African students studying acrobatics in Wuqiao of Hebei Province obtain certificates after graduation (XINHUA)
For China, 2018 is regarded as the "year of Africa." The year witnessed frequent high-level exchange visits and, importantly, the opening of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in September. In the first half of 2018 alone, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Chinese President Xi Jinping's special representative Yang Jiechi, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) Li Zhanshu, and Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Wang Yang all visited Africa. On July 21-28, 2018, President Xi visited Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius, his fourth Africa visit after he was elected Chinese president in 2013. This shows that he attaches great importance to China-Africa relations.
In addition, African leaders also visited China frequently. Within half a month after China concluded its annual sessions of the NPC and the CPPCC National Committee in March, the presidents of Cameroon, Namibia and Zimbabwe visited China. The three leaders expressed their wishes for strengthened alignment of their own development strategies with China's Belt and Road Initiative. The visits also saw China-Namibia and China-Zimbabwe relations being upgraded to comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.
A new chapter
The 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit, held on September 3-4, pushed the "year of Africa" in China to its climax, opening a new chapter for China-Africa relations. The most prominent achievements at the summit include that China and African countries agreed to work toward a stronger community with a shared future and that African countries expressed their wishes of actively supporting and participating in the Belt and Road Initiative.
During the summit, 28 African countries, as well as the African Union (AU), signed the memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with China on the Belt and Road Initiative, increasing the total number of African countries signing the MoUs to 37. This number accounts for 70 percent of the countries participating in 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit.
According to the National Development and Reform Commission, China will continue close communications with related African countries on the Belt and Road Initiative with an aim of expanding the initiative to the whole continent so as to benefit African countries and peoples in a concrete manner.
Infrastructure construction and industrial park building, which form important parts of the Belt and Road Initiative, are on the rise on the African continent and have witnessed preliminary achievements. For instance, the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, which came into operation on May 31, 2017, had transported 1.72 million passengers and 2.1 million tons of goods by August 24, 2018, far exceeding estimation. In addition, the railway has helped reduce the logistics costs by more than 40 percent, contributing up to 2 percent to the growth of Kenya's GDP.
The construction and operation of the railway also diversified business operations and promoted industrial chain development along the route. All these have laid a solid basis for new industrialization in Kenya.
Closer people-to-people exchange
Apart from the bricks and mortar aspect of industrialization, forging closer people-to-people ties is a strong component of the Belt and Road Initiative. China-Africa friendship building can enhance mutual understanding of peoples in China and in African countries, which will effectively respond to rumors on China from the West such as "neo-colonialism," "plundering African resources," and "debt-trap diplomacy."
The year 2018 has witnessed increasingly closer people-to-people ties between China and African countries in areas such as education, tourism, medical care, science and technology and culture. Since the
Chinese Government put forward "expanding people-to-people and cultural exchanges" in its eight measures at the Fourth FOCAC Ministerial Conference in 2009, China-Africa exchanges in culture, think tanks, personnel, media, youth and women, and volunteer services have been growing. For instance, the Fifth China-Africa People's Forum last year issued the Program for China-Africa People-to-People Friendship and Partnership (2018-20), promoting 30 people-to-people cooperation projects in the coming three years between China and Africa.
To promote closer people-to-people exchange between China and Africa, China has held a series of trainings of culture-related human resources personnel themed with Chinese kungfu, handicraft, museum operation, theater management and intangible cultural heritage protection. In May 2018, 15 people from five African countries of Benin, Cameroon, Mauritius, Nigeria and Senegal came to China for an 11-day training course of cultural relic repairing.
The culture industry is becoming a new area for China-Africa cooperation in recent years. In 2018, China and South Africa held a forum on culture industry cooperation; China also held an animation carnival in Nigeria and the two countries are discussing cooperation in the animation industry.
Hard work is reaping rewards. According to a report issued by Ipsos, a global consultant agency, China has become the most recognizable development partner among Kenyan people, edging out the United States.
China-Africa people-to-people ties and cultural exchanges will surely be further deepened in 2019. Among the eight initiatives put forward at the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit, three are related to people-to-people ties and cultural exchanges.
For instance, capacity building initiative targets the younger generation of Africans. China will establish Luban Workshop in different African countries to provide vocational training for young Africans. It will launch a program to train 1,000 high-caliber people for African countries, as well as provide Africa with 50,000 government scholarships, 50,000 training opportunities for seminars and workshops, and invite 2,000 young Africans to visit China for exchanges.
Health care initiative focuses on the building of the public health system in Africa. China has decided to upgrade 50 medical and health aid programs for Africa, particularly flagship projects such as the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention and China-Africa Friendship Hospitals. China will also train more medical specialists for Africa and continue to send medical teams to Africa. More mobile medical services will be provided to patients for the treatment of cataracts, heart disease and dental defects. And targeted health care services will be provided to women and children in Africa.
According to the people-to-people exchange initiative, China will establish an institute of African studies and upgrade China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Plan. China also supports Africa's participation in the Silk Road International League of Theaters, the Silk Road International Museum Alliance and the Network of Silk Road Art Festivals. In addition, a China-Africa media cooperation network will be established. Qualified African educational institutes are welcomed to host Confucius Institutes, and more African countries are welcomed to become destinations for Chinese tour groups.
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