African-Chinese relations at 'highest level ever'

Chinese President Li Jinping at the opening session of the Forum on Africa and China Cooperation. (Photo: Mujahid Safodien/AFP)

Chinese President Li Jinping at the opening session of the Forum on Africa and China Cooperation. (Photo: Mujahid Safodien/AFP)

The Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which took place on December 4 and 5, was not only historic because it was the first FOCAC summit to take place on the African continent; it was also historic because the summit took the relationship between Africa and China to its highest level ever, according to President Jacob Zuma.

In his closing remarks to the summit Zuma said the Johannesburg summit had propelled this partnership to that of a “comprehensive, strategic and co-operative partnership”.

Many African leaders called for a restructuring of the African-Chinese partnership, limited so far to the bilateral level, to be expanded to the regional and continental level. They also want more support from China for Africa’s efforts to develop an effective, local, industrial economy, which requires the strengthening of its human capacity and an effective transfer of technology for the guarantee of sustained growth.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who proposed the upgrade of relations at the opening session of the summit, announced that leaders attending the two-day summit had reached consensus on lifting China-Africa relations to a comprehensive, strategic co-operative partnership and said his country will roll out 10 major plans to boost co-operation with Africa in the next three years.

The package covers the areas of industrialisation, agricultural modernisation, infrastructure, financial services, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction and public welfare, public health, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security.

To ensure smooth implementation of the initiatives, Xi announced that China would provide $60-billion in funding support. This will include $5-billion in free aid and interest-free loans; $35-billion in preferential loans and export credit on more favourable terms; $5-billion of additional capital for the China-Africa Development Fund and a special loan for the development of African SMMEs; and a China-Africa production capacity co-operation fund with initial capital of $10-billion.

“China-Africa relations have today reached a stage of growth unmatched in history,” said Xi. “Let’s join hands ... and open a new era of China-Africa win-win co-operation and common development.”

The Chinese president said that the programmes will focus on helping African countries break the development bottlenecks of backward infrastructure, talent shortage and inadequate funds, accelerate industrialisation and agricultural modernisation, and realise independent and sustainable development.

Xi said China will establish a number of regional vocational education centres and several capacity-building colleges for Africa, train 200 000 technicians for African countries, and provide 40 000 training opportunities in China.

China will offer African students 2 000 education opportunities through degrees or diplomas and 30 000 government scholarships, he said, adding that each year his country will also invite 200 African scholars to visit China and 500 African youths to study there, as well as training 1 000 African media professionals.

Xi said China will launch 200 “Happy Life” projects and special programmes focusing on women and children, and cancel outstanding debts in the form of bilateral governmental zero-interest loans borrowed by the relevant least developed African countries that mature at the end of 2015.

China will carry out agricultural development projects in 100 African villages to raise rural living standards, send 30 teams of agricultural experts to Africa, and establish a “10+10” co-operation mechanism between Chinese and African agricultural research institutes.

“China is greatly concerned about the poor harvest caused by El Niño in many African countries and will provide ¥1-billion ($156-million) of emergency food aid to the affected countries,” said Xi.

The Chinese president announced that China would provide a total of $60-million in free aid to the African Union to support the building and operations of the African Standby Force and the African Capacity for the Immediate Response to Crisis.

“China will continue to participate in UN peacekeeping missions in Africa and support African countries’ capacity building in areas such as defence, counter-terrorism, riot prevention, customs and immigration control,” said Xi.

Established in 2000 to promote China-Africa friendship and co-operation, FOCAC groups China, 50 African countries that have established diplomatic ties with China, and the Commission of the African Union. 

Zuma, who co-chaired the summit with Xi, said in his closing remarks that the principles underlying the FOCAC partnership are “sincerity, mutual trust, equality, win-win co-operation, and mutual benefit”.

He said: “The theme of the summit, ‘Africa-China Progressing Together: Win-Win Co-operation for Common Development’, was most appropriate,” noting that Africa and China wish to “prosper together”.