China-africa Re­la­tions: New and Im­proved “All-weather Friend­ship”

New and Im­proved “All-weather Friend­ship”

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Xu Shuyuan Un­cred­ited pho­to­graphs cour­tesy of Cheng Tao

From di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the De­part­ment of African Af­fairs in China’s Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs to Chi­nese am­bas­sador to Mali and Morocco, Cheng Tao has ded­i­cated over 30 years of his ca­reer to Africa. Af­ter his re­tire­ment, he opted out of the easy life in fa­vor of con­tin­ued en­gage­ment with diplo­matic work. Con­sec­u­tively, he served as vice pres­i­dent of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s In­sti­tute of For­eign Af­fairs, di­rec­tor of the China In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Foun­da­tion, di­rec­tor of the African Re­search Cen­ter, and stand­ing di­rec­tor of the Round­table Con­fer­ence on China-africa Co­op­er­a­tion. He be­lieves all his ef­forts work in con­cert with Chi­nese and African gov­ern­ment diplo­macy, strength­en­ing peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­change be­tween the two sides. In ad­di­tion, such po­si­tions pro­vide a stage for Cheng to ex­press his af­fec­tion for Africa and make his con­tri­bu­tions to China-africa co­op­er­a­tion.

To­day, he re­mains an ac­tive pro­pel­ler for China-africa com­mu­ni­ca­tion. From time to time, Cheng Tao re­ceives phone calls to dis­cuss new Africa-re­lated meet­ings, projects and lec­tures with var­i­ous agen­cies. “I just work earnestly and dili­gently,” he says. “There is noth­ing mag­nif­i­cent about me. I did not write a very bold pe­riod, but I wrote it neatly.”

“Am­bas­sador to Africa”

In 1981, Cheng was work­ing for the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs of China when he was dis­patched to Gabon. This was the first time that he set foot on the African con­ti­nent.

In those days, most Chi­nese peo­ple were still un­fa­mil­iar with Africa, and con­sid­ered it a re­mote, mys­te­ri­ous and even un­de­vel­oped con­ti­nent. When Africa was men­tioned, peo­ple thought of neg­a­tive traits such as “hot cli­mate, ram­pant mosquitoes and flies, and dis­eases.” In fact, as early as 1982, Gabon’s per capita an­nual in­come ex­ceeded US$3,000, much higher than that of China, which stayed at only US$194 back then. Peo­ple in Gabon lived in com­fort and hap­pi­ness. There­fore, Cheng’s first im­pres­sion of Africa was very pos­i­tive.

In his sub­se­quent days as a diplo­mat, Cheng vis­ited more than 40 African coun­tries. Be­cause he dealt with African af­fairs year­round, he be­came known as the “am­bas­sador to Africa.” Over the years, he found Africa not en­tirely con­sis­tent with his orig­i­nal im­pres­sion. Africa, he saw, is rich in re­sources and has a promis­ing fu­ture. He was most im­pressed by five African coun­tries: South Africa in the south of the con­ti­nent, Morocco in the north, Mau­ri­tius in the east, Sene­gal in the west and Gabon in the mid­dle.

Cheng noted that no one can for­get South Africa. “South Africa’s eco­nomic out­put was the high­est in Africa for quite a long time,” he ex­plained. “The main rea­sons are that its poli­cies align with its na­tional con­di­tions, and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and peace­ful co­ex­is­tence of all eth­nic groups add to its charm.

South Africa is also rich in nat­u­ral re­sources and di­verse in ex­ter­nal re­la­tions.”

“One time, dur­ing Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s visit to Africa, I led a del­e­ga­tion of 60 Chi­nese en­trepreneurs to South Africa,” he re­called. “Un­like what most of those en­trepreneurs ex­pected of Africa, we didn’t see trash or graf­fiti any­where in the streets. One day, pour­ing rain and light­ning knocked out the traf­fic lights. But even without sig­nals, traf­fic still flowed smoothly. We were all stunned by the scene.”

