International Ties

Relations with Africa sound

By He Wenping (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-12 07:58
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Dialogue mechanism is effective in facilitating pragmatic aid, cooperation and exchanges in a wide range of areas

Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), a significant cooperative mechanism between the world's most populous nation and the vast African continent.

Since the holding of its first ministerial-level meeting in Beijing in 2000, which marked the establishment of the forum, four ministerial-level meetings have so far been convened under the dialogue mechanism, with the third one staged at the Beijing Summit in Nov 2006. The summit brought nearly 50 African state or government heads or representatives to the Chinese capital to consult and map out the prospect of Sino-African cooperation and development.

Over the past decade, China and African countries have made substantial progress in their bid to build a new type of strategic partnership established on the basis of "mutual trust and beneficial cooperation". The frequent exchanges of high-level visits and mutual support on international issues and bilateral affairs have further enhanced political trust. Remarkable achievements have also been made in the economic domain, with bilateral trade growing 35 percent year on year over the past decade. In 2008, bilateral trade volume reached $106.8 billion, compared with a meager $10 billion in 2000.

China has now replaced the United States as Africa's second largest trading partner behind the European Union. China's annual average investment in the continent has risen to $1 billion from a mere $50 million in 2001. Africa is China's second largest overseas labor and project contracting market. About 1,600 Chinese companies engage in economic and trade activities on the continent.

Progress has also been made in promoting bilateral cultural exchanges, security consultations, as well as coordination and cooperation in international affairs. In the realm of security, China has remained active in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa and has dispatched more than 3,000 personnel on 12 peacekeeping missions.

Schools of Confucianism have successively been established across the African continent with the aim of popularizing Chinese culture and promoting bilateral cultural exchanges. The number of African students studying in China has also been on the rise in recent years.

The growing Sino-African ties have proved inseparable from the principle of "pragmatic cooperation" advocated by the FOCAC mechanism. As the world's largest developing nation and a responsible word power, China has, from the beginning, adopted a series of concrete measures to reduce Africa's debts and increase its aid to African countries. It has also strived to expand its investments in Africa and to adopt zero tariffs on commodities from the continent. To help African countries resolve their food security issues, some concrete quantitative targets were set at previous forums with the aim of promoting Sino-African agricultural cooperation, human resource training, as well as bilateral cooperation on medical care, health and education. These efforts are an indication of China's desire to address some of the continent's most urgent problems.

The accomplishments of the FOCAC prove that the forum can contribute to mutual trust and bilateral pragmatic cooperation.

The development of China and African countries over the recent years has also deepened and enriched the substance of Sino-African cooperation. Different policies and measures adopted by China at previous forums have indicated the continuity and innovativeness of the country's Africa policy. At the first ministerial-level meeting in Beijing, China's commitments to reduce African debts proved positive in helping the impoverished continent reduce its colossal debts. The personnel training programs China introduced at the second forum held in Ethiopia in Dec 2003 helped African countries cultivate their labor forces for much-needed economic and social development. The measures put forward by China to promote Sino-African cooperation at the 2006 Beijing Summit, including debt reduction, China's investment in and assistance to Africa, and improvement of African people's livelihood, proved to be a big boost to bilateral ties.

A new series of Africa Policy measures were introduced at the 4th Ministerial Conference of FOCAC in Egypt in 2009, to counter concerns put forward by the international community over some of China's previous efforts. The measures included aiding the continent's environmental protection endeavors, the development of clean energy, as well as the promotion of bilateral scientific and technological cooperation and support financing for local middle and small-sized enterprises.

The FOCAC has played a positive role in prompting the international community to pay more attention to Africa and to increase its aid to the underdeveloped continent. Following the Beijing Summit, similar summits have also been successively held between Africa and the Republic of Korea, Japan, India, Europe and Turkey, and with Viet Nam not long ago.

It is expected that China and African countries will take advantage of such an effective dialogue mechanism to further facilitate bilateral cooperation and development. And it is hoped that the international community and Africa will take hold of the emerging historic opportunities to promote bilateral cooperation and open a new epoch for the continent's development.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences