Time to take stock and move forward

By Wang Yingying (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-02 05:36

We have three numbers: 53 African countries, 50 years of China-Africa co-operation and US$50 billion worth of China-Africa trade. Underlying these figures is the health of China-Africa relations. The ties are expected to get better with the summit of China-Africa Forum and the Third Ministerial Conference on China-Africa Co-operation being held in Beijing.

More than 40 heads of state or government from the African Continent are expected to attend the Beijing Summit, together with Chinese leaders. They will take stock of China-Africa relations over the last five decades and the fruits yielded by the China-Africa Forum since its birth six years ago and discuss the future direction of Sino-African ties.

Two important documents are expected to be passed by the summit: the Declaration of the Beijing Summit of China-Africa Forum and a Beijing action plan (2007-09).

In the declaration, the two sides will announce the establishment of a new-type strategic partnership based on political mutual trust, economic co-operation and cultural exchanges. Specific measures will be implemented to promote the new partnership.

The Beijing action plan will map out bilateral co-operation programmes in the fields of politics, economics, international affairs and social progress.

In addition, the Chinese side will work out a package of important measures to support the development of African countries, involving reducing their debts, cutting tariffs on African imports, increasing aid to African nations, strengthening personnel training, increasing investment in Africa and promoting co-operation in the areas of agriculture, infrastructure construction, energy, finance and environmental protection.

The convening of the China-Africa Forum in Beijing demonstrates that bilateral relations are making fast progress, pushed by the needs of both parties, as well as signifies the extension of traditional Sino-African friendship and co-operation.

China-Africa relations got started in 1956 when China and Egypt established diplomatic relations. Over the past 50 years, Sino-African friendship and co-operation, which were initiated and nurtured by old-generation leaders Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping together with their African counterparts, have withstood the tests presented by the dramatic political and economic changes in the world, become more consolidated and are moving ahead in a big way.

Upon entering the new century, profound and complex changes have taken place in the international political arena. As a result, China and African nations are presented with new problems domestically. At the same time, the content of China-Africa relations has also been changing.

However, both sides have acknowledged that they can achieve common development only through co-operation based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, sharing opportunities together and facing up to the challenges together, taking into account the accelerating economic globalization, deepening of the world's interdependence, and their being brought ever closer to one another by their own interests.

Based on this common knowledge, the China-Africa Forum was initiated in October 2000 in Beijing. Its second ministerial meeting was convened in Adis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, in December 2003.

Since its founding six years ago, the China-Africa Forum has made impressive progress in various fields and has become an important platform for effective China-Africa dialogue mechanisms and effective co-operation.

In the political area, to begin with, top Chinese and African leaders visit one another's countries frequently and non-governmental exchanges have been ever expanding, which serve to promote political mutual trust and mutual understanding.

In addition, the two sides have effective co-operations in major international organizations and some multilateral mechanisms and in the areas of security, fighting terrorism and peace-keeping missions.

Second, economic co-operation between China and African nations has been going ahead at an accelerated pace. According to the Chinese official statistics, the annual China-Africa trade was merely US$12 million in 1956 when Chinese-Egyptian diplomatic relations were established. In 2000, however, the figure crossed the bar of US$10 billion. The annual bilateral trade volume hit US$39.7 billion in 2005. The figure is expected to cross the threshold of US$50 billion in 2006.

Third, the Chinese side has taken steps to support the development of African nations. Within the framework of the China-Africa Forum, for example, China has reduced the debts owed to China by some poorest countries in Africa by 10.9 billion yuan (US$1.36 billion) over the past five to six years and helped 49 African countries construct 720 industrial projects.

The Chinese Government also encourages various kinds of Chinese enterprises to make investments in Africa and set up plants there. So far, Chinese investment in Africa stands at US$6.2 billion.

Starting from January 1, 2005, China gave zero-tariff treatment to 190 products China imports from 30 least developed African countries. In addition, China has trained 14,600 professionals needed in various sectors in African nations.

Some problems, however, have cropped up in the course of ever expanding co-operation, such as trade friction.

The disputes, however, can be settled through compromises and each party being considerate of the other.

Strengthening co-operation and unity with African countries has always been a vitally important component in China's diplomacy.

For instance, the Chinese Government issued China's Africa Policy document at the beginning of this year, expounding on the general goal of the country's Africa policy, mapping out specific measures to have the policy carried out and charting bilateral co-operation in various fields in the immediate future.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao's Africa tours in April and June demonstrate that China is determined to push the traditional friendship with Africa forward under new circumstances.

The author is a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies

(China Daily 11/02/2006 page4)

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