(Source: Communist Party of China(CPC) News Network)
At the beginning of the Year of the Dragon, a Chinese government delegation led by Jia Qinglin, Chairman of CPPCC National Committee, went to Addis Ababa, the capital city of, to attend the 18th African Union (AU) Summit and paid an official goodwill visit to Ethiopia concurrently. Not only was the delegation the highest level from China attending the AU Summit, but Chairman Jia also attended the inauguration ceremony of the China-aided 20-storey AU Conference Center (which costs RMB 800 million yuan) where he announced a new initiative, by which China would provide the AU with a RMB600-million assistance fund in the next three years.
Similar to previous visits to Africa by the Chinese leaders, Chairman Jia’s trip to Africa this time is again presumed as an "energy tour" or "oil-trip" by some adherents of "zero sum"-thinking and Cold-War-mentality in the Western media. China’s assistance rendered in building the AU Conference Center is also assumed as “purposely displaying China’s influence in Africa”, jealously. Therefore, China is accused of being “excessively involved in Africa " with “intention to colonize Africa "and so far so forth.
Indeed, with the rapid development of political, economic and trade relations between China and Africa in the past decade, China-Africa relations have become a hot topic on the international media and in discussion by the Western think tanks and academic community. The clamor on the so-called China’s "neo-colonialism" in Africa is also spreading unchecked. Objectively speaking, of the numerous "reports" and "discussions", there are both negative assertions of China’s "neo-colonialism" and “African resources plundering " and positive arguments in recognition of “China’s efforts in promoting Africa's development" and "opportunities China creates for Africa ". Why do Sino-African relations suddenly become a "prominent field of study" that is of all-inclusive concern?Why is the West so "keen" and "concerned”about the development of Sino-African relations? What stage of development are China-Africa relations now exactly at? What challenges does the development of China-African relations face in the future?
Rapid Development of China-Africa Relations Is Considered To Have “Moved the Cheese” of the West
In the past ten years, through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, a robust institutional platform, China-African relations have made remarkable achievements in the fields of trade, investment, contracting and cooperation, and development assistance. Today, China is Africa's largest trading partner with bilateral trade volume increasing from US$ 10billion in 2000 to over US$160 billion in 2011. (Overtaking the U.S., China became Africa's largest trading partner in 2009). In addition, Africa has rapidly grown into China's second largest engineering contracting market and fourth largest overseas investment destination.The West set foot on the African soil as early as the 15th century, having promoted colonial rule in Africa for hundreds of years, and made long-term political, economic and cultural efforts in "investment" and "cultivation" in African countries. In contrast, even though the earliest contact between China and Africa can be traced back to the 2nd century BC, in China’s Han Dynasty, truly regular China-African exchanges didn’t begin until 1949 following the founding of the New China, and therefore the time span is merely 6 decades. In the most recent 10 years, particularly since the establishment of Forum on China-Africa Cooperationin 2000, China-Africa economic and trade relations is elevated to a new level every three years. This naturally leads the media and politicians in the Western countries that see Africa as their own "backyard", especially those with the "zero-sum" thinking and Cold-War-mentality, to feel uncomfortable, as if China had "moved the cheese" of the West.
I. Three Stages in Sino-African Relations Development
Since the founding of New China in 1949, China-Africa relations have gone through three development stages. The first covers the period from the early 1950s to the end of the 1970s when the relationship between China and African countries saw initial establishment and development. In this period, China-Africa relations mainly focused on mutual support in pursuit of national liberation against imperialism and colonialism and consolidation of national independence. Two highlights in this period are Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai's visit to Africa and the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway. Premier Zhou paid three visits to a11 African countries successively between December 1963 and June 1965. On these visits, Premier Zhou announced China’s eight principles for providing economic and technical assistance to Africa. The Tanzania-Zambia Railway was completed between 1970 and 1976 at the cost of US$455 million and has since become a monument of China-Africa diplomatic history. The African countries and peoples have consistently rendered deep sympathy and active support to China’s just pursuits of safeguarding national sovereignty and reunification. The African countries also made significant contribution to China's resumption of its legitimate seat in the United Nations. The motion to restore China’s legitimate rights on the 26th UN General Assembly Conference in 1971 was eventually passed by an overwhelming majority of 78 votes in favor (including 26 African votes, with 35 against, 17 abstentions and 2 absences). Chairman Mao thus made a vivid observation,“It is our black African brothers who carried us into (the United Nations)”.