Morocco is a col­or­ful coun­try. Cheng likens it to a big tree. “It is deeply rooted in the land of Africa and ab­sorbs its nu­tri­ents,” he il­lus­trated. “How­ever, its branches and leaves are bathed in the Arab sun­shine and it breathes fresh air from Europe. It rests in Africa, but un­like a typ­i­cal African coun­try. It doesn’t grow in Europe, but is sim­i­lar to a Euro­pean coun­try.” Morocco is an Arab coun­try, but more open and demo­cratic than its peers. About 90 per­cent of Morocco’s na­tion­als are Mus­lims, but they live in har­mony with Jews and Chris­tians. Dur­ing for­eign Na­tional Day re­cep­tions in Morocco, pork prod­ucts and sausages can be served. “But they must add a pic­ture of a pig on pork prod­ucts to warn Mus­lims.”

Mark Twain once said, “Mau­ri­tius was made first, and then heaven; and heaven was copied af­ter Mau­ri­tius.” Mau­ri­tius is of­ten re­ferred to as “Paradise Is­land.” Sene­gal is a small coun­try with an area of about 200,000 square kilo­me­ters, but it is highly civ­i­lized. The World Bank’s World De­vel­op­ment Re­port 2018 ranked Sene­gal as one of the most suc­cess­ful re­form mod­els in Africa.

China-africa Re­la­tions: Sta­ble and Grow­ing

Sino-african co­op­er­a­tion has a long his­tory and a solid foun­da­tion. In the 1960s, many African coun­tries sought in­de­pen­dence from Euro­pean colo­nial­ism. Na­tions were be­com­ing lib­er­ated and the peo­ple de­manded revo­lu­tion. In re­sponse to this trend, China chose to sup­port African coun­tries. “The Chi­nese peo­ple who stood up never for­got the African peo­ple who had yet to stand.” Cheng said. “China wanted to help pull them up, and that is ex­actly what we did.” China has provided a great deal of as­sis­tance to Africa in po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and even mil­i­tary realms, help­ing many coun­tries on the con­ti­nent achieve na­tional in­de­pen­dence and shake off the chains of col­o­niza­tion.

“Through its aid to the con­ti­nent, China has won trust from African coun­tries and con­sol­i­dated its friend­ship with Africa. It is pre­cisely be­cause of the unity of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that China was freed from im­pe­ri­al­ist block­ade, em­bargo and iso­la­tion. On Oc­to­ber 25, 1971, the African peo­ple ‘car­ried’ China into the United Na­tions. Since then, Africa has also strongly sup­ported China in many

rel­e­vant in­ter­na­tional af­fairs.”

Over the years, China- Africa co­op­er­a­tion has de­vel­oped rapidly and achieved re­mark­able re­sults. Cheng re­marked that in re­cent years, if the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two sides changes, it will al­ways be for the bet­ter. China has been Africa’s largest trad­ing part­ner for eight con­sec­u­tive years. In 2000, Sino- African trade amounted to more than US$10 bil­lion, and the fig­ure jumped to US$170 bil­lion in 2017, an in­crease of nearly 20 times in 18 years. In 2000, China’s in­vest­ment in Africa amounted to US$ 1 bil­lion, and the lat­est data shows that the num­ber is now over US$100 bil­lion and has in­creased more than 100 fold.

At the Jo­han­nes­burg Sum­mit of the Fo­rum on China-africa Co­op­er­a­tion in 2015, China- Africa re­la­tions were fur­ther up­graded by pro­pos­als declar­ing that China and Africa should seek “equal­ity and mu­tual trust in pol­i­tics, win- win co­op­er­a­tion in econ­omy, mu­tual learn­ing in civ­i­liza­tion, mu­tual as­sis­tance in se­cu­rity and unity and co­or­di­na­tion in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs.” This is a com­pre­hen­sive strate­gic part­ner­ship. “We are not only a com­mu­nity of shared in­ter­ests— we must closely es­tab­lish a com­mu­nity of shared fu­ture be­tween China and Africa,” in­sisted Cheng. “That’s the way it used to be and how it will be in the fu­ture.”

