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Africa a natural partner of BRI

By Maya Majueran | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-18 07:08
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It has been a 33-year-old tradition of China's foreign ministers making their first overseas trip to Africa at the beginning of every new year. Accordingly, this year, too, China upheld the tradition, with newly appointed Foreign Minister Qin Gang paying an eight-day visit to Africa.

From Jan 9 to 16, Qin visited Ethiopia, Gabon, Angola, Benin and Egypt, including the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa and the League of Arab States Headquarters in Cairo.

In the modern era, China's relationship with Africa goes back to the early 1950s. At the first Asian-African Conference, also known as the Bandung Conference, China and Asian and African countries adopted the 10 core principles of the Bandung Conference, which brought the developing countries closer, consolidating their unity and leading to many important developments including the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement, and later the Group of 77, and the South Commission and South Centre.

The Bandung Conference held in Indonesia in April 1955 and termed "Strengthening South-South Cooperation to Promote World Peace and Prosperity" was attended by 29 developing countries. It is a milestone in the history of developing countries' struggles against colonialism and South-South solidarity. In fact, in their struggles for national liberation, China and African countries supported each other, expanding mutual political trust in the process.

China's investments in Africa also date back to the 1949-1976 period when several African countries were still fighting for independence from European colonial powers.

Although China was relatively underdeveloped at the time, it provided extensive assistance to emerging African countries. A well-known example is the Tanzania-Zambia Railway built between 1970 and 1975, which connects the copper belt in Zambia with the port of Dar es Salaam for which China provided a zero-interest loan of 980 million yuan. And by the mid-1980s, China's generous assistance had reached 44 African countries.

After decades of diplomatic engagements, China has emerged as one of Africa's most important partners in socioeconomic development. China now has diplomatic relations with 53 African countries.

More important, in 2000, China established the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation with 53 African countries as a multilateral platform for collective consultation and dialogue, and a cooperation mechanism among developing countries. Needless to say the founding of the FOCAC is an important event in China's diplomatic history and international politics.

Also, the magnificent new AU Conference and Office Complex, which opened in January 2012 and built by the Chinese government free of charge, is testimony to the real value the Sino-African partnership brings to Africa.

China is also Africa's biggest trading partner and biggest lender, as well as one of the biggest foreign investors in the continent. Given the history of the Maritime Silk Road, Africa is a natural partner of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

African countries have been participating in and praising the Belt and Road Initiative since its inception. In fact, at the 2018 FOCAC Summit in Beijing, China and Africa agreed to strengthen China-Africa cooperation under the Belt and Road framework. The AU Commission, too, signed the Cooperation Plan on Jointly Promoting the BRI between China and the African Union, the first agreement of its kind between China and a regional organization.

To date, almost all African countries with diplomatic ties with China have signed cooperation agreements with Beijing under the initiative's framework, and achieved remarkable results in their pragmatic cooperation — for example, roads, railways, bridges, hospitals, schools, airports and other infrastructure facilities have been built in many African countries over the past decade, boosting trade, creating more jobs, and improving the transportation, education and healthcare sectors.

Some of the Belt and Road projects in Africa include the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya, No 1 National Highway of the Republic of the Congo, the Thies-Touba highway in Senegal, the Port Gentil-Omboue coastal road and Booué Bridge in Gabon, the Maputo-Katembe bridge in Mozambique, the Cherchell Ring Expressway in Algeria, the first and second phases of the Nigeria Railway Modernization Project, the Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port in Djibouti and Lome Container Terminal in Togo, the New Administrative Capital and electric train system in Egypt, Eastern Industrial Zone in Ethiopia, and the Karuma Hydropower Project and Isimba Hydroelectric Power Station in Uganda.

The African Development Bank estimates that Africa needs between $130 billion and $170 billion per year to improve infrastructure facilities so it can sustain economic development. But the investment in Africa's infrastructure projects falls short by $68-$108 billion per year. Yet without the Belt and Road projects, the investment shortfall could have been much higher.

The 10 years of China-Africa cooperation under the Belt and Road framework has shown that it is important to strengthen that cooperation to boost Africa's infrastructure development, transfer technology to the African countries, create jobs in Africa, and expand trading opportunities.

The author is director of Belt and Road Initiative Sri Lanka, an independent and pioneering Sri Lankan-led think tank.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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