The 1980s can be said the second stage of China-Africa relation development. While China-Africa friendly relations and political cooperation continued to strengthen, the cooperation focus began shifting to economic and trade through implementation of various economic and technological cooperation projects based on the principle of equality and mutual benefit. In early 1983, China put forward four principles on economic cooperation with African countries, namely seeking equality and mutual benefit, stressing practical results, adopting various forms of cooperation and pursuing common development. Under the new historical conditions in the 1980s, the four principles furthered China’s eight principles of foreign economic and technical assistance put forward previously, giving strong impetus to China-Africa economic and trade relations development in the new era. Since the beginning of the 1990s, with the ending of the Cold War and African situation changes, China made timely adjustment in its policy towards African countries once again which led China-Africa relations to entering the third stage of comprehensive cooperation. In addition to making efforts in continuing to strengthen China-Africa economic and trade cooperation, China also endeavored to boost cooperation in political, cultural and educational fields, seeking multi-channeled, multi-faceted and all-round development of the Sino-African relations. The establishment of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000 offers a strategic and institutionalized platform for stepping up the bilateral exchange, communication and cooperation.
II. Forum on China-Africa Cooperation: Strong Impetus to China-Africa Relations
The Forum’s first meeting was held in Beijing in October 2000 and was followed by the Addis Ababa meeting in 2003. The 2006 Beijing Summit & Third Ministerial Conference and the 2009 Sharm el-Sheikh Ministerial Conference in Egypt attracted worldwide attention. The Forum meeting held every three years has become an important arena and a strong booster to China-Africa cooperation and development, having promoted rapid and all-round development of China-Africa relations in the decade. The 1990s was thus the fastest-growing decade of Sino-African relations since the founding of New China.
Over the past ten years, China and Africa have made remarkable achievements in promoting China-Africa New Strategic Partnership on the basis of "political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation, cultural exchange promotion and learning from each other, with strengthened exchanges and consultation on security issues and further cooperation in international affairs". For example, on the political level, the frequent China-Africa high-level bilateral visits (e.g. President Hu Jintao’s six visits to Africa and Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to three African countries, South Africa, Botswana and Angola in mid-November 2010) as well as mutual support on major issues in the international arena have continuously increased political mutual trust between China and Africa. On the economic level, China-Africa trade volume in the recent decade has increased at an average annual growth rate of 35%, from US$10 billion in 2000 to US$106.8 billion in 2008, US$126.9 billion in 2010 and over US$160 billion in 2011. China’s investment in Africa has increased from US$50 million in 2001 to US$1 billion annually on average in recent years. China’s investment stock in Africa has gone over the US$10 billion-mark, involving mining, manufacturing, agriculture and other sectors. At present, China has become Africa's largest trading partner and Africa China's fourth largest overseas investment destination and second largest overseas labor service engineering contracting market. The number of Chinese people in Africa is now nearly one million, and more than 2,000 Chinese companies are engaged economic and trade activities in Africa. On the cultural and educational fronts, the Confucius Institute aiming to promote Chinese culture and cultural exchanges in Africa have sprung up like mushrooms after the rain. The number of African students studying in China and taking part in various types of human resources training courses is also increasing rapidly. In the security field, China in recent years has actively participated in the UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, having sent more than 3,000 peacekeepers to 12 operations. Currently, there are more than 1,100 officers and soldiers still serving in active duty in eight peacekeeping districts in Africa. In recent years, China and Africa have also strengthened consultation and cooperation in unconventional security areas including serious infectious disease, avian flu, and cross-border crime prevention.
The rapid development of China-Africa relations in the past decade would have been impossible without the down-to-earth, realistic and pragmatic philosophy of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Since the establishment of the Forum, in the spirit of effectively bringing benefits to, reducing poverty and promoting development in African countries, without making empty political statements, China has launched and implemented substantial and specific programs and measures, including offering debt reliefs, significantly increasing aid, promoting investment to and significantly increasing types of zero-tariff imported goods from Africa. To help Africa address food security and livelihood issues, each Forum meeting also sets up specific quantitative three-year cooperation targets in areas of agriculture, human resources training, public health and education in particular. As one of the largest developing countries and a responsible power, it should be said that the specific measures and quantitative targets emphatically showcase China’s concerns over African development issues on the one hand and on the other, from technical and operational perspective, the more specific and quantitively definable the targets and indicators are, the easier to monitor their implementation and the more likely the Forum objectives are achieved. In fact, the targets of the China-Africa Cooperation Action Plan of each previous Forum meeting have been achieved on time or even ahead of schedule. The practice and actions launched by Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in the past decade have proven that, the Forum is an important platform and effective mechanism between China and African countries for having authentic collective dialogues, governance experience exchanges, mutual trust enhancement and pragmatic cooperation promotion rather than a “talk club” of empty words on African development, having been shaped into a prominent brand name for promoting China's relations with Africa and multilateral diplomacy.
