As a starting point, the relations between China and the African continent have come a long way, with trade between the two parties going back to the Sung dynasty (960-1279 AD), and were strengthened during the Bandung Conference of 1955 which drew African and Asian countries together to promote economic and cultural cooperation and to defy all forms of colonialism. Africa and China enjoy an established relationship with similar historical experiences of imperial occupation by the West and weak economic development until China’s economic restructuring in 1978, which introduced sweeping economic reforms that improved Beijing’s economic outlook. Historically, China and Africa have prioritized South-South solidarity and cooperation underpinned by shared ideological beliefs in anti-imperialism and the primacy of sovereignty. They have always showed support for each other in striving for national independence and development. In addition, the African continent has always embraced a distinct position in the overall strategic layout of China's diplomacy, which culminated in the formation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000 in Beijing. The Forum is primarily a framework for high-level political dialogue and pragmatic cooperation.
During the Beijing FOCAC Summit of 2006, China and Africa established a new type of strategic partnership which featured political equality and mutual trust; mutually enriching cultural exchanges and mutually beneficial cooperation and common development. At the 2015 FOCAC Summit in Johannesburg, the Sino-Africa strategic partnership was upgraded to a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership. The 2015 FOCAC Summit would also adopt the Johannesburg Declaration and the Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-2018), through which “Ten Key Cooperation Plans” were proposed by the Chinese government to drive the Sino-Africa cooperation agenda. Among them, industrialisation, agricultural modernisation, and the development of public health systems were listed as priorities for China-Africa cooperation, hence focusing on the three obstacles to Africa’s development namely: infrastructure, skills, and capital.
Given that China has become Africa's largest trade partner, and Africa is currently China's major import source, second largest overseas construction project market and fourth largest investment destination, the Sino-Africa economic and trade relationship has become more important in efforts to improve people's livelihoods and diversify economic development in African countries. It has also contributed to promoting South-South cooperation. This cooperation between Africa and China rests on five pillars namely: equality and mutual trust in politics, win-win cooperation in the economy, mutually enriching cultural exchanges, mutual assistance in security and solidarity, and coordination in international affairs. These five major pillars will consolidate the foundation for China-Africa cooperation and further sustain the strategic partnership between China and Africa.
In the area of people-to-people and cultural exchanges, initiatives such as the China-Africa Cultural Cooperation Partnership, China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Plan, and China-Africa People-to-People Friendship Action have become common brands among peoples of the two regions. In this regard, more than 40 Confucius Institutes and 23 Confucius Classrooms have been established in Africa and many African countries have become popular destinations for Chinese tourists. This comes as the African continent recorded in 2014 more than three million Chinese visitors, posting a year-on-year increase of 61.6% since 2001.
Under the peace and security cooperation, China has committed to being an active supporter and contributor to peace and security in Africa. This has more to do with its strong advocacy of the idea that African people should provide African solutions to African problems. Additionally, China has explicitly supported Africa’s bid for a permanent seat in a reformed UN Security Council. Despite silent opposition from Western nations in terms of China’s perceived interests in Africa, the continent seems to be embracing its cooperation with Beijing.
Concerning the industrialization of the African continent, China has actively encouraged industry partnering and production capacity cooperation with Africa and has inspired more Chinese enterprises to make business investments in the continent. An illustration of this industrial cooperation is Ethiopia, where Chinese companies are actively constructing five industrial zones including the Eastern Industrial Zone, Addis Ababa’s first industrial park with the potential to boost the Horn of Africa nation’s aspiration of becoming the continent's manufacturing hub. Other Chinese based projects in Ethiopia include several medium and large-scale irrigation projects and the Weldiya–Mekelle railway project. These projects aim at promoting Ethiopia’s economic development, skills transfer and employment opportunities. Furthermore, agricultural cooperation between Africa and China was strengthened by the founding of the China-Africa Development Fund (CAD Fund) on June 26, 2007 and agricultural technology demonstration centres, to foster Sino-Africa agricultural modernisation schemes. In this regard, China is undertaking agricultural development projects to raise rural living standards, and has been sending teams of agricultural experts to African countries, to establish a win-win cooperation mechanism between Chinese and African agricultural research institutions and to promote food security on the continent. For instance, in Zimbabwe, China has offered assistance in the revival of Harare’s once vibrant agricultural sector by disseminating modern farming techniques and expertise to local farmers.
In summary, under the guidance of the FOCAC mechanism, China-Africa relations are flourishing guided by common strategic interests and mutual understanding. With the prestigious FOCAC Summit recently held in Beijing, we expect Sino-Africa relations to deepen as China positions itself as a major and reliable global player and Africa pushes for a more inclusive development agenda.
Mr. Sikhumbuzo Zondi, is a PhD Candidate at the University of South. His core research interests are Human Security, People-Centred Development and Geopolitical dynamics primarily Africa-China Cooperation. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD