Since its establishment in 2000, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has gradually become a major platform of dialogue and cooperation between China and African countries.
Following the challenges of our times and in view of the needs of expanding China-Africa relations, China and Africa countries upgraded both the third Ministerial Conference of FOCAC, held in November 2006 in Beijing, and the sixth Ministerial Conference, held in December 2015 in Johannesburg, to FOCAC summits. The recent 2018 Beijing FOCAC Summit held on September 3-4, has been the first to gather 40 African state leaders and 10 government leaders around the table with the Chinese leadership led by President Xi Jinping. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also attended the summit.
Some questions have come to mind on the motives of such massive participation of Africans leaders.
From an African perspective, it’s clear that Africa, on the firm will of its people and leadership, is more determined than ever to join the stage of the world economy and modernization. There’s a pressing need for Africa to industrialize and improve the livelihood of its people. After more than half a century of independence from Western colonization, African countries still strive to shape a development model appropriate to their needs and expectations.
Meanwhile China, also a victim of Western imperialism, seems to have become a success story and could serve as a reference for African countries. Despite this historical connection between both sides, the status quo of international geopolitics undermined by the isolationism, unilateralism, and imperialist intentions of some major global players is driving China and African countries even closer to each other. This could explain the massive gathering between the leaders and representatives of the FOCAC member countries in Beijing, including the three new members who, since the last summit in December 2015 in Johannesburg, established diplomatic relationships with China in accordance with the one-China policy.
The "Five-No" approach
The opening ceremony of this year’s FOCAC summit in Beijing was marked by the comprehensive and inclusive speech of the Chinese president to his African counterparts; a speech that seems to fully express the urgent needs of the continent with respect of international laws, mutual respect and the spirit of win-win cooperation. In fact, the following points highlighted by Xi are of core interests for the people of Africa:
Firstly and most importantly, the "Five-No" approach. No interference in African countries' pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries' internal affairs; no imposition of our (the Chinese people’s) will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance for Africa; no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa.
It is to be noticed that Western neocolonialism partly responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment have been sown and fueled by interference in African affairs, as well as political strings attached on Western aid. China as victim of imperialism itself, have chosen a different path in its cooperation with Africa.
The brotherhood and friendship between both parties is historical and can be traced back 2,000 years ago. Perhaps it suffices to mention the Egyptian acrobats who reached China around 112 B.C. during the Han Dynasty 206 B.C.-220 A.D.), or Wang Duhuan who is recorded as the first Chinese to set foot in Africa in the mid-eighth century in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). One can also mention the historical vote that helped China resume its legal seat in the UN, determined by African support. These are among others, various proofs of the long standing
friendship between both sides and that China has never and will not engage in the same path as taken by Western countries in dealing with Africa.
The “Four No One”
And for the detractors working hard to turn the China-Africa relationship upside down, Xi’s speech has been very straightforward through the “Four No One”: No one could undermine the great unity between the Chinese people and the African people. No one could hold back the Chinese people or the African people as we march toward rejuvenation. No one could deny the remarkable achievements made in China-Africa cooperation. No one could stand in the way or obstruct international efforts to support Africa's development.
It appears crystal clear that only Chinese and Africans have the right of expression on China-Africa cooperation. Furthermore, Xi strongly advocates the idea of “community with a shared future” as the backbone of pursuing the China-Africa common destiny by the following Chinese saying: "The ocean is vast because it rejects no rivers."
Under the guidance of core interests of both parties, the Belt and Road Initiative, the AU Agenda 2063 as well as the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the development programs of African countries could better complement each other.
Eight major initiatives
The eight major initiatives proposed by Xi at the end of his
speech drew rounds of applauds among the African leaders. They are namely industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, healthcare, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security.
To achieve these great initiatives, China has pledged $60 billion in support to African countries in term of finance and investment through institutions such as the Export-Import Bank of China and the New Development Bank (formerly referred to as the BRICS Development Bank).
In conclusion, the 2018 Beijing FOCAC Summit is a big step toward development and strategic partnership between China and African countries. China has demonstrated a firm will to elevate the partnership with African countries to a new level. This is beyond doubt a golden opportunity for the people of Africa in their struggle for development and prosperity; while on the other hand, it is a unique opportunity for China in its commitment for a fair and better world of shared future for mankind.
China has reached a level of maturity in technological advancement and skillful labor force in search of new markets. Meanwhile Africa is blessed with untapped resources and a growing young population in pursuit of industrialization and skills learning. This is a perfect combination of limitless opportunities between both sides. A sincere partnership based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation is the most needed incentive to spark a new era of China-Africa relationship history.
(The author is from Cameroon and is a research follow and secretary general of the Center for African Film & TV, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University)