China Daily European Weekly - - Spotlight - By AN­DREW MOODY an­drew­moody@chi­nadaily.com.cn Wa­ter, Civ­i­liza­tion and Power in Su­dan, China and Africa: A cen­tury of En­gage­ment,

As African lead­ers de­scend on Johannesburg for the Sec­ond Sum­mit of the Fo­rum on China-Africa Co­op­er­a­tion, the fo­cus will again be on re­la­tions be­tween the world’s sec­ond­largest econ­omy and the emerg­ing con­ti­nent.

Built on the foun­da­tions of a close po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship from the 1950s, it has been one of the in­trigu­ing geopo­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ships of the past decade or more.

China’s trade with Africa, which was only $10 bil­lion in 2000, could hit $400 bil­lion by 2020, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial Chi­nese fore­casts re­vealed at a fo­rum in Beijing on Nov 9.

Many parts of the con­ti­nent have ben­e­fited from Chi­nese-built roads, air­ports, ports, hos­pi­tals and var­i­ous sports fa­cil­i­ties as well as min­is­te­rial build­ings.

Even the shiny new $200 mil­lion African Union build­ing, which opened in Ad­dis Ababa in 2012, was funded and built by the Chi­nese.

But China’s slow­ing econ­omy is putting a par­tial brake on its de­mand for Africa’s re­sources and also in­vest­ment on the con­ti­nent.

Direct in­vest­ment in Africa fell by 40 per­cent year-on-year in the first half of this year to $1.19 bil­lion, al­though the aim to build up the stock of in­vest­ment to $100 bil­lion by 2020 was still on course, China’s Min­istry of Commerce said on Nov 17.

The sum­mit at the Sand­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, how­ever, comes at a time when Africa has other suit­ors, too.

None more so than In­dia, whose prime min­is­ter, Naren­dra Modi, clearly wanted to re­vi­tal­ize its re­la­tion­ship with at least 40 African lead­ers at­tend­ing the third In­di­aAfrica fo­rum sum­mit in New Delhi in Oc­to­ber. In­dia’s trade with Africa stood at $70 bil­lion in 2013 and is ris­ing.

The United States, In­dia’s sec­ond­largest trad­ing part­ner at $90 bil­lion an­nu­ally, is also try­ing to put the fizz back into its re­la­tion­ship with Africa. US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama hosted the first US-Africa Lead­ers Sum­mit in Wash­ing­ton last year.

The Euro­pean Union, which has five for­mer ma­jor African colo­nial pow­ers — the UK, France, Por­tu­gal, Bel­gium and Ger­many — held the EUAfrica Sum­mit in Brussels last year in an at­tempt to re­vive its re­la­tion­ship.

Not be­ing the only game in town, how­ever, may suit China’s for­eign strate­gists.

It will en­able Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, when he ad­dresses the sum­mit, to stress the im­por­tance of the FOCAC re­la­tion­ship while also set­ting the course of expectations on a more re­al­is­tic bear­ing.

Harry Ver­ho­even, a lec­turer at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s School of For­eign Ser­vice in Qatar, be­lieves it would be a great re­lief to Chi­nese pol­i­cy­mak­ers if this mes­sage is put across.

“China has never wanted to rock the boat with its re­la­tion­ship with Africa. It is just not in its in­ter­est to do that. It is quite happy to be among a num­ber of play­ers on the con­ti­nent,” he says.

The Bel­gian aca­demic, au­thor also of

be­lieves many have mis­read the China-Africa re­la­tion­ship.

“If it were to have a dom­i­nant re­la­tion­ship with Africa, it would come with too many awk­ward re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. China is ac­tu­ally busy do­ing other things. It has do­mes­tic con­cerns to deal with. It ba­si­cally wants a prag­matic re­la­tion­ship with Africa and the West.”

Shi Yin­hong, pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter on Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Ren­min Univer­sity of China in Beijing and one of China’s lead­ing for­eign pol­icy ex­perts, agrees the re­la­tion­ship has been too high pro­file at times and at­tracted crit­i­cism, par­tic­u­larly in the West.

“I think Africa has been an im­por­tant part of China’s for­eign pol­icy. China has had a lot of diplo­matic in­flu­ence there and there has also been quite sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic ex­pan­sion,” he says.

“It has to be put into con­text, how­ever. China’s re­la­tions and eco­nomic ties with North Amer­ica, Europe and Rus­sia in tech­no­log­i­cal and other ar­eas have al­ways been more im­por­tant than with Africa. I think the pres­i­dent, how­ever, will be right to em­pha­size the value of this re­la­tion­ship in Johannesburg.”

The Johannesburg meet­ing is the sixth since FOCAC was in­au­gu­rated in 2000 but it is only the sec­ond to be cat­e­go­rized as a sum­mit with heads of state par­tic­i­pat­ing.

It was the first sum­mit in Beijing in Novem­ber 2006 with its pro­ces­sion of peo­ple in African dress and 30-foot high posters of gi­raffes and ele­phants, that first drew the world’s at­ten­tion to the re­la­tion­ship.

David Shinn, ad­junct pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity’s El­liott School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, says it all be­came over-hyped.

“All the me­dia at­ten­tion was on this new re­la­tion­ship. If you looked at the trade num­bers, it is true that China over­took the US as Africa’s largest trad­ing part­ner in 2009 and now has al­most triple the trade Amer­ica does. But whose fault is that? Is it China’s or is the US’? You could ar­gue that the US is not try­ing hard enough.”

The nar­ra­tive at the time was that Africa was mov­ing away from the so­called Wash­ing­ton Con­sen­sus, a se­ries of mea­sures im­posed by the World Bank and the IMF to en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of the pri­vate sec­tor in African coun­tries, to em­brace China’s state cap­i­tal­ism model.

Shinn, also a for­mer US am­bas­sador to Ethiopia and Burk­ina Faso and co-au­thor with Joshua Eisen­man of

a de­tailed coun­try-by­coun­try anal­y­sis of the re­la­tion­ship, says none of this had much to do with what was im­por­tant in Africa.

“They are the sort of ar­gu­ments put for­ward by econ­o­mists that don’t bear out the re­al­ity on the ground. They are more sym­bolic.


Chi­nese and lo­cal employees work at the Mom­basa-Nairobi Stan­dard Gauge Rail­way. Many parts of the con­ti­nent have ben­e­fited from Chi­nese-built roads, air­ports, ports, hos­pi­tals and sports fa­cil­i­ties.

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