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A new Africa, a new China

Marcus Vinicius de Freitas | Posted : September 24, 2018

The Beijing Declaration “Toward and Even Stronger China-Africa Community with a Shared Future” - and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021), resulting from the last FOCAC held on September the 3rd and 4th 2018, in Beijing, showed the China-Africa cooperation will increase deeper in the near future, clearly demonstrating a new era for both China and Africa. FOCAC currently comprises China and 53 African countries. 

China, slowly but surely, is securing its place as the world leader, steadily replacing the United States as the most important player in the international scenario and solidifying the transition from the Atlantic to the Pacific axis. Africa, the new frontier for economic growth, has reaffirmed its independence and commitment to the construction of a brighter future, with a growing youth base that will push the continent into development levels never dreamed of. China complements Africa and vice versa. This relationship, as the parties agreed, should be based on the following principles: mutual respect, fairness, justice, win-win cooperation, world peace, development and most importantly, non-interference in each others’ internal affairs and development path. 

Despite the usual criticisms from the West to undermine Chinese investments around the world, seen by many as a new form of colonialism, the relationship between China and Africa is more a of win-win partnership than a zero sum game. "China is the largest developing country. Africa is the continent with the most developing countries,” affirms the declaration executed by the Heads of State and Government attending the Forum. There is synergy in their relations, which allow both to gain. Though Chinese values and culture - as we currently evaluate - may not constitute the ultimate soft power element, as defined by Joseph Nye, Chinese power in international relations is growing exponentially. It should be stressed, too, that China does not seek to convey the aspirational values preached by the United States. China, nonetheless, brings to the table exactly what African countries need and Western countries no longer have condition to offer: trade, investment, financing and infrastructure to create a new reality for growth and development. China does not bring aspirations, but pragmatism and solutions to address the bottlenecks Africa has. This opens up not only opportunities for more trade with China but for the entirety of the world. 

China can also teach three important lessons to the world: (i) a leading elite highly committed to find and implement long-term solutions can create new realities for its citizenry; (ii) a hard-working population who, without many of the social benefits and entitlements usually deemed essential in many Western countries, can generate growth, wealth, and most importantly savings to secure steady development; and (iii) cheap labour can go a long way in building a successful story. 

The China-Africa Cooperation should be able to create a new base from where growth can happen in a more widespread form. Differently from the past, the Chinese - according to Xin Jinping’s opening address - promise neither to preach nor to interfere. Of course, funds flow as certain milestones are reached, but China does not want to convert Africa to its values. In fact, there is one principle China wants to convert Africa into: trade. This is, in reality, China’s greatest soft and hard power. Additionally, China is capable to supply whatever is necessary to Africa and the world, through enhanced connectivity, infrastructure, railway development and industrialisation in Africa, and by encouraging companies from both sides to explore more ways to create wealth.

As the logistics in Africa improves, as a result from Chinese technology and infrastructure investments, hopefully China will open up its borders to accept more and more African products in that country. What African countries should also do is to seek ways to open African multinationals in China to ensure intra-industry trade takes place more intensively, creating a dual interest and leading to a more solid and intense partnership. In the future, as China and Africa practice more openness, transparency, and win-win results, cross investments should become more of a reality, with a view to promoting high-quality and sustainable development for all. 

Other areas discussed during FOCAC included the usual support to One-China Policy (where Taiwan is not recognised as an independent country, but as a rebellious province) and the required changes in the structure of global governance, particularly the United Nations and the Bretton-Woods Institutions - International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, namely - whose structures do not take into consideration all changes in the global economic and political scenario that has taken place after the Second World War. 

On a final note, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will add even more investments from China into Africa. BRI’s purpose is to address three relevant Chinese long-term objectives: (i) transform the Renminbi in an international, easily tradable currency; (ii) reduce the exposure of China to US Dollar or Euro fluctuations; and, (iii) secure acquisition of Chinese equipment guaranteeing continuous economic growth and higher levels of employment within China. Such strategy, combining economics, diplomacy, military and other statecraft instruments, will secure China the kind of power that the United States, even during the Cold War, never had.  

The road to development and economic growth is long. However, the last FOCAC has at least showed some of the avenues to pursue in the coming years. Only time will tell whether such were the correct choices. The next meeting in Senegal in 2021 will allow to review whether such goals and agenda have been implemented and to change course, if necessary. One thing, however, is certain: a new China and a new Africa are coming forth and a much-different world order is being shaped. 

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