Beijing was buzzing as we networked in hotel lobbies and arranged for seminars. “Trust the Chinese to pull off something as huge as this,” a colleague said to me. It was FOCAC 2018 and it was China’s chance to host the heads of state summit. Chinese President Xi Jinping was hosting every single African head of state, except for Swaziland, in Beijing.
With more than a thousand African representatives present in Beijing from over 600 African enterprises, Africans were networking with fellow Africans seeking investments in Africa, thanks to the Chinese.
The Forum on China-Africa Co-operation meets tri-annually. This year the event will be held in Dakar, Senegal, but, as with the first five meetings, it will be at ministerial level.
Johannesburg 2015 was the first time that a summit was held with more than 50 heads of African states present.
The meetings alternate between Africa and China, and this will be the fourth time that the African continent will host FOCAC.
The theme for this year’s conference, the eighth since being launched in 2000, will be to “Deepen China-Africa Partnership and Promote Sustainable Development to Build a China-Africa Community with a Shared Future in the New Era.”
The conference will, according to Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, “review and assess the follow-up implement of the outcomes of the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit as well as the joint China-Africa response to Covid-19, and chart the course for China-Africa relations for the next three years and more to come”.
Furthermore, four concrete resolutions will come from the conference, which include the Dakar Action Plan (2022–2024), the 2035 Vision for China-Africa Co-operation, the Sino-African Declaration on Climate Change, and the Declaration of the Eighth Ministerial Conference of FOCAC.
Recently, Qian Keming, the vice-minister of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), stated that lately bilateral trade between China and the continent stood at US$200 billion, while Chinese imports and exports to Africa reached US$100bn. From January to September 2021 alone, China-Africa trade topped at US$185.2bn, while Chinese direct investment into the continent totalled US$2.59bn for the same period. This was an increase of nearly 10% despite Covid-19.
Qian also noted exhibitions such as the ones in Hunan and Zhejiang provinces were set up to focus specifically on the import of African goods and services. To these exhibitions can certainly be added the annual China International Import Expo held in Shanghai.
Under FOCAC, co-operation expands in areas such as infrastructure, energy, tourism, trade and technology, especially in agriculture. As we can see, this year’s meeting will also include important issues of climate change.
Writing in local newspapers, Chinese ambassador to Tanzania, Chen Minglian, indicated the deep bonds and special relationships enjoyed between Chinese people and Africans. In particular, she pointed out how trade between Tanzania and China has increased fifty-fold, while in the fight against Covid-19, China supplied nearly 3.5 million doses of vaccines to Tanzania alone. In 2000, trade between China and Tanzania was at approximately US$100 million. Twenty years later, trade has gone up to US$4.58bn.
Much still needs to be done to ensure that the trade levels are equalised between China and Africa. As Africans, we must insist on FOCAC’s philosophy of mutually beneficial partnerships which guarantee win-win deals.
However, as Africans we must also begin to take our own national economies seriously and ensure that we create the correct capacity in order to meet Chinese demand. The Chinese market is ready for African goods and services yet, at the moment, it seems that we are satisfied with merely networking and creating a buzz.
* Seale completed his PhD in China-Africa relations at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.