Left unsaid, but understood, was Africa’s need to support China in international bodies.
African support is a huge asset for China internationally.
Beijing was swept into the United Nations in 1971 with the enthusiastic support of African states, despite American opposition for 22 years.
If China continues to enjoy the support of African nations as a bloc, it will have a huge advantage in the UN General Assembly.
A Pew Global Attitudes survey this year showed that 70 percent of African respondents had a positive view of China compared with generally negative views of China in the United States, Europe and Japan.
Not surprisingly, decisions made in Beijing were ratified in Johannesburg.
The official Chinese news agency Xinhua announced “unanimous consensus reached on upgrading China-Africa ties”.
And in his closing speech on Dec. 5, Xi announced that African leaders had endorsed the “five major pillars” that he had outlined underpinning the relationship as well as the 10 major cooperation plans he had announced the previous day.
All this was done under a relationship of “equality”, although a Xinhua headline, “Xi’s proposals chart course for future Sino-African ties”, made the actual situation clear.
As they say, he who pays the piper calls the tune.
So far, Africans seem to like the tune they are hearing.
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