Iknna Emewu didn’t expect he would hit the headlines in China.The Great Hall of the People in Beijing was packed with journalists attending the press conference of the Fourth Session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top political advisory body, on March 2. From the hundreds of people there, the Nigerian was chosen to ask CPPCC National Committee spokesperson Wang Guoqing a question.
"I am very interested in China’s development. I work in Nigeria, but I watch news about China almost every day. So, I know a lot about China," Emewu, who is editor in chief of Nigerian daily The Sun, told ChinAfrica . "In my country, news about China is always popular."
He had also not expected the limelight that followed. Emewu was surrounded by Chinese journalists asking him questions and that day, he featured in many Chinese websites and newspapers.
Emewu is in China with more than 20 other African peers for a 10-month training course for African journalists hosted by China Public Diplomacy Association, a Chinese non-profit organization working in public diplomacy. The training program is in its third year.
"Owing to China’s rapid economic development and increase of China-Africa exchanges, Nigerian people hope to learn more about China," Emewu said. "I think the lianghui [provided] the best platform for me to get the most authoritative information about China."
Focusing on the poor
The lianghui, or two sessions, refers to the annual sessions of the CPPCC National Committee and the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, which are usually held every March. At the lianghui, CPPCC National Committee members and NPC deputies discuss the development of China for the whole year ahead.
But this year, it was different as they planned China’s development for five years. On March 16, when the NPC session concluded, the top legislature endorsed the 13th Five-Year Plan, a blueprint guiding China’s development in 2016-20.
According to the plan, China will pursue innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development. It will also promote supply-side structural reform.
"Improving people’s livelihood is the fundamental goal of economic development and social progress and is one of the focuses," said Zhou Hongchun, a researcher in the Social Development Department of the Development Research Center of the State Council, China’s cabinet.
In an interview with Xinhua News Agency, Zhou said, "The 13th Five-Year Plan is a very important blueprint for us to realize our centenary goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020. To achieve this, poverty alleviation will contribute a great part."
According to the plan, China will lift the entire rural population out of poverty by 2020.
There has been remarkable progress in this regard in the past years. China was the first developing country to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the population living in poverty by half ahead of the 2015 deadline.
In 2015, China lifted 14.42 million people out of poverty, according to the Government Work Report delivered by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the opening of the Fourth Session of the NPC on March 5.
Despite this, statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics show that China still had around 55 million people living below the national poverty line - with an annual income less than 2,300 yuan ($353) - by the end of last year. It will be a challenge to lift all these people out of poverty within five years.
"We will come up with more effective and targeted measures to achieve the goal, including launching education campaigns, encouraging financial support and building public platforms to mobilize more people to join the fight," said Hong Tianyun, Deputy Director of Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.
Lending experience to Africa
China’s poverty alleviation goals and measures in the 13th Five-Year Plan have attracted the attention of African scholars, who think African countries could learn from China’s experience.
"The plan intends to employ innovation in science and technology to minimize poverty and wealth imbalance," Emmanuel Igbinoba, a research fellow with the Center for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, told ChinAfrica . "The policymakers intend to achieve this by focusing on educating people in income-generating techniques in the impoverished regions."
Igbinoba thinks Chinese strategies can provide a reference to reduce poverty in Africa. "South Africa and Africa’s policymakers can observe the strategies applied by China, particularly those that address poverty reduction, and [they] can be applied [in Africa]," he said.
Still an engine
Slowed economic development in China is another issue that is attracting world attention.
China enjoyed two-digit economic growth for about three decades after it started reforms and opening up to the outside world in the late 1970s. But the growth has been slowing down since the first decade of the new millennium. Statistics show that in the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-10), China’s annual economic growth hit 11.2 percent on average; in the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-15), it slowed down to 7.8 percent. In the 13th Five-Year Plan, the annual economic growth is set to be above 6.5 percent.
But many people are still optimistic about China’s economic future. On his visit to Malawi earlier this year, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at his press conference that China’s rapid economic growth in over three decades has greatly promoted the economic development of the globe. Despite the slack global economic growth last year, China achieved GDP growth of 6.9 percent. "China still has the most eye-catching economic growth in the world and is the greatest engine driving world economic development," Wang said. "Africa is always the beneficiary during the process."
Wang’s assertion was echoed by Martyn Davies, Deloitte and Touche’s Johannesburg-based managing director of emerging markets and Africa.
Commenting on the impact of China’s minimum 6.5 percent growth target on Africa’s development, Davies said China’s GDP growth figure was a very simplistic indicator to assess the influence. "One should look at the measures being adopted by Beijing to boost growth through capital investment [such as infrastructure spending]," he told ChinAfrica .
Davies pointed out that China’s economic restructuring and consumption-driven model will bring significant opportunities for African economies with a sizeable agricultural sector, predominantly in Southern and East Africa.
"The rising Chinese demand for ‘soft commodities’ is a very real opportunity," he said.
But the South African economist worried that China’s "rebalancing" into a service and consumption-driven economy would be negative news for some commodity-driven economies. "Many African countries are commodity-driven economies," he said.
After more than 30 years of high economic growth, China has now entered a "new normal" phase featuring medium- to high-speed growth. "In this phase, China’s major goals include adjusting its economic structure and reducing its overcapacity," He Wenping, a senior researcher of the Charhar Institute and senior research fellow of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told ChinAfrica. "During the 13th Five-Year Plan period, China’s cooperation with African countries will further expand."
At the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in December, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised cooperation plans in 10 areas, with financial support of $60 billion. Industrialization cooperation, agricultural modernization cooperation and financial cooperation are some of these areas.
"The rising Sino-African cooperation in the context of the ‘new normal’ reflects China’s strong determination to promote African development and China and African countries joining hand to get through the current difficulties," He said. "China and Africa complement each other economically."
She noted that China is adjusting its economic structure and has transformed from exporting commodities to exporting capital.
According to the 13th Five-Year Plan, China will promote international cooperation in production capacity and equipment manufacturing. "China-Africa cooperation in production capacity can meet the realistic development demands of China and African countries. Cooperation in this sector has a strong basis," He said.
While China has entered the middle stage in industrialization and has production overcapacity, most African countries, however, are in the preliminary stage of industrialization. So they need products such as iron, steel and cement. Currently, these products are mainly imported. "[African countries] need to have production capacity in this sector to accelerate their industrialization," He said.
The researcher said it was time for China and African countries to cooperate in production as China has capital, equipment, technology and managing expertise while African countries have abundant human and natural resources.
Despite the slowdown, China and Africa are still the fastest growing economies in the world. "Taking into consideration China’s strong economic foundation laid during three decades’ fast development, the 6.5-percent growth targeted in the 13th Five-Year Plan is definitely sufficient to support and promote Sino-African economic and trade cooperation," He said.