New Era, New De­mands

Among var­i­ous de­vel­op­ment con­cepts around the world, China and Africa share sim­i­lar views and as­pi­ra­tions. Cheng cited the African proverb that “it is bet­ter to teach man to fish than to give him a fish.” This is ex­actly the same as the Chi­nese say­ing: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life­time.” Africa now yearns for in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and agri­cul­tural mod­ern­iza­tion. African coun­tries hope to learn from China’s de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence and jointly ex­plore de­vel­op­ment paths in line with na­tional con­di­tions. Cheng be­lieves that in this re­gard, Sino- African co­op­er­a­tion will be­come a new high­light.

Cheng opined that the de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence gained by any coun­try should be wealth shared by hu­man so­ci­ety. “The Chi­nese peo­ple who have stood up should pull up their broth­ers and help Africa stand up. We are get­ting rich and are will­ing to help Africa get rich. We are get­ting stronger, and we hope that African coun­tries will also be­come stronger. This is the real heart of build­ing a com­mu­nity of shared fu­ture.”

Xi Jin­ping’s re­port to the 19th Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China pointed out that “the ba­sic di­men­sion of the Chi­nese con­text—that our coun­try is still and will long re­main in the pri­mary stage of so­cial­ism—has not changed” and that “China’s in­ter­na­tional sta­tus as the world’s largest de­vel­op­ing coun­try has not changed.” Cheng Tao re­marked, “China is still a de­vel­op­ing coun­try, and we are a com­mu­nity of shared in­ter­ests with Africa. In­ter­na­tion­ally, we need to speak with one voice. Al­though a per­ma­nent mem­ber of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, China re­mains a de­vel­op­ing coun­try. China is still firmly com­mit­ted to safe­guard­ing the in­ter­ests of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries as it emerges as a ma­jor power, and Africa’s sup­port has played an ir­re­place­able and pos­i­tive role in am­pli­fy­ing voices from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

The cur­rent in­ter­na­tional sit­u­a­tion has un­der­gone pro­found changes, and trade pro­tec­tion­ism and uni­lat­er­al­ism are pre­vail­ing. In this con­text, Africa is an in­dis­pens­able part­ner of China. “Not ev­ery­one in the world is self-cen­tered and pur­su­ing a zero-sum game,” Cheng as­serted. “China and Africa are pro­mot­ing the con­cept of win-win co­op­er­a­tion, and slowly win­ning un­der­stand­ing and ac­cep­tance from the world. Our com­mon goal is to build a har­mo­nious and beau­ti­ful so­ci­ety.”

Rain­bow over Cape Town, South Africa. South Africa is one of the most in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­tries in Africa and an up­per-mid­dle-in­come econ­omy ac­cord­ing to the World Bank. VCG

Cheng Tao with lo­cal chil­dren in Morocco. The Moroc­can chil­dren show great af­fec­tion for China.

A beach near Ta­marin Bay, Mau­ri­tius. Over the past 30 years, Mau­ri­tius has de­vel­oped from a low-in­come econ­omy based on agri­cul­ture to a mid­dle-in­come di­ver­si­fied econ­omy. Much of its eco­nomic growth has been the re­sult of the ex­pan­sion of the lux­ury tourism sec­tor. VCG

Cheng Tao speak­ing at the First Se­nior Of­fi­cials Meet­ing of the Fo­rum on China-africa Co­op­er­a­tion on Novem­ber 25, 2002.

Then-chi­nese State Coun­cilor Yang Jiechi (left) awards Cheng Tao for his out­stand­ing work as a diplo­mat.

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