Impact of China’s engagements with Africa through FOCAC

Written By: Eric Biegon

President Cyril Ramaphosa (L) of South Africa, President Xi Jinping (centre) of People's Republic of China and President Uhuru Kenyatta (R) of Kenya during FOCAC meeting in 2018.

If ever there was a time China demonstrated its fidelity to Africa, then it must be during this period of COVID-19 pandemic.

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China captured the headlines, when in an effort to boost Africa’s fight against the deadly respiratory disease, it started providing medical aid besides dispatching medical teams across the continent.

The Asian economic powerhouse will go down in history as a nation that almost single-handedly sustained a constant supply of personal protective equipment and manpower to the African people in a move aimed at containing the spread of the virus.

It will also be remembered that the Chinese government spearheaded a campaign to have other international lenders restructure loans that were due for repayment in a bid to cushion African countries mostly affected by the novel coronavirus and redirect resources towards containing the pandemic.

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This gesture from Beijing appears reciprocal given that initially when the virus was largely within China’s territory, African countries’ foreign ministers were among the first to express solidarity with China in the fight against the contagion, emphasizing the need for international cooperation.

Building economic partnerships

Recent actions by the two sides aside, before the pandemic struck, the Sino-Africa cooperation was already on an upward trajectory.

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The economic and political relations between China and Africa have been evolving. On the economic front, China’s involvement in Africa can be seen through aid, special concessions, debt relief, scholarships, provision of education and training of various professionals, not forgetting huge investments in infrastructural projects.

The past decade has witnessed a significant increase in China’s engagement in Africa. Analysts hold the view that the cornerstone to this growing engagement is Forum on China Africa Cooperation.

Since its establishment in the year 2000, FOCAC has become the main means by which the two sides conduct dialogue over the general direction of this relationship.

This mechanism has rapidly intensified China-Africa collaboration especially in the area of trade.

It is through this platform, for instance, the two sides agreed to encourage preferential access of products originating from Africa’s less developed countries into the Chinese market.

But trade facilitation is just one component of this major cooperation plan. Fundamentally, under FOCAC, the two sides have agreed to explore other partnership arrangements such as in the areas of industrial promotion, agricultural modernization, infrastructure connectivity, financial services, green development, capacity building, healthcare, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security.

Given its structure and its contribution so far, FOCAC appears to have earned the support of almost the entirety of African governments.

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Keen observers believe Africa was attracted by the fact that this platform promotes political equality and mutual trust, win-win economic cooperation, mutually enriching cultural exchanges, assistance in security, and solidarity and coordination in international affairs.

“With concerted efforts and strong support of the Chinese and African people, the two sides will meet the goal of building an even stronger China-Africa community with a shared future.” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a message to celebrate FOCAC’s  20th anniversary.

The FOCAC Summit, held after every three years usually reflects China’s priorities in foreign strategy.

This is why in the 2018 summit in Beijing, for instance, President Xi took time to meet every leader from countries present, deliberating the role to be played by each to realize what has come to be known as the Chinese dream and the African dream.

The Chinese leader undertook to ensure his country continues to strengthen its engagement with Africa as it sustains the pursuit of a win-win partnership with the continent.

“China and Africa have forged closer ties since the last century. We have jointly successfully identified and implemented highly transformational projects on the continent,” President Xi remarked at the close of the 2018 summit in Beijing

His sentiments resonated well with those of African leaders who lauded FOCAC as a tool that has provided Africa and China with a well-developed channel for closer economic partnership.

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“The founders of the partnership had studied the lessons of history; they knew the realities, and they were moved by the legitimate aspirations of Africa and China’s peoples,” Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

Infrastructure development

China and Africa are jointly implementing projects under Belt and Road Initiative while promoting the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Suspicion, most notably from the west, has characterized China’s main agenda in Africa. But amid this scepticism, there is concurrence that China has done many positive things on the continent.

So far, China has financed thousands of strategic infrastructure projects in Africa under the Belt and Road Initiative, and extended tens of billions of dollars in commercial loans to African governments for development.

Africa is still lagging behind on every measure when it comes to infrastructure coverage. Investments from China are one of the few ways African countries can plug deficit when it comes to infrastructure development it so desperately needs.

Through FOCAC, Africa appears set to continue looking to China for the foreseeable future as a source of funding.


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