The decade-old Forum on China Africa Cooperation has also been developed in pace with the times, playing an exemplary and leading role in the international community in relationship development with Africa. Being never stagnant or conceited for arrogance, the Forum enriches its framework and content continuously for sustained development along with the deepening of China-Africa relations as well as international situation changes. The first Forum meeting in Beijing set the new partnership between China and Africa on the direction of pursuing long-term stability, equality and mutual benefit; the second had China-Africa Business Conference incorporated; the third established China-Africa foreign ministers' political consultation mechanism; and the fourth was held in the wake of the establishment of the new dialogue mechanisms such as China-Africa Forum on Women and News Symposium. The efforts have continuously expanded the areas of cooperation of the Forum ranging from political to economic and cultural levels. Initially a government dialogue, the Forum has also been turned into a platform of cooperation and dialogue between business corporations, the media and non-governmental organizations. In addition, the launch of the Forum’s Action Plans shows that every Forum meeting’s initiatives for promoting development of China-Africa relations are affirmation of the continuity and innovativeness of China's Africa policy. For example, the first Forum meeting’s initiatives focused on Africa's concern of the debt issue, and China played its role in reducing a huge amount of the debts. The second Forum meeting aimed to strengthen human resources training for African countries and at the Beijing Summit of 2006, China substantially put forward a range of eight cooperation measures in respect to debt relief, investment, aid to and wellbeing improvement for the African people, thereby bringing China-Africa ties up to a new level. The fourth Forum meeting in 2009 announced “eight new measures" in response to the new concerns of the international and African communities, aiming not only to continue and enhance support to cooperation in the previously-mentioned fields but also take new measures in areas of environmental protection, clean energy, scientific and technological cooperation and support for SME financing in Africa.
In fact, should some of the Westerners wearing colored glasses can walk out of their "zero sum" thinking and be of far-sight, it shouldn’t be so difficult for them to comprehend the positive meaning of the development of China-Africa relations for Africa and the world at large. The significance of the road to success of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation over the past decade is not confined to promoting bilateral relations between China and Africa, but also plays an exemplary role in leading other countries and the international community to give more attention and help to Africa. Subsequent to 2006 Beijing Summit, we have seen the South Korea - Africa Summit, the Japan – Africa Summit, the India - Africa Summit, the second European - African Summit and the Turkey - Africa summit and even the recent Vietnam - Africa Summit, successively. It should be said the new interests of the international community in Africa's development driven by the rapid development of China-Africa relations helps serve to improve the external environment of and increase international support to African development, which is all in the interest of the continent. Moreover, from a broader perspective of human race development, with today's continuous expansion of the North-South gap and threat from terrorism, developing countries’ common prosperity and sharing the fruits of economic globalization is of far-reaching significance in promoting lasting peace and harmonious development in the whole world.
Future Challenges Facing Sustainable Development of China-Africa Relations
The late-coming but flourishing China-Africa relations have brought about excitement to Africa but concerns to the West. As a result, China itself should have awareness towards the challenges and crisis. While summing up the experiences and achievements, China should reflect on the deficiencies and lessons learned in order to enable itself to, despite the international and African situation changes, continue to explore the potential to deepen the cooperation in all aspects of China-Africa relations, and steer the boat of China-Africa friendship to the direction of harmonious development in the future.
Firstly, on the economic cooperation level, China at the current stage should recognize clearly that the rapid increase of the trade volume does not mean that China’s economic competitiveness is simultaneously enhanced, as other economic competitiveness elements and indicators are also indispensable. Such elements and indicators include trade structure, level of science and technology and technological contents in the trade and economic cooperation projects, capability of ensuring environmental protection and sustainable development, or training of legal and expertise personnel. There is a great potential to be tapped for enhancing China's political influence, economic competitiveness, moral appeal and diplomatic affinity in Africa. In the four areas, we still have a long way to go. In many ways, China should be humble enough to learn from some of the Western expertise and practices, and listen to the conducive cautions and suggestions of Africa seriously.
In fact, the sustainable development of China-Africa relations and how far China could go in Africa depends largely on how China responds to the sensitive issues of concern of Africa (such as management localization of the Chinese companies, local workers under-employment, textile industry competition, Africa’s infant industries’ protection, Chinese products’ quality problems and need for the Chinese companies to increase their corporate social responsibility awareness), how truly the interests of Africa are served when China enters into Africa and how effectively the objective of mutually beneficial win-win result is achieved.
Secondly, weighing China’s achievements of "substance" made through arduous China-Africa economic and trade cooperation carefully, China also needs to develop a sense of crisis over the lack of exchange with Africa in the “ideological” field. For a long time, the focus on investment, aid and infrastructure construction in Africa, i.e. the "visible" and "tangible" hardware projects, has been one of the prominent characteristics of China’s comparative advantages and China-Africa exchanges and, in practice, is welcomed by the African peoples. In comparison, the Western countries put more resources into software projects including nurturing the concept of civil society in Africa, promoting African leadership’s "capacity building” and providing assistance to African intellectual elites’ academic researches. The "hard" - "soft" and “external”-“internal” difference has always been seen by the MPs on the Capitol Hill and think-tank experts in the US with a constant super sense of crisis as "inadequacy” of the US diplomacy in the hope that the United States should "stay tough in both hardware and software, inside and out".
