THE ROAD AHEAD
FOCAC’s Beijing summit highlights crucial role of Belt and Road in Africa’s development
Africa is to become more closely aligned with China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a result of one of the biggest diplomatic meetings to be held in Beijing this year.
The two-day summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, attended by heads of state and government and senior representatives from African coun-
tries, concluded on Sept 4.
The Beijing Declaration issued at the end of the third FOCAC summit highlighted the importance of the Belt and Road in Africa’s development.
It made clear that FOCAC was now the main platform for China and Africa to jointly build the Belt and Road.
President Xi Jinping, while addressing a news conference in the Great Hall of the People at the end of the summit, said the cooperative partnership between China and Africa had been taken to a new historic level.
“We should work together to make the forum stronger and more pragmatic, implement the outcomes of the Beijing Summit efficiently and across the board, and benefit the people of China and Africa with solid outcomes,” he said.
He also said it was important that Africa’s voice was heard not just in its dealings with China, but with the rest of the world.
“During cooperation with Africa, the international community should respect the sovereignty of Africa, listen to Africa’s opinions, value Africa’s proposals and live up to their promises.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who co-chaired the summit, said he hoped the “fruitful relations” between China and African governments would be extended to the citizens of both sides.
It was also announced at the summit that Senegal would take over from South Africa as the co-chair of the forum.
Senegalese President Macky Sall said he expected China and Africa to have a broader engagement in the future, with much more private sector involvement from both sides.
He also said he believed Xi’s big idea of “building a community with a shared future” was the right way forward for China and Africa.
“I am willing to conduct my work based on the above principles and enable more outcomes to be achieved from the forum,” he said.
Xi, in his speech to the opening ceremony on Sept 3, announced $60 billion (52 billion euros; £46 billion) in new funding to Africa.
This was the same figure as what was announced at the Johannesburg summit in December 2015.
The new funding will consist of $15 billion in grants and interest-free as well as concessional loans, $20 billion of credit lines, a new $10 billion facility for development financing and a $5 billion fund to boost African exports to China. Chinese companies are also to make $10 billion of investment in Africa over the next three years.
Xi, who recently returned from his fourth visit to the continent as president — he visited Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius in July — and his ninth in total, also said he will wipe out the debt that many African countries have already incurred.
“For those of Africa’s least-developed countries, heavily indebted and poor countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing countries that have diplomatic relations with China, the debt they have incurred in the form of interestfree Chinese government loans due to mature by the end of 2018 will be exempted,” he said.
The centerpiece of Xi’s speech was the announcement of eight major new initiatives for collaboration with African countries over the next three years and beyond.
These initiatives are in the area of industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, healthcare, people-to-people exchanges and peace and security.
Xi said the initiatives were designed to “build an even closer China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era”.
Xi also said China respected Africa and would adhere to a “five no” approach to its relations with Africa.
He said this meant China would not interfere with the development paths of African countries that fit their own national conditions; would not meddle in their internal affairs; would not try to impose its will on African countries; there would be no “political strings” attached to any Chinese assistance; and China would not seek any selfish political gains from either investment in or financing cooperation with Africa.
“We hope this ‘five no’ approach could apply to other countries as they deal with matters regarding Africa,” Xi said. “For China, we are always Africa’s good friend, good partner and good brother. No one could undermine the great unity between the Chinese people and the African people.”
Xi also called for greater alignment not just with the Belt and Road, but with the African Union’s 2063 Agenda, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the individual development strategies of African countries.
“With these efforts we could expand areas of cooperation, unlock new cooperation potential, consolidate our traditional areas of cooperation and foster new highlights of cooperation in the new economy,” he said.
Xi also said that Africa was integral in building “a community with a shared future for mankind.”
“China, the world’s largest developing country, and Africa, the continent with the largest number of developing countries, have long formed a community with a shared future. Indeed, we share a common stake. China will work with Africa to achieve our shared goal of building a closer China-Africa community with a shared future and turn it into a pacesetter for building such a community for mankind,” he said.
