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China-Africa relations shape future

By Julius Sunkuli (China Daily Africa) Updated: 2016-01-03 12:18

Johannesburg Summit showed that ties with Beijing provide best option for continent's development

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was founded some 15 years ago with a primary mission of addressing, in a comprehensive manner, the relationship between the world's fastest growing economy and its fellow developing nations in Africa.

There was a realization that South-South relationships needed a practical handle, one that moved from rhetoric into action.

To that end, the group's Johannesburg summit on Dec 4 and 5 was attended by ministers for economic and trade affairs from the 50 FOCAC member states. South Africa also hosted many African heads of state, President Xi Jinping, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng. Representatives of the African Union Commission also attended.

Delegates came to the summit with the intention of raising the China-Africa relationship to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership. It also presented an opportunity for China to showcase its new plans and innovative approaches to help Africa achieve development and prosperity.

The summit was successful in that delegates deliberated and passed the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit agenda, as well as a draft of the summit declaration and the Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-2018).

Many African representatives commended China's support toward Africa's peace and development. This is in contrast to the prevailing Western rhetoric that paints the picture of a neocolonialist engagement between China and Africa.

China's engagement, unlike that of the West, comes with fewer conditions, allowing Africans to chart their own development paths without necessarily having to implement policies that would be detrimental to their own economies. The United States' one-size-fits-all approach to development and policy has proven unsuccessful in the past, and in some cases has been beneficial to the US and other Western countries, which has raised some eyebrows.

Xi touched on this issue during the conference. "We should respect each other's choice of development path and not impose our own will on others. ... China strongly believes Africa belongs to the African people and African problems should be handled by the African people," Xi said. As some delegates indicated, bilateral cooperation between Africa and China continues to show mutual benefits.

During the conference, Xi announced the country's intention to implement 10 major plans to boost cooperation with Africa in the next three years. These programs will focus on tackling the fundamental roadblocks to development in Africa, according to Xi. Their goal is to enable Africa to realize sustainable development by improving infrastructure, modernizing agriculture, industrializing economies, and tackling the shortage of skills and inadequate funds.

Xi said China would offer $60 billion to finance the implementation of these initiatives, which would include $5 billion in aid, $35 billion in preferential loans and export credit, a $5 billion increase each for the China-Africa Development Fund and the special loan for the development of African small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as an initial contribution of $10 billion to the China-Africa Fund for Production Capacity Cooperation.

Africans viewed this in the light of China's continued adherence to win-win policies. Africa badly needs jobs, and industrialization is the sure way to reach that goal.

Perhaps one issue that did not receive due attention is the opening up of China as a market for African goods.

This summit comes at a critical time, with the United States having made efforts to improve its relationship with Africa. On July 25 and 26, the US and Kenya co-hosted the sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, which was aimed at not only promoting entrepreneurship on the continent, but also expanding trade with African countries. US President Barack Obama's delegation, included a huge number of business leaders, showing that Obama was sending a clear message that Africa is indeed the next frontier.

But the 2015 FOCAC summit has once again turned Africa's eyes to the East as its preferred trading partner. Over the two days of the summit, China was able to facilitate the entry of around 3,000 Chinese companies with investments of around $30 billion, which many African leaders applauded.

The meeting in Johannesburg also presented a good opportunity for leaders to meet on a personal level, and to exchange thoughts on each other's vision. No doubt relationships were cemented, and, it is hoped, will be taken to greater heights.

The author is a former Kenyan ambassador to China. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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