Africa-China summit focuses on deeper bilateral ties
China is Africa’s biggest trading partner, says South African minister Jeff Rade
China’s president Xi Jinping walks with his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma ahead of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation. Photograph: Sydney Seshibedi/Reuters
While much of the attention at the opening today of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation will be on what new loans and trade proposals Beijing tables, the talks also reflect a deepening of both regions’ bilateral ties.
The importance of the two-day summit to hosts South Africa was made clear on Tuesday by minister in the presidency Jeff Radebe, who described the 15-year-old relationship with China as key to Africa’s future development.
“China is the biggest trading partner not only with South Africa but Africa as a whole, which indicates that the future is with China,” Radebe told the Chinese-Africa Media Summit in Cape Town. “So, we need to nurture this relationship and co-operation so that it is mutually beneficial.”
The goal of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, which was established in 2000, is to promote bilateral ties and co-operation between China and Africa through dialogue and partnerships.
Since the forum’s inception, trade between the two regions has increased from a modest $10 billion to $220 billion (€202 billion) and China’s investment in Africa has topped $30 billion, Chinese ambassador to Kenya Liu Xianfa said on Sunday.
“Chinese companies have invested in various fields such as finance, telecommunication, energy, manufacturing and agriculture, thus creating more than 100,000 local jobs,” said Liu, adding that their financial support to date had funded about 5,675km of railways and 4,507km of roads across Africa.
Sizable contributionData shows that more than 3,000 Chinese companies are operating in Africa, in all but a handful of the continent’s nations. In return for its sizable contribution to African development, China gets preferential access to markets, raw materials and the energy resources it needs to continue developing its economy.
That this is the first forum summit to take place on African soil is being hailed by stakeholders as a sign of the maturing relationship between the continent and China; so, too, was the organisers’ decision to upgrade for the first time yesterday’s ministerial meeting to a leaders’ summit.
The summit proper today and tomorrow will be co- chaired by China’s president Xi Jinping and his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma. A significant number of African heads of state will also attend.
Experts confidently expect China to use the summit to outline its new loans and trade proposals for the continent as part of a three-year co-operation package, despite its own slowing economic growth.
The summit also should see the adoption of the Johannesburg Declaration – the latest action plan that outlines measures aimed at consolidating the two regions’ growing co-operation in a variety of areas.
These include infrastructural development, economic co- operation, debt relief, investment and industrial growth.
More specifically, the declaration will facilitate the implementation of projects contained in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 strategy, which includes the development of a continental high-speed railway network, a unified African aviation market and the creation of a free trade zone.
John Stremlau, a visiting professor at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, who has a special interest in China, wrote in the institution’s The Conversation publication recently that those interested in the summit needed to look beyond the pomp and publicity surrounding the potential loans.
Political realities“We should listen carefully to the pro-democracy comments leaders offer as the preferred political foundation for pan-African integration and Sino-African co-operation. From these we should try to discern new political realities beneath the hypocrisy and hype,” Prof Stremlau said.
It will also be interesting to see to what extent the deepening relationship between the two regions is reflected by a willingness to balance out the trade aspects of their partnership, because at present China is exporting far more products to Africa than it imports.
Another concern that will likely be addressed is the suspicion that Africa is not benefiting enough from developing skills or technology transfer from China despite the frequent pledges made by Beijing to bring this about.