Brian Sokutu
Senior Print Journalist
5 minute read
3 Dec 2021
8:39 pm

Focac deepens China-Africa relations

Brian Sokutu

While lauding China-Africa relations, Monyae said it was 'unfortunate that many western countries view China’s cooperation with Africa through a geopolitical lens'.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (on the screen) delivers his speech during the China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting in Dakar, Senegal, on November 29, 2021. - China's President Xi Jinping on November 29, 2021 pledged to offer one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to Africa, in a speech made via videolink to a China-Africa summit near Senegal's capital Dakar. (Photo by SEYLLOU / AFP)

Against a background of some rich nations subscribing to vaccine nationalism – hindering progressive multilateralism when it comes to the sharing Covid vaccines – African Development Bank statistics have painted a bleak picture of pandemic-ravaged Africa’s gross domestic product contracting by 2.1% in 2020, with its projected growth in 2021 being lower than that in other regions.

Addressing this week’s International Conference on “China-Africa Cooperation in the New Era: Opportunities and Challenges”, Professor Zhang Yanqiu, deputy dean of the Institute for a community with Shared Future and director of the Africa Communication Research Center at the University of China, quoted World Bank figures, warning that the pandemic was estimated to push an additional 29 million Africans into extreme poverty by the end of 2021.

Africa, said Yanqiu, seemed to be particularly vulnerable, with the vaccine shortage being a challenge in the continent, especially when it came to curbing community transmission.

The pandemic has had “a huge impact on the global economy”.

Said Yanqiu: “We have been suffering from Covid-19 for nearly two years now.

“With the Omicron variant now present among some countries in Africa, it has raised the possibility of the fourth wave, if new cases continue to increase.

“Taking place under the backdrop of the pandemic, the forum demonstrates the firm will shared by China and Africa to jointly overcome difficulties, seek common development and reflects the core value of a China-Africa community with a shared future.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa has highlighted that China had demonstrated solidarity with the African continent in this regard.

“Solidarity and mutual assistance between China and Africa has not only consolidated Africa’s independent political status, but also enhanced Africa’s sustainable development capacity – presenting a bright China-Africa friendship landscape.

“President Xi Jinping has called on China and Africa to defeat the novel coronavirus with solidarity and cooperation.

“The two sides should work together to build a China-Africa community of health for all and take their comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership to a greater height.”

Addressing Focac, Jinping unveiled a 10-point blueprint, which included a billion Covid vaccine doses to be delivered to Africa, coming in the form of 600m doses as donation and 400m doses to be provided through joint production by Chinese and African countries.

More scathing of “hostile western countries” was University of Johannesburg director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies, Dr David Monyae.

While lauding China-Africa relations, Monyae said it was “unfortunate that many western countries view China’s cooperation with Africa through a geopolitical lens”.

“Western countries feel as if China’s cooperation with Africa is at their expense.

“Both China and Africa have had to survive under an international system that is not of their making.

“The current international order is inequitable and unfair for developing countries like China and African countries.

“It is biased towards the western countries who benefit disproportionately from the current system.

“Hence, China and Africa should cooperation in shaping a new international order that is based on justice and mutual benefit. 

“Multilateral platforms such as the UN, WTO, IMF could be used to make the international system fairer.

“The Sino-African relationship is mischaracterised as a manifestation of China’s ‘colonial ambitions’ in Africa.

“Western powers will always use their power and influence to try and undermine the China-Africa relationship,” said Monyae.

ALSO READ: China leader promises Africa 1 billion Covid vaccine doses

Monyae described Focac as “a foundation”.

He said: “The Focac has emerged as the lynchpin of the China-Africa relationship.

“As China and Africa undergo socio-economic transformations, the Focac will play an important role in formulating a common agenda.

“China and Africa should strengthen and consolidate the Focac mechanism, ensuring consistent communication and coordination of the two parties’ interests and priorities.”

According to Monyae, China and Africa enjoyed a long history of cordial relations spanning centuries.

“The two parties have fought colonialism side-by-side.

“China forged closer relations with Africa, despite it being declared the ‘hopeless continent’ by the western media.

“Under the auspices of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac), the relationship has grown in political, economic, and socio-cultural terms.

“As the relationship transcends to the next level, it faces new opportunities and challenges.

“The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a great opportunity for both sides, especially Africa.

“The BRI will help the continent get the infrastructure it needs to kickstart its economic transformation – expanding economic cooperation between China and Africa.

“The BRI programme has already produced state-of-the-art infrastructure such as the Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya,” said Munyae.

He said the digital technology was “the new development frontier with tremendous economic potential”.

Munyae: “China and Africa should cooperate to take advantage of the opportunities presented by digital transformation.

“China has played an immense role in expanding Africa’s digital infrastructure, such as the 3G and 4G networks.

“This has seen tens of millions of Africa go online and participate in the digital economy.

“However, the majority of Africans are still digitally excluded. As such, this is a promising area of cooperation that will yield great dividends.”

Shaping a democratic international order

“Both parties should be prepared to debunk the western agenda.”

In her remarks, Tania Romualdo – extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador of the Republic of Cabo Verde to the People’s Republic of China said: “Our friendship and cooperation – on international, regional and bilateral levels – developed in a very healthy and stable way.

“Even during the ongoing pandemic, bilateral high-level exchanges continue to increase and many regular meetings are happening also at governmental, parliamentarian, political parties’ level.

“People-to-people exchanges, restrained by the pandemic, are also slowly happening again, sometimes in digital or hybrid formats, showing our ability to adjust ourselves to this new and very challenging times.

“In a few days ago scientists and experts from an African country worked tirelessly to identify an emerging new variant of the virus and transparently shared the big achievement with the world.

“Unfortunately, instead of praises for this huge contribution to global science, there was stigmatisation, condemnation and adoption of unjustified travel ban measures.

“It is unfair and immoral to condemn Africa in that way and, once again, China acted different and announced it has no plans to further tighten its border restrictions because of this recently identified variant, adopting a scientific approach.

“China-Africa relations are in a great momentum and will continue on an amazing journey but they also still face some challenges to which special attention needs to be dedicated.”

Distinguished Chinese and African political, scientific and economic scholars addressed the gathering.

brians@citizen.co.za