While China directly supported African countries across various economic sectors as part of establishment of diplomatic relations from the 1960s, this support has over the past decade been undertaken trilaterally under the UN mechanism. Beginning 2006, China has established agricultural demonstration centers in various African countries under the aegis of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization aimed at bolstering the continent’s food security. This has involved China’s sending of agricultural experts to train African farmers in across crop, livestock and fish farming by leveraging the agricultural technology capacities that have made China food self-sufficient.
Working with the AU and the UN World Health Organization (WHO), China played an important part in helping stem the Ebola virus epidemic that threatened Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Guinea. The assistance came with innovations as the WHO eventually listed the China-made Ebola Virus Real Time Kit - which gives results in two hours flat - as a means of screening patients. This is one example in which China has worked with the WHO in helping stem African tropical diseases, particularly malaria.
It is largely agreed that China’s prowess in the UN system is to the benefit of African countries. At the World Bank and International Monetary Fund where China has a huge sway due to its appreciable shareholding and voting power, it has voted in support of inclusion of Africa in numerous projects. Indeed some of the infrastructure projects that dot the continent today were implemented in trilateral fashion by the World Bank, China and African countries. For instance, a Chinese firm, the China Road and Bridge Corp., was involved in World Bank road infrastructure projects in Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda among others. Since 2010, the World Bank’s private sector lending firm, the International Finance Corp., has been giving loans to Chinese firms looking to do social capital projects in Africa. This trilateral cooperation is set to continue in future as China and the World Bank signed an agreement in September this year for cooperation in the African infrastructure sector.
The current phase of China-africa relations in the UN system are underlined by the alignment of the three broad plans: the AU’S Agenda 2063, the FOCAC action plans for the period 2015-18 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. A range of projects and programs are already underway, notably led by the UNDP China office which works closely with the Chinese Government, the AU and individual African countries. (The author is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)