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What you need to know about Focac

(in the pic - HE President Zuma and HE President Xi Jinping shake hands after addressing a joint press conference). HE President Zuma welcomed HE President Xi Jinping on a state visit to South Africa. Pretoria, Union Building, 02/12/2015, Kopano Tlape

(in the pic - HE President Zuma and HE President Xi Jinping shake hands after addressing a joint press conference). HE President Zuma welcomed HE President Xi Jinping on a state visit to South Africa. Pretoria, Union Building, 02/12/2015, Kopano Tlape

Published Dec 4, 2015

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#Focac: Johannesburg - The Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac) is taking place in Johannesburg.

Here’s what you need to know...

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How does the government plan to make use of the Focac strategic partnership to address the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment that our country is facing?

Focac is a platform focusing on multilateral projects between African countries and China based on the important accepted premises of South-South co-operation and equality. Traditionally, Focac Ministerial Meetings, and in this case, the Johannesburg Summit, provide the opportunity for new projects and areas of co-operation to be announced. Within the partnership, there is a focus on infrastructure development, debt relief, poverty eradication, industrialisation, investment promotion, market-access expansion, agriculture co-operation, science and technology co-operation, health co-operation, education co-operation and people-to-people cultural exchanges, among others. When compared to the nine challenges identified in the National Development Plan, including unemployment, infrastructural and health and education challenges, there are clear bilateral opportunities for South Africa arising from the relationship.

Why is it that Africa has opted for a country-(China)-to-continent (Africa) partnership rather than a continent-to-continent level of strategic partnership?

Focac was initiated by China as a partnership platform between countries in 2000. At that time, it was not a question of weighing up and choosing a preferred model. Participation in Focac is voluntary and also based on the status of individual countries’ diplomatic relations with China.

Additionally China, with a population of over 1.3 billion people, and Africa, with a combined population of over 1 billion people, are part of the developing world and can share experiences, expertise and co-operation on the common challenges of eradicating poverty, creating employment, transferring skills and combating socio-economic deficits.

Are all 54 African countries part of Focac?

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No. Only those countries which have formal diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Membership of the AU does not automatically translate into membership of Focac as the partnership is not administered through the AU.

Is the trade between the South Africa-China strategic partnership equally balanced and mutually beneficial?

Currently the balance of bilateral trade is in China’s favour. However, Focac is not about bilateral trade per se as it is a multilateral partnership with a broader focus. Other issues such as investment, training programmes and infrastructure development projects on the continent also bear consideration.

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Are skills and infrastructure development high on Focac's agenda? And who sets the agenda for Focac?

Yes, these issues are prioritised. Both co-chairs have been engaged in a lengthy process of negotiating the areas of focus that will be covered during the upcoming summit. These have also been consulted with other African member states. South Africa has sought to place front and centre key issues of interest such as infrastructure development, especially given President Jacob Zuma’s role as chair of the Presidential Infrastructural Championing Initiative; as well as co-operation in skills development and training, technology transfer, development of beneficiation capacity, environmental protection and renewable energy, to name a few. The issue of socio-economic transformation looms large and to this end poverty eradication and job creation are also prioritised.

Does South Africa’s involvement in Focac have the same impact on the country’s growth as its Brics South-South co-operation platform?

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It would be exceedingly difficult to try to compare the two. The nature of the two relationships is structurally and politically different, although there is an overlap with China. It is difficult to quantify the exact contribution of Focac to South Africa’s growth because South Africa is not the sole direct beneficiary – it is a platform for activities between China and nearly 50 African countries. China’s support for infrastructure projects, education, skills and technology transfer to name a few benefit South Africa’s economic growth directly, but similar activities in the rest of Africa may also indirectly benefit South Africa because improved socio-economic conditions on the rest of the continent improve the trading environment and thereby help South African export and investment opportunities.

How does the AU plan to make use of Focac to realise the African Agenda?

Focac, unlike most other African multilateral partnerships, is not co-ordinated or managed through the AU, although the AU has Member Country status. However South Africa, in its role as co-chair, has sought to incorporate reference to the AU’s Agenda 2063 and its priority projects such as road, air, railway and communications networks in the draft outcome documents.

THE STAR

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