From May 4 to11 this year, China’s Premier Li Keqiang paid official visits to Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya, while visiting the African Union headquarters and attending the World Economic Forum on Africa. Both the Chinese head of state and head of government have visited Africa since the new administration was established. This is not only a clear demonstration of Beijing’s commitment to developing ties with Africa; it highlights Africa’s growing international political and economic presence.
China’s rise and Africa’s renaissance have gone hand in hand, creating a historic opportunity for the development of China-Africa relations. However, the international situation remains complex and competition among great powers in Africa has intensified. This brings many internal and external challenges to the China-Africa relationship. Seizing opportunities, meeting challenges, and upgrading ties will continue to be major tasks. China’s strategic choices are critical.
1. Continue promoting South-South cooperation, and constantly enhance African governance capacities.
South-South cooperation is an important means of tackling global imbalances. It is also a vital support in advancing China-Africa relations. The promotion and further development of South-South cooperation must be based on improving the governance capabilities of African nations. In fact, the current developmental plight African societies face is this: how to choose a development path suitable for regional realities, how to achieve political and social stability in Africa, how to concentrate the superior resources of the region to participate in international competition and cooperation, and how to properly use favorable international factors to enhance Africa’s own development capabilities.
The keys to enhancing governance capacities in Africa are: achieving regional peace and stability, building strong and responsible governments, and exploring an effective development path. In this regard, there is tremendous scope for cooperation between China and Africa. In fact, African people have clearly expressed their ideas on exchanging experiences with China in state governance. On May 4, 2014, the Kenyan newspaper The People published an article on Li’s visit to Africa with the title “Africa can learn from China’s growth model.”
2. Actively participate in Africa’s peace-building, effectively securing Africa’s international rights.
Peace and stability in Africa are currently some of the most critical problems in the region, and also affect Africa’s sustainable development. China can use its platform as a UN Security Council permanent member to play a constructive role in UN peacekeeping in Africa. In fact, China has deployed the largest number of peacekeeping forces among the permanent UNSC members, making it an indispensable part of the African peacekeeping process. On the other hand, China needs to provide more assistance in promoting peace-building capabilities in Africa, such as technical support, staff training, and equipment. In other words, China should be an all-dimensional participant in the process of peace-building in Africa, engaging in specific peacekeeping operations and helping African countries increase their own peace-building and peace-keeping capabilities.
Historically, the China-Africa friendship was built on the foundations of political equality and mutual support and respect. Today, China has the ability to safeguard the legitimate rights of African countries in international affairs. Beyond that, China should play an active role in enhancing the voice and representation rights of African countries in international organizations. For example, China can clearly and persistently support African efforts to join as permanent members of the UN Security Council and increase their weight in the IMF, World Bank, and other institutions. This is not only an important means of balancing global power distribution, it is a significant manifestation of China’s African responsibility.
3. Combining principles and innovation to ensure the sustainable, healthy and stable development of relations.
To lay a solid foundation for the ongoing development of China-Africa relations, the Chinese government needs to establish confidence in its African diplomacy. In fact, compared to other countries, China has some advantages in this regard.
First, China-Africa relations have a clear direction. At the 2006 Beijing Summit of The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, Chinese and African leaders jointly proposed the construction of a “China-Africa New Strategic Partnership,” the core of which is “political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation, and cultural exchanges and mutual learning.” The partnership is based on the principles of “mutual respect, equality and mutual benefits, tolerance and mutual learning,” which is in line with Africa’s development interests and has a lasting vitality. Such a clear strategic vision provides an important political assurance for the smooth and steady development of bilateral relations.
Second, China-Africa relations have a clear development roadmap. China’s new administration has specific African policy initiatives. For instance, China will continue to expand investment and financing cooperation with Africa, and provide $30 billion in loan credits to Africa in three years, and take part in cross-border and inter-regional African infrastructure construction. China will train 30,000 African professionals in various sectors, offer 18,000 government scholarships, and take steps to improve the content and quality of the training programs in three years. Beijing has promised to grant zero-tariff treatment to 97 percent of exports from least-developed countries that have established diplomatic relations with China, pledging to put in place the relevant measures by 2015. These specific policies provide important advantages for Africa’s infrastructure construction, personnel training, capital accumulation, and trade with China, which also helps strengthen China-Africa relations.
Third, the Chinese government has always positioned safeguarding the interests of developing countries, including African countries, as a fundamental aspect of China’s diplomacy, something that has earned it moral superiority in Africa. On March 28, 2013 in Durban, South Africa, President Xi Jinping made a speech at a breakfast meeting with African leaders, clearly stating that China will always be a steadfast defender of Africa’s peace and stability, a firm promoter of African prosperity and development, a staunch supporter of African unity for self development, and a firm supporter of Africa’s equal participation in international affairs. This clearly defined China’s policy towards relations with Africa, while bolstering its image as a responsible power.
Change is a constant, and China’s African policy is no exception. As Xi said: “To maintain the vitality of China-Africa relations, we must advance with the times.” While adhering to the principals of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit, and win-win cooperation, China’s African policy needs innovation that keeps pace with international realities and African and Chinese capabilities. The vitality of China’s Africa strategy depends on constantly updating its policies and the institutional mechanisms of relations, while combining China’s national interests and Africa’s development interests. This will maintain vigor and ensure that the relationship continues to grow.
Chen Jimin, Ph.D is an Assistant Research Fellow for the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at the Party School of Central Committee of C.P.C. The views presented here are the author’s own.