How Xi struck a chord with Africans
Speech at FOCAC summit was just what the continent needed to hear — a pledge of abundant help without interference
Addressing leaders and representatives from African countries, international organizations and academic institutions, President Xi Jinping opened the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation with a keynote speech that was met with roaring applause and ended with a standing ovation.
In my opinion, here are some of the reasons it was so popular:
First, Xi’s personal impression of Africa and its hopeful future profoundly resonated in the hearts and minds of everyone attending. His optimistic and energizing vision of the continent’s future stood in contrast to the usual sympathy-filled rhetoric that only sees the limitations of poverty and despair. After nine visits to the continent, four as president, Xi spoke from his own experience of what he called “a land of great promise”, where he saw unlimited potential for development that could be driven by a comprehensive, strategic cooperative relationship between China and Africa. Xi positioned China as an enabler of Africa’s will for development, something that can be further reaffirmed by the history of unity, solidarity and concrete results witnessed by the people of Africa over the years.
Second, Xi reiterated five issues that China abstains from in its Africa policy. These are of great concern to African nations, which to this day continue to suffer from the consequences of outside interference. The issues include: no interference in countries’ chosen paths of development; no intervention in their internal affairs; no imposition of China’s will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance; and no pursuit of selfish political gains in investment and financing on the continent. These principles carry a significant connotation that reverberates from the distinct history of injustice both China and Africa have witnessed in the past, reaffirming the right of every nation to forge its own destiny in accordance with its own circumstances.
Third, Xi’s vision of common development for “a shared future” that touches the lives of people in Africa and China is a further statement of the interdependent and interconnected nature of relations that link both. As multifaceted development abolishes the boundaries separating nations and continents across the globe, there has never been a time where the fate of humanity was more intertwined than it is today. It is no longer possible for the prosperity of one nation to come at the cost of another. As witnessed in the past, the consequences of instability and underdevelopment in some parts of the world have a destabilizing effect on the rest of the world. Xi’s speech reaffirmed the need to work together, hand in hand, and move toward long-term common development, peace and stability at a closer, more coherent pace, by leveraging each other’s advantages to overcome challenges. This vision constitutes the aspirations for South-South cooperation, and the reform of global governance systems to give credence to more voices from developing countries. It also fosters the need to protect the environment while pursuing development to ensure a sustainable better life for people worldwide.
Fourth, the synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustain- able Development, as well as the national development plans of individual African nations, further solidifies China’s dedication to produce concrete development results on the continent. As a global initiative that boosts economic and trade relations through infrastructure connectivity and policy coordination, the BRI’s ample supply of funding, expertise and technological advancements represents a strong force to drive Africa’s development aspirations.
Fifth, the $60 billion of funds and 10 cooperation plans announced at the 2015 Johannesburg Summit have brought about concrete results and benefits to the African continent that have boosted growth and prosperity, demonstrating the potential of China-Africa cooperation. At the recently concluded Beijing Summit, Xi pledged a further $60 billion in funding and announced the launch of eight major initiatives to be adopted in collaboration with African countries: industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, healthcare, people-to-people exchange, and peace and security. These announcements showcase China’s conscious evaluation of the continent’s needs and show vivid attention to its development priorities as envisaged by Africans themselves.
Xi reaffirmed the fact that the future of China-Africa relations is dependent on the youth of these nations. Africa’s vast natural and human resources need to be nurtured, protected and efficiently utilized to achieve sustainable development. Effective understanding must be built between them to ensure the long-term effects of these relations are maintained. Most important, his speech confirmed that future accomplishments in South-South cooperation will depend on the efforts made by young people to realize cooperation and promote these relations. The initiatives he announced were designed to ensure that benefits of China-Africa cooperation can be carried on from one generation to another.
Finally, along with his sincere voice, clear terms and amiable expressions, Xi’s speech showed a leader talking to his counterparts, positioning himself and his nation as an all-weather friend and brother, willing to navigate the best route to realize happiness and prosperity for the people of this rich continent. He vowed to achieve this hand in hand with each African nation, in cooperation with other international partners aiming for the development of the continent.
The positive energy and optimism that filled his address reminded me of a famous quote by the theologist and poet Rumi, who said: “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” The display of sincerity and determination for the common purpose of development by President Xi during the 2018 FOCAC Summit reaffirms the certainty that the China-Africa family will continue to grow larger and stronger, despite the rising challenges of changing times.