The way for­ward for Sino-Africa ties

Sum­mit will shape the pri­or­i­ties of the re­la­tion­ship in­clud­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing in­vest­ment and in­fra­struc­ture, An­drew Moody re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

What next for China-Africa re­la­tions? The Fo­rum on China-Africa Co­op­er­a­tion, which was be­ing held Fri­day and Satur­day in Johannesburg, South Africa, may have the an­swer.

Al­though it is the sixth meet­ing of FOCAC, this is the first sum­mit on African soil in its 15-year history. The only other sum­mit was in Beijing in 2006.

The stag­ing is seen as a ma­jor coup for South Africa, re­flect­ing deep­en­ing ties be­tween Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s rul­ing African Na­tional Congress Party and Beijing.

Many com­men­ta­tors be­lieve the sum­mit, which Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping is at­tend­ing and was themed “China-Africa Pro­gress­ing To­gether: Win­Win Co­op­er­a­tion for Com­mon De­vel­op­ment”, could de­fine the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy and the con­ti­nent for many years to come.

Many in Africa will be look­ing for point­ers as to how im­por­tant the Africa re­la­tion­ship is for China, now that its slow­ing econ­omy means it is no longer as hun­gry as it once was for Africa’s re­sources.

At the last FOCAC meet­ing, in Beijing in 2012, China an­nounced loans of $20 bil­lion, dou­bling the com­mit­ment made in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009. This time, the amount could be $40 bil­lion, a fig­ure hinted dur­ing Premier Li Ke­qiang’s visit to Africa last year. What has also changed since 2012 is that Africa has come up with its own 50-year ac­tion plan: African Union’s Agenda 2063. There are likely to be many ref­er­ences dur­ing the sum­mit about mar­ry­ing FOCAC’s agenda with that of the African Union.

An­other ma­jor theme this time is likely to be in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and the role China can play in help­ing African na­tions de­velop a larger in­dus­trial base.

Al­though China’s emer­gence as the man­u­fac­tur­ing work­shop of the world is seen as a role model by many African coun­tries, there is some frus­tra­tion that China does not in­vest enough in man­u­fac­tur­ing in Africa.

Other is­sues likely to dom­i­nate will be in­fra­struc­ture projects, in­vest­ment in high-speed rail, China’s role in African re­gional in­te­gra­tion, poverty re­duc­tion, eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion, fe­male em­pow­er­ment, and also the role Africa can play in China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, with Kenya be­ing a stag­ing post in the 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road.

Deb­o­rah Brautigam, di­rec­tor of the China Africa Re­search Ini­tia­tive at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity and au­thor of The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa, be­lieves whether China can de­liver on in­vest­ment and not just aid will be one of the sum­mit’s key is­sues.

“The China-Africa re­la­tion­ship has al­ways been couched in terms of mu­tual ben­e­fit. This year’s FOCAC is likely to re­flect a greater em­pha­sis on the pro­mo­tion of in­vest­ment, and less em­pha­sis on pledges of of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment aid or loans,” she said.

Brautigam, one of the world’s lead­ing au­thor­i­ties on the China-Africa re­la­tion­ship, who also at­tends the sum­mit, said many African lead­ers will want the Chi­nese to fo­cus more on in­dus­trial in­vest­ment in Africa.

“As China’s econ­omy con­tin­ues to re­struc­ture, I ex­pect in­creased con­cern with ways in which ex­cess Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity can be trans­ferred to Africa.

“There is likely also to be more con­cern with ways to add value lo­cally, whether in cot­ton spin­ning or min­eral pro­cess­ing,” she added.

Wind­sor Chan, spe­cial project and strat­egy con­sul­tant for Asia at law firm Ho­gan Lovells in Johannesburg and a pop­u­lar fig­ure within the South African busi­ness com­mu­nity, said one of the big­gest con­cerns ahead of the sum­mit was whether China’s com­mit­ment to the con­ti­nent is as strong as it once was.

He be­lieves Pres­i­dent Xi’s re­cent high-pro­file vis­its to the United States and to the United King­dom could be in­dica­tive of Africa now hav­ing a lower pri­or­ity.

“There is a lot of con­cern about China los­ing in­ter­est in Africa. China is now very much on the global stage play­ing with the big boys, which was not the case when FOCAC came into be­ing in 2000. There is also the ques­tion as to whether Africa is a good place to in­vest at the mo­ment, not just for China, but also other play­ers, too. We have had Ebola, the in­creas­ing ter­ror­ism risks and, of course, the re­cent Mali story,” he said.

Chan be­lieves that on bal­ance there is still suf­fi­cient com­mer­cial logic in the China-Africa re­la­tion­ship, but “I think many will be look­ing to Pres­i­dent Xi to make this com­mit­ment clear”.

