Local workers at a China-invested transformer factory in Nairobi
For Ikenna Emewu, Senior Editor of The Sun newspaper, the biggest newspaper in Nigeria, the year 2016 flashed by bringing to a close his almost year-long program of China-Africa media exchange in December.
"Time flies so quickly. During my stay in China, I saw the country's progress firsthand and also now have a better understanding of how it achieved the progress," he told ChinAfrica. "The China I know today is a world away from that I knew before my one-year program here began."
Emewu began his media exchange program, organized by China Public Diplomacy Association, in February. During the program he and 27 fellow journalists from 27 African countries visited 35 cities and rural areas in 12 of China's provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. They also attended international conferences held in China including the G20 Summit, China-Africa Think Tank Forum, Forum on China-Africa Media Cooperation and Coordinators' Meeting on the Implementation of the Follow-up Actions of the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
"In 2016, China-Africa relations witnessed great progress and I am a part of that progress," said Emewu. He said he has written a book on his experience and the China-Africa relationship, which will be published soon.
Looking back, programs like this media exchange are only a part of many China-Africa exchanges in various fields that took place in the year. At the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit held in South Africa in December 2015, China pledged to sponsor visits by 200 African scholars and study trips by 500 young Africans to China, and train 1,000 media professionals from Africa every year for the following three years. In addition, China would provide Africa with 2,000 educational opportunities with diplomas or degrees and 30,000 government scholarships, among others.
Political mutual trust
"The year 2016 is the first year for China to implement its commitments made at the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit, and has witnessed important progress in this regard," He Wenping, Senior Researcher of the Charhar Institute and the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told ChinAfrica. "In this context, China-Africa relations were improved in all dimensions with increasingly close political exchanges and intensified mutual trust."
Enhanced political mutual trust can be seen through the frequent high-level visits between China and African countries. At the beginning of the year, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi visited Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique and Namibia, following the tradition starting in 1991 that Chinese foreign minister's first outbound trip of the year is to African countries. (See box for more high-level visits).
Emewu at the Press Conference of the session of National People's Congress in March 2016
According to He, frequent Sino-African high-level visits are the foundation for China and African countries to learn more from and trust each other politically.
"More importantly, China's initiative on the G20 platform has helped further promote bilateral relations," said He. At the summit, Supporting Industrialization in Africa and Least Developed Countries was tabled an important topic for discussion. Supporting Africa's industrialization, for the first time, was included in last year's G20 communique. Besides Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, the only G20 member from Africa, China also invited Chad President Idriss Déby, Senegalese President Macky Sall and Egyptian President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi to the summit, providing a communication and exchange platform for African countries at the G20 Summit.
"This shows that China attaches great importance to Africa's development, and provided an opportunity for African countries to participate in global governance reform," said He.
Upgraded economic cooperation
He noted that the increasingly intensified political mutual trust between China and African countries has laid a sound foundation for cooperation in various sectors, and Sino-African economic cooperation has been upgraded in the past year.
At the Coordinators' Meeting on the Implementation of the Follow-up Actions of the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit held in Beijing on July 29, a total of 63 cooperation agreements were signed between China and African countries, involving $18.29 billion. This included $16.23 billion of Chinese enterprises' direct investment in Africa and business loans, accounting for 88.7 percent of the total.
Incomplete statistics show that after the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit, China has signed more than 240 agreements, involving $50.78 billion. This includes government aid (1.07 percent), concessional loans (6.2 percent) and Chinese enterprises' direct investment and business loans (91.7 percent). "The figures show that China-Africa cooperation has transformed from mainly government aid to mainly enterprise investment and financing, upgraded from commodity trade to industrial capacity cooperation and processing trade and changed from engineering contracting investment to financial cooperation," said He.
In the past year, industrial capacity cooperation featuring enhancing interconnectivity among African countries has been on the rise. On October 5, the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway, built by Chinese companies - China Railway Group and China Civil Engineering Construction Corp. - came into service.
"The railway, together with Abuja-Kaduna Railway and Coastal Railway in Nigeria and Benguela Railway in Angola, which were all built by Chinese companies, have laid a sound transportation basis for the continent's future industrial development," said He. "They are the best examples of China-Africa industrial capacity cooperation."