The forum on China-Africa co-operation, a collective consultative and dialogue mechanism between China and Africa, set up in 2000, held its 5th ministerial conference in China’s capital, Beijing for two days between July 19 and 20. At the Great Hall of the people, adjoining the legendary Tiananmen Square, venue of the two day gathering between Chinese leaders and their African counterparts, Chinese President Mr. Hu Jintao, declared that “since the past 12 years since the founding of the forum, member states, maintaining unity and working together have made important progress in strengthening the mechanism of co-operation.”
The conference theme was, “Build on past achievements and open up new prospects for the new type of China-Africa Strategic partnership” drew heavily from the satisfaction expressed by members in the joint declaration. They noted that all past commitments in the practical steps to deepen co-operation between the two sides were fully achieved. Since the past three years, China has maintained the momentum of Africa’s largest trading partner with a total trade worth of 166.3 billion U.S dollars, three times, the figure in 2006.
According to President Hu Jintao in his opening address, cumulative Chinese direct investment in Africa has exceeded 15 billion US dollars, with investment projects covering 50 countries. The African Union’s conference centre and office complex built by China has been handed over while China’s assistance to African has been growing steadily. The conference noted that at the last count, China had built over 100 schools, 30 hospitals, 30 anti-malaria centres, 20 agricultural technology demonstration centres in Africa and has fulfilled the commitment of providing 15 billion US dollars of a preferential lending nature to countries in the continent.
Further appraising the dynamics of Sino-African co-operation, the conference noted that China and Africa have stepped up co-operation in people to people contacts and cultural exchanges which featured activities as Chinese/African cultures in Focus, Joint Research and exchange plan, think-tanks Forum, people Forum and young leaders Forum. In addition to these activities, China has trained close to 40,000 African personnel in various sectors and provided over 20,000 government scholarships to African countries, while 20 pairs of leading Chinese and African universities have entered into cooperation under the 20+20 co-operation plan for Chinese and African institutions of higher learning. Against this background President Hu Jintao told the conference that “facts have shown that the new type of China-Africa strategic partnership is the result of continuous growth of the traditional friendship between the two sides. It meets the fundamental interests of China and Africa and conforms to the global trend of peace, development and co-operation”.
According to him, “the forging of this partnership has inaugurated a new momentum to China-Africa exchanges and co-operation.” He further expressed confidence that “the new type of China-Africa strategic partnership will embrace an even brighter future”. Unfolding a package of practical co-operation in the next three years, the Chinese President announced that the government “will take measures in five priority areas to support the cause of peace and development in Africa and boast a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership. The first measure is to expand co-operation in investment and financing to support sustainable development in Africa. To this end, the Chinese government will shell out a whopping 20 billion U.S dollars of credit line to African countries to assist them in developing infrastructure agriculture, manufacturing and small and medium-sized enterprises.
These critical sectors that would receive China’s concessional financing are generally acknowledged as the potential key drivers to any meaningful and sustainable economic development in Africa. Observers generally believe that Beijing has through this initiative touch on the fundamentals of Africa’s development challenge.
Secondly, China would increase assistance to Africa to bring the benefits of development to the African people and to this end; China would build more agricultural technology demonstration centres to increase production capacity. China also pledge to implement African talents programme through which it will train 30,000 personnel in various sectors, offer 18,000 government scholarships and build cultural and vocational skills training facilities in African countries. Among further measures to be taken in this regard, China would send 1,500 medical personnel to Africa to provide free treatment for cataract patients and also help African countries enhance capacity building in meteorological infrastructure and forest protection and management and continue to carry out well-drilling and water supply projects to provide safe drinking water for the African people.
Thirdly in the priority, China will support African integration process and help Africa enhance capacity for overall development through establishing a partnership with Africa on transnational and trans-regional infrastructural development.
The fourth priority would be to boost and enhance people-to-people friendship and to this effect, China has set up a China-Africa press exchange centre” in China to encourage exchanges and visits between Chinese and African media and exchange of correspondents by media organisations of the two sides.
And the fifth priority would be to promote peace and stability in Africa’s development through the ‘initiative on China-Africa cooperative partnership for peace and security through which China would provide financial support for the A.U peace keeping missions in Africa and the development of the African standby force.
The United Nations Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, who attended the conference called China-African forum a good example of South-South co-operation, enjoining African leaders to learn from China’s experience in its economic growth and social development. Tanzania’s foreign minister, Mr. Bernard Mbembe, who led his country’s delegation, called China, the greatest ally of the continent of Africa, noting, “no matter whether a country was devastated by civil war, drought, floods or diseases, the Chinese will be there”.
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa hailed the African-China new type partnership, saying that it is the first of such international partnership to bring concrete benefits to Africa. Chinese foreign minister, Mr. Yang Jiechi, told a news conference that the fifth ministerial conference has been a huge success and that the “package, covering investment, aid, social development, African integration, non-official contact, peace and security is much broader and richer in content than before”.
A crucial and significant aspect of the Forum on China-Africa co-operation, since its establishment in 2000 has been to enunciate practical items of co-operation within a specific period, usually a three year interval between one conference and another and a dutiful and prompt fulfilment of all specified items within the period outlined or even earlier.
However, while the Sino-Africa co-operation have received resounding regards for its practical impacts and its outstanding feature of political equality and economic win-win framework, Western critics still at loss at the cruise success of contemporary Sino-African relations do their best to pour it a cold water. US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, at the start of her 11 day Africa tour in Dakar, Senegal claimed without calling China by name that Washington was committed to “a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extract it”. She added that “the days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves having nothing or very little behind should be over in the 21st century”. Still aiming a snippet at Beijing without the courage to call her by name, Clinton, said, “America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep the resources flowing”. She claimed that not every partner makes that choice but we “do and we will”.
However, if this is another tutorial to Africa, she should re-read the letter written by Nigeria late Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed to a former US President, Mr. Gerald Ford in 1975, the “Africa has come of age” and knows quite well what it wants.
At the action-packed Beijing conference last month, Africa’s newest state, the Republic of South Sudan and the African Union Commission were formally admitted as members of the Forum on China-African co-operation, FOCAC.