Ramaphosa, the South African president, said in his address to the opening ceremony that China-Africa relations were now “a dynamic force in the international arena”. He also said the existence of such a body as FOCAC made nonsense of claims that China is somehow a new colonial power in Africa.
“In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates, and the impact it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe,” he said.
“We are working to build an Africa that is defined by good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.”
Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who also addressed the opening ceremony, said China sees the importance of a stronger Africa.
“The relationship between China and Africa is based on equality, mutual respect and a commitment to shared well-being,” he said.
“This was our starting point 18 years ago when the Forum on ChinaAfrica Cooperation was established. Since then, China’s actions have demonstrated that a stronger Africa is seen as an opportunity to invest in rather than as a problem or a threat.”
There was much reaction at the meeting to China’s renewed financial commitment to the continent.
Jean Claude Nkou, a strategic communications adviser to the president of the Republic of Congo, said he welcomed $60 billion of new financial assistance.
“I don’t think anybody here was expecting such an amount again for projects in Africa. We in Africa now have to come up with the projects that will match this amount of money China is prepared to put into them,” he said.
He said China’s approach in Africa was very different from that of the colonial powers that had taken everything from African countries but put little back.
“People have raised concerns about debt, but the financing that Africa has received from China over the past
20 years has been essential. It has delivered concrete things like new airports, roads, bridges and these kinds of things which are beneficial to the well-being of our people.”
Xu Jinghu, special representative of the Chinese government for African affairs, said at a news conference on Sept 4 that China wanted African countries to achieve development and not accumulate debt.
“It is the international economic situation that has raised the costs of financing. Most of the African countries (facing a debt problem) have been exporting raw materials for which the price on the international markets has been decreasing. This has added to the debt problem of these countries. Where African countries are in debt, China is not their creditor. So it is wrong to shift the blame on the Chinese side,” she said.
Yazini April, a research specialist at the Africa Institute of South Africa, based in Pretoria, says the alignment between FOCAC and the Belt and Road Initiative could be an important step.
“China is known for its practical diplomacy, and this could be one of the practical outcomes of the summit,” she says.
“This would be important for Africa. When it comes to alignment, it really needs to come to the party, and Belt and Road could offer this opportunity.”
Salifou Chighet, part of the Cameroon president’s communications team, says he was impressed by the emphasis that Xi placed on the youth of China and Africa alike for forging future links. Xi said many of the eight initiatives he outlined were designed to help young people in Africa. China is to offer 50,000 government scholarships, and 2,000 young Africans are also to be offered exchange visits to China.
“We were impressed by the speech, because we have the problem of development of youth in Africa. We would welcome more opportunities for the African youth to come to China and study,” he says.
Chighet adds that Xi’s emphasis on peaceful development was also key.
“Without peace, there can be no development. Peace is important if we are to build the dams, roads, electricity and other infrastructure that is essential for our development.”
Bukola Ogunsina, editor of the Sunday edition of the Nigerian newspaper Leadership, says the summit has taken China’s relationship with Africa to a new level.
“It was well attended. With more funds being released for development, a lot more will be done,” she says.
The summit also created greater awareness of the potential for Africa of the Belt and Road Initiative, she adds. “This means that in the future, it will likely encourage more countries in Africa to take practical steps toward embracing it.”
She says 25 memorandums of understanding were signed between China and Nigeria during the summit, where Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the business meeting.
“This is a plus and shows that China is presently more hands on, getting more involved and not standing at the fringes,” she says.
“Nigeria is looking to diversify, modernize its agricultural sector, improve manufacturing, and as such it will welcome partnering in more areas with China.”
President Xi Jinping delivers the keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the two-day summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing on Sept 3.
Bukola Ogunsina, editor of the Sunday edition of the Leadership newspaper in Nigeria.
Yazini April, a research specialist at the Africa Institute of South Africa, based in Pretoria.
President Xi Jinping Sept 3. and visiting leaders head for the opening ceremony of the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation after a group photo in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on
Xu Jinghu, special representative of the Chinese government for African affairs.
Jean Claude Nkou, a strategic communicators adviser to the president of the Republic of Congo.
Salifou Chighet, part of the Cameroon president’s communications team.