For­mer politi­cian: China-Africa friend­ship has ma­tured

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By LU­CIE MORANGI Lucy­morangi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Sino-African re­la­tions have flour­ished to a new level, ac­cord­ing to Mo­hamed Higazy.

“China has proved it­self a good trad­ing and devel­op­ment part­ner. We have reached a level where up­lift­ing the lives of our peo­ple is our key con­cern,” said the for­mer as­sis­tant for­eign min­is­ter of Egypt.

Speak­ing in Cairo, the diplo­mat said Africa should play a key role in this co­op­er­a­tion by propos­ing and im­ple­ment­ing in­no­va­tive strate­gies that ben­e­fit its cit­i­zens, and it should have no doubt.

“China has launched fo­rums where it is en­gag­ing us as peers. Africa is friends with the sec­ond-largest economy in the world, which is in­ter­ested in work­ing with it.”

He ob­served that the kind of mis­un­der­stand­ings that have oc­curred with tra­di­tional part­ners have hardly been the case with China — hence the need for Africa to em­brace the op­por­tu­nity.

“China scarcely in­ter­feres with in­ter­nal gov­er­nance and is a firm be­liever that Africa is ca­pa­ble of solv­ing its own is­sues,” Higazy said. “We there­fore need to put our houses in or­der and spec­ify our devel­op­ment am­bi­tions.”

The ca­reer diplo­mat, who has served his coun­try for more than 35 years, is can­did in his as­sess­ment of the Chi­naAfrica re­la­tion­ship. As with other part­ners, he said China’s en­gage­ment with the con­ti­nent is based on trade. Nonethe­less, its ap­proach has nudged Africa’s economy for­ward while giv­ing its funds a hu­man face.

“China un­der­stands Africa’s crit­i­cal needs, lim­ited funds, skills and in­fra­struc­ture. Over the years we have wit­nessed high-level en­gage­ment be­tween Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his coun­ter­parts in Africa. We have seen dis­burse­ments of funds and the ar­rival of Chi­nese firms that not only pro­vide tech­ni­cal sup­port but boost the ca­pac­i­ty­build­ing ef­forts of African gov­ern­ments. Mod­ern in­fra­struc­ture now dots our con­ti­nent, some­thing we never thought pos­si­ble. I would say that this is win-win co­op­er­a­tion.”

Higazy sternly cau­tioned against adopt­ing the pop­u­lar rhetoric that crit­i­cizes China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in Africa. He be­lieves the con­ti­nent has ma­tured and its lead­ers are smart.

“Africa knows its needs and wants a part­ner who en­gages with it sin­cerely — one that does not in­ter­fere with its sovereignty but un­der­stands its gaps and is will­ing to work above that. We have found this friend in China.”

Old part­ners, nev­er­the­less, can­not be done away with. He noted that Africa’s chal­lenges are vast and no one part­ner can shoul­der the re­spon­si­bil­ity. China has been re­li­able in build­ing hard in­fra­struc­ture while the United States and Euro­pean part­ners have shown an in­ter­est in prop­ping up soft in­fra­struc­ture such as wa­ter and health, in ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­ity.

“We have also seen In­dia strength­en­ing its pres­ence in Africa and this is vis­i­ble in the IT sec­tor. New part­ners are also show­ing an in­ter­est — such as Tur­key and Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries. This charm of­fen­sive means jobs for our peo­ple, which trans­lates into sta­bil­ity,” he said.

“In­creased eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in Africa will surely erode the ad­vance of ex­trem­ists who prey on un­em­ployed youths. We need to keep our bulging pop­u­la­tion en­gaged, and that is why I am a firm be­liever that the con­ti­nent needs all its part­ners.”

De­spite China’s big­ger foot­print on the con­ti­nent, Higazy said trad­ing has a short shelf-life, so the Asian gi­ant needs to in­crease its in­dus­trial in­vest­ments in Africa. He fur­ther note that trade was a con­ve­nient en­try strat­egy that ad­dressed an un­der­de­vel­oped man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor and a grow­ing con­sumer mar­ket.

But Africa is now keen on bridg­ing the trade im­bal­ance that is cur­rently in fa­vor of China.

His sen­ti­ments come in the wake of an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese fac­to­ries re­lo­cat­ing to Africa. The con­ti­nent of­fers cheap, avail­able la­bor and un­tapped mar­kets. But this has en­coun­tered head­winds, in­clud­ing high en­ergy costs, lack of in­fra­struc­ture and unat­trac­tive in­vest­ment poli­cies.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing this en­vi­ron­ment, he called on African gov­ern­ments to for­mu­late poli­cies that make their coun­tries safe and at­trac­tive prospects for pri­vate and for­eign in­vestors.

“Char­ity starts at home. We need in­no­va­tive poli­cies de­signed to lure Chi­nese in­vestors. Re­mem­ber, we are com­pet­ing against other stronger coun­tries such as the Philip­pines and Viet­nam.”

Over the re­cent past, Egypt has been se­ri­ously pur­su­ing eco­nomic re­forms to im­prove its in­vest­ment cli­mate fol­low­ing four years of tur­moil. It has cut fuel sub­si­dies while in­tro­duc­ing value-added tax, sim­pli­fied bank­ruptcy pro­ceed­ings, amend­ments to the cap­i­tal mar­kets law, a new in­surance law and a land man­age­ment frame­work.

This com­ple­ments pre­vi­ous re­forms that saw Cairo re­move most non-tar­iff mea­sures and de­crease tar­iff pro­tec­tion, which lib­er­al­ized the mar­ket sig­nif­i­cantly. It has also launched sev­eral pro­grams to at­tract for­eign di­rect in­vest­ments, at an all-time low of 4 per­cent com­pared with 8 per­cent in 2011.

How­ever, the diplo­mat said the re­cent ap­proval of an In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund loan of $12 bil­lion is a boost to the economy. He said some funds will be chan­neled to­ward boost­ing elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity from 14,000 to 17,000 kilo­watts to light up homes and power in­dus­tries. Clean power al­ter­na­tives such as gas and nu­clear are also un­der ex­plo­ration.

He is glad that the Chi­nese yuan joined the IMF’s bas­ket of re­serves, say­ing that set­tle­ments would now not have to be con­verted into dol­lars, which al­ways in­creases trad­ing costs.

LUCY MORANGI / CHINA DAILY

Mo­hamed Higazy says China has proved to be a sin­cere friend of Africa.

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