Vienna, September 7, 2018 - On September 4th, the two-day high-level Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) ended with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was on this occasion accompanied by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Senegalese President Macky Sall, celebrating the successful conclusion of the summit in a press conference.
Xi expressly reiterated the Chinese and African countries’ commitment to enhancing and improving joint economic strategies and policy coordination, as well as advancing the development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its close alignment with the African Union Agenda 2063, and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The forum was established 18 years ago and has since taken place every three years. The hosting of the FOCAC summit this year was held to be a particular triumph for China’s President. After all, Xi succeeded in bringing the vast majority of Africa’s top leaders and heads of state to Beijing to work together towards the ultimate goal of leading the Chinese-African strategic and cooperative partnership to a new historic starting point, and onto a new journey, as he emphasized in the press conference.
Already at the opening of the summit on Monday, President Xi expressly vowed that his country’s investments on the continent had “no political strings attached.” This can be interpreted as a well-considered attempt to dispel criticism that China is using loans and development projects to lure states – in Africa, but also elsewhere - into a debt trap. Respective concerns were voiced, for example by the Center for Global Development, a US think-tank, which seriously questioned the sustainability of sovereign debt in eight Asian, European and African countries receiving Belt and Road funds. Likewise, during a visit to China last month, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed had warned against “a new version of colonialism,” and subsequently cancelled $22 billion worth of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects for his country.
African Leaders Welcome Chinese Strategy
In contrast, African political leaders seem less worried about possible Chinese dominance over their countries. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, for instance, defended China’s involvement on the continent, saying FOCAC “refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa as our detractors would have us believe.” Likewise, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, currently the chair of the African Union, also dismissed towards Chinese news agency Xinhua the allegations that China was trying to profit off Africa, claiming those were merely attempts to undermine African-Chinese cooperation.
Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo also jumped in to defend China’s financial involvement strategy in Africa, saying his country was inspired by the Chinese role model and grateful for its financial and technical support over the years. For Ghana, and indeed for many other African countries, China is the most important trading partner.
Financial and Structural Benefits
If the steps decided on the summit are implemented, cooperation between China and African countries will become still closer in the future. Chinese President Xi pledged $60 billion in new development financing for the next three years, divided up in assistance, investment and loans over the next three years.
“China’s cooperation with Africa is clearly targeted at the major bottlenecks to development. Resources for our cooperation are not to be spent on any vanity projects, but in places where they count the most,” said Xi and went on to outline eight major initiatives for future China-Africa cooperation, namely industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, health care, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security. Even the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Xi’s signature policy of global connectivity, is integrated in this specific context to promote African regional integration. This is another effort to reject charges that China’s interest in maintaining close ties with African connection springs from egotistical motives.
Nigeria as Model Partner for Cooperation
Nigeria’s partnership with China through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has led to the implementation of important infrastructure projects across the country, valued at over $5bn in the last three years. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari underscored the beneficial effects of his country’s cooperation with China at the FOCAC Round Table meeting, attended by African leaders and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“This 180km rail line that connects Abuja and Kaduna was commissioned two years ago at a cost of $500m. Today the rail line is functioning efficiently with no issues – indeed, a sign that Chinese technology is world class,” he noted. He said Nigeria will continue its commitment to the FOCAC initiative and also to the Belt and Road Initiative as an additional Chinese instrument for enhancing cooperation and advancing infrastructural and economic development.
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