At Stan­dard Bank’s of­fice com­plex in the Rose­bank dis­trict of Johannesburg, Sim Tsha­bal­ala, chief ex­ec­u­tive of what is Africa’s largest bank, knows about the im­por­tance of Chi­nese in­vest­ment.

He said many in the South African busi­ness com­mu­nity were look­ing to the FOCAC sum­mit to give a clear di­rec­tion to China-Africa re­la­tions.

“FOCAC is im­por­tant in that it is go­ing to re-es­tab­lish and re­set Sino-African re­la­tions and China’s re­la­tion­ship with South Africa,” he said.

He be­lieves there are a num­ber of is­sues that need to be ad­dressed at the sum­mit: “There needs to be at­ten­tion fo­cused on what are the bar­ri­ers to trade on both sides of the trade re­la­tion­ship, such as what are the tar­iff bar­ri­ers and what laws and reg­u­la­tions are an im­ped­i­ment.

“From the South African stand­point, a fo­cus on what we need to do to im­prove the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment and to en­cour­age more Chi­nese cor­po­rate in­vest­ment is needed.”

John Tam­bourlas, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of China Con­struc­tion Bank’s Johannesburg branch, said a top pri­or­ity should be Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ing in­vest­ment on the con­ti­nent.

He hopes Chi­nese truck and car man­u­fac­turer FAW’s new plant in the Coega In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Zone, in East­ern Cape, which was partly fi­nanced by the China-Africa De­vel­op­ment Fund, will lead to other such in­vest­ments.

“I hope when the lead­ers sit to­gether they will see the ben­e­fits of more man­u­fac­tur­ing in­vest­ment,” he said. “It is good for the lo­cal econ­omy, creates jobs and adds a lot of value. I think th­ese sorts of in­vest­ments are com­ing into play. They have per­haps been slow in com­ing, but they are start­ing to hap­pen.”

There will be in­evitable com­par­isons at FOCAC 2015 with the 2006 Beijing sum­mit, with its color­ful pro­ces­sions in front of the Great Hall of the Peo­ple, draw­ing the world’s at­ten­tion to the new geopo­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and Africa for the first time.

Harry Ver­ho­even, a lec­turer at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s School of For­eign Ser­vice in Qatar, be­lieves the Johannesburg FOCAC will try and play down expectations.

“The FOCAC meet­ings have be­come more stream­lined and also more pro­fes­sional,” he said. “I think there will be a num­ber of an­nounce­ments about debt re­lief, trade and schol­ar­ships. I fail to see any cru­cial area in which some­thing rad­i­cally new will be an­nounced.”

David Shinn, a for­mer US am­bas­sador to Ethiopia and Burk­ina Faso, has been a keen ob­server of FOCAC meet­ings.

“At ev­ery one of th­ese meet­ings, they come up with a three-year ac­tion plan. I have read them all. There tends to be a lot of rep­e­ti­tion where the same is­sues are re­gur­gi­tated,” he said.

Shinn, ad­junct pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity’s El­liott School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, be­lieves se­cu­rity, par­tic­u­larly af­ter re­cent events, will be high on the agenda.

“How that is ul­ti­mately go­ing to play out, I don’t know. There will be an­nounce­ments of ini­tia­tives, there al­ways are, but try­ing to guess pre­cisely what they are go­ing to do is prob­a­bly a fool’s er­rand.”

Yu-Shan Wu, a re­searcher at South African In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, be­lieves it is the de­tail that mat­ters.

She said in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion along with in­fra­struc­ture and China’s role in Africa’s re­gional in­te­gra­tion will be among the big themes, but it is im­por­tant to look for sub­stance.

“From a re­search per­spec­tive, it de­pends on what some of the de­tail is in some of th­ese is­sues. To what ex­tent will the de­bate sim­ply be a recog­ni­tion that th­ese is­sues ex­ist or whether there is go­ing to be any de­tailed dis­cus­sion about how to ad­dress them,” she said.

Wu, who is a South African­born Chi­nese, be­lieves FOCAC 2015 could see the China-Africa re­la­tion­ship move from high diplo­macy to more peo­ple-topeo­ple ex­changes.

She said this might build on the spirit of 2015 be­ing the Year of China in South Africa, which has con­sisted of a se­ries of events that have been pop­u­lar with the pub­lic.

“You have a China-Africa re­la­tion­ship that is at the high diplo­matic level and one at the peo­ple level,” she said. “I think this FOCAC could be about bring­ing th­ese two lev­els closer to­gether so that the re­la­tion­ship gets closer to the peo­ple them­selves, Chi­nese and African.”

This year’s FOCAC is likely to re­flect a greater em­pha­sis on the pro­mo­tion of in­vest­ment, and less em­pha­sis on pledges of of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment aid or loans.”

di­rec­tor of the China Africa Re­search Ini­tia­tive at John Hop­kins Univer­sity

Con­tact the writ­ers at an­drew­moody@chi­nadaily.com.cn

LI MIN / CHINA DAILY

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