Looking back at China-African exchanges, although China in recent years has begun attaching importance to human resources training in Africa and cultural exchanges between China and Africa and launched China-Africa joint research and exchange programs, China’s input in and level of attention paid to this area is still much less than that in and to hardware projects. Over a long time, China's overseas interests (including those in Africa) are mainly economic. China has gradually accumulated some significant interests and gained economic influence in some countries and regions after years of hard work and efforts, however, due to the "non-interference" principle China adheres to, on the political, security and diplomatic fronts, China’s discourse right has not been developed simultaneously. In this regard China still lags behind the West. Today, African students still mainly choose the United States and Europe as their destinations for studying abroad. Even though China has nearly one million people living and working in Africa and more than 2000 Chinese companies investing in Africa, still we can hardly find any Chinese professors teaching in African universities. In African media reports and publications, it is hard to hear the Chinese people voicing their opinions. Africa's elites (including leaders and intellectuals) are mostly educated in Western countries, and their level of compatibility with the Western concepts of "democracy" and "freedom" is often beyond our imagination.
Therefore, to promote the future development of the Sino-African relations, we should, in addition to continuing effective promotion of solid economic and trade cooperation, make more efforts in enhancing China’s discourse right. It needs to be recognized that to increase the discourse right is not a simplistic fight for the "microphone", but to expand and deepen the scope and fields of communication and exchange between China and Africa. Particularly, China should conduct comprehensive discussions on the key and core issues of "human rights", “sovereignty "and" democracy "in the ideological field aiming to reach consensus with African countries. Over a long time, Western countries have held high the banners of "democracy", "freedom" and "human rights" and thereby having openly taken up the moral high ground in the field of public opinion. By contrast, adhering to its traditional humility and low-keyedness, China has followed the principle of “allowing each country to independently choose its path of development " and “non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs ", and immersed itself in promoting economic cooperation and development only. For such a reason, although "Made in China" products are all over the world now, Western countries, while enjoying the inexpensive "Made in China" goods, can easily put the negative labels of "environmental pollution", "resource exploitation" and "neo-colonialism " onto China. The constantly repeated false assertions against China could gradually penetrate into the African peoples’ context and mentality.
In fact, China can play a more active role in enhancing its influence in the ideological field in Africa. Due to similarities in the historical experiences and development stage, China and Africa may reach consensus on many issues including "human rights" and "sovereignty" issues. In comparison to the western one-sided emphasis on universality, individuality, supremacy and political importance of human rights, China and Africa as well as other developing countries could lay more emphasis on collective human rights, such as the national rights as well as the economic attributes of human rights like the right to development. Even in regard to western ideas of "democracy" and "freedom", which are recognized highly by most African elites educated in the West (including African leaders and intellectuals), China could emancipate its mind and take bold steps in having communication and multi-channel dialogues with Africa. The stock market is not the exclusive domain of the capitalist countries, and likewise, democracy, freedom and human rights are neither the exclusive norms of theirs. Today, in the face of the Wall Street financial crisis and western economic recession, China and other emerging countries have successfully handled the situation, having maintained a healthy and stable development of the economy. Such factors have given birth to a political trend of "look east" in Africa. China should seize this historic opportunity to engage with the African elites and lay the ideological foundation to increase its discourse right.
Thirdly, as the number of China-invested enterprises and Chinese workers in Africa increase constantly, their property and personal security issue has caused great concerns in China. In early 2012, as China was celebrating the completion of the AU Conference Center, news of Chinese workers being kidnapped by the local rebels and forces from Sudan and Egypt led Chinese people to truly feel the hidden risks in China-Africa relations and the risks faced by the Chinese firms and workers going global.
To enhance security for the Chinese enterprises and workers overseas is a comprehensive project. The Chinese government needs to increase consular protection efforts through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies and consulates in African countries, coordinate with African host countries’ governments, establish channels of communication with various relevant tribes and leaders of the local armed forces, and expand sources of information. The Chinese enterprises need to increase their awareness of security costs, investment in putting in place more initiatives to ensure their safety and reinforce their risk prevention efforts. The Individual workers need to be more aware of the relevant African countries' social and cultural environment, including the local dialects and customs to improve their emergency response abilities. In addition, when discussing how to strengthen security cooperation between China and Africa under the framework of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in the future, China needs to bring up the issue of ensuring the security of Chinese enterprises and Chinese people in Africa in order to seek institutional solution.
To sum up, Sino-African relations are facing increasingly serious challenges while developing rapidly. China should be well prepared to meet them by making analysis and emergency response plans in advance to avoid losing the initiative.
(The author is Director/Research Fellow of the African Research Office of the Western Asia and Africa Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)