Shared norms and principles a strong foundation for Africa-China ties and solidarity

Gideon Chitanga is a Post Doctoral Researcher at the Centre for Africa China Studies, University of Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied

Gideon Chitanga is a Post Doctoral Researcher at the Centre for Africa China Studies, University of Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 11, 2024



Historical solidarity, national sovereignty and territorial integrity have become the key principles and evolving norms that bind Sino-Africa relations, levelling the historically skewed unipolar world which assigned African countries, and countries from the Global South to the periphery of the traditionally unipolar world.

Thus, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence equally express the continued quest for complete independence and self determination of Africa in particular, and the Global South in general.

On June 28, 2024, the People’s Republic of China held a conference to commemorate a major historical milestone, the 70th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

While issues of historical solidarity, national sovereignty and territorial integrity are taken for granted and downplayed particularly where it concerns African countries, and indeed the Global South, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence have become a cornerstone of Sino-Africa relations, and relations between China and Global South as open, inclusive, and universally applicable basic norms for international relations and fundamental principles of international law, shaping historic peaceful human progress reflected in growing mutually beneficial political and economic ties between China and Africa.

The conference to commemorate the founding of the Five Principles was attended by around 600 people, including former foreign political figures, representatives of international and regional organisations, envoys from more than 100 countries, experts and scholars, media, and business representatives.

The Chinese authorities put forward the Five Principles of Peaceful Existence in 1954 in the aftermath of two devastating world wars which were followed by the long-running cold war phenomenon, colonialism, and anti-colonial struggles for liberation to chart a path towards peaceful coexistence.

Some 70 years since these principles were expounded, they have become a hallmark of Chinese pursuit of peaceful coexistence, full realisation of national sovereignty, territorial integrity anchored on friendly economic and political cooperation and historical solidarity with Africa.

African countries waged liberation wars and civic-driven protests to unshackle themselves from colonial occupation and domination to assert their own independence, national sovereignty, and self-determination for more than half a century.

Unsurprisingly, the pursuit of peaceful mutually beneficial cooperation, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit, and historical solidarity with the Global South resonates with national, regional, and continental posture in many African countries, including the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU).

The more than 20 Asian and African countries that attended the Bandung Conference in 1955 embraced the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence within the framework of the 10 principles for handling state-to-state relations based on the Bandung spirit of solidarity, friendship, and cooperation.

The Non-Aligned Movement which emerged in the 1960s adopted the Five Principles as its guiding principles, and has continued to call for non-hegemonic norms in the practice of international relations.

The Declaration on Principles of International Law adopted at the 25th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1970 and the Declaration on the Establishment of the New International Economic Order adopted at the Sixth Special UNGA Session in 1974 both endorsed the Five Principles by including them in their international documents.

Fundamentally, African countries and the Global South at large continue to resist hegemonic coercive diplomacy, while calling for respect of differences in social system, ideology, history, culture, faith, development stage or size to foster relations based on mutual trust, friendship, and peaceful cooperation permissive of states, big and small to peacefully pursue their development paths without coercion.

Furthermore, this allows for post-colonial states to peacefully seek solutions to pervasive historical domestic and international disputes in a manner that allows them to foster stable nationhood and statehood. Many African countries continue to struggle with historically divisive structural socio-economic and political challenges which could be better resolved without the narrow limiting parameters set by former colonial powers.

In southern Africa, the land question continues to structure economic participation, leaving many black people marginalised, suffering the double scourge of poverty, inequality, and lack of economic opportunity. Post-colonial inter-state, and intrastate territorial interests fuelled major conflicts implicating former colonial powers.

During the 2000s, regime change, the removal of sitting governments deemed non-compliant to Western international norms became a policy of some major powers, triggering violent conflict and instability in such countries as Iraq, Libya, and Zimbabwe closer home. The conflict in Gaza has become a major emotional issue of gross violation of human rights and international law marking the blatant disregard of the self-determination and national sovereignty of the people of Palestine.

Many countries in the Global South do, therefore, find external interference in their domestic affairs a major challenge to their peaceful development, are sympathetic and share solidarity with peers seeking to resolve contradictory colonial legacies and contemporary conflicts through peaceful means, while fostering mutually beneficial cooperative relations to advance socio-economic progress.

In addition to the BRICS+, African countries have rallied behind emerging global initiatives led by China as these initiatives resonate with their aspirations to independently resolve their historical contradictions through home-grown solutions, while equitably participating as equal parties in multilateral affairs, whether collectively or as individual states.

The new initiatives such as the Global Development Initiative (GDI), Global Security Initiative (GSI) and Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI) embrace African countries, and countries from the Global South as equals, allowing them significant voices and opportunities in response to major global and national challenges in a world undergoing historic changes, presenting new challenges and opportunities.

Emerging financial institutions led by countries from the Global South and China offer new opportunities where the Western-dominated financial institutions have failed the continent. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Forum for Africa-China Cooperation (FOCAC), replicated by some Western countries and other economic giants as Africa+ One meetings have created major economic partnerships and opportunities for the continent rendering momentum to democratise the emerging global order beyond unipolarity.

African countries, firmly support the One-China policy in line with the United Nations (UN) position to recognise China with all its territories under the sole government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), upholding the inviolability of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Fifty-three African countries, including the mother body, the AU have formal diplomatic relations with China.

China has been the leading trading partner with the African continent, powering extensive infrastructure development, two-way trade in agriculture, mining and manufacturing and new technologies, anchoring effective mutually beneficial economic diplomacy, thriving people to people and cultural diplomacy.

Crucially, Sino-Africa historical solidarity, particularly against colonial domination, plunder and exploitation, and the vagaries of coercive conflictual Western interference in the domestic affairs of African countries have become an important factor of emerging African international relations beyond mere Western spheres of influence.

The violation of national sovereignty and territorial integrity at the behest of the West, or with subtle support of some Western powers invokes painful memories of colonial and post-colonial conflicts in African countries. African leaders and citizens are worried by what they call Western double standards, basically the zero-some pursuit of Western interests even when that violates international law and norms under the UN Charter.

Historical solidarity, national sovereignty and territorial Integrity are key principles and evolving norms which have become the thread that binds in Sino-Africa relations.

Gideon Chitanga is a Post Doctoral Researcher at the Centre for Africa China Studies, University of Johannesburg.

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