By Paul Tembe
The 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac), held from November 29 to 30 in Senegal, was a momentous event with a business-focused objective.
This Focac, the first to be hosted in a francophone country, achieved much in realising equal consultation and expanding consensus representing a combined population, in Africa and China, of 2.7 billion people.
This Focac’s theme, to “Deepen China-Africa Partnership and Promote Sustainable Development to Build a China-Africa with a Shared Future in a New Era”, was apposite.
It was a relevant theme after two unrelenting years of battling the cumulative effects of the Covid-19 global health and economic pandemic. The Focac conference is a welcome intervention since it highlights the fact that solutions to global crises transcend national or regional interests.
As such, the announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping in his opening address, that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) will donate 1 billion vaccines to African countries was a game-changing moment.
We would do well to recall that this donation comes on top of the 1.7 billion vaccine doses already distributed to 110 countries, with 50 of those in Africa. This example of what is called by China Daily “common actions for tangible benefit”, indicts western hegemons who give lip service, without material results, to international co-operation.
Quite clearly, solidarity across borders and beyond ideological differences is more important for Focac. As President Xi said, China and Africa have a “set a shining example for building a new type of international relations” based on pursuit of “the greater good and shared interests”.
If there is one abiding lesson from the emergence and spread of the new coronavirus variant called Omicron, it is the urgency to support President Cyril Ramaphosa’s loud call for Covid19 vaccine patent waivers at the World Trade Organization, and to diversify and expand to the less developed countries vaccines that saves lives and livelihoods since, after all, inaction on this front has been tangibly costly.
Therefore, it is encouraging that PRC firms have also committed to engage in joint vaccine production with their African counterparts, and on this front, local production has begun in Egypt, and agreements are being signed with Algeria and Morocco.
Such initiatives are not surprising and are sincere, surely, since they build on a foundation articulated and executed in previous Focac’s like the 2018 Beijing Summit.
A review undertaken at the Dakar Focac highlights the fact that a majority of undertakings made in Beijing, such as the eight major initiatives, have been implemented, like the $60 billion supporting funds that have since been disbursed, and co-operation agreements have been finished. Since its establishment in the year 2000, Focac has attained commendable success banking on the economic weight of the PRC.
In this regard, for example, Chinese companies have actualised common actions for tangible benefit by building in Africa more than 10 000km of railways, almost 100 000km of highways, 100 ports, and 1 000 bridges.
These key infrastructural projects provide a groundwork for the execution of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
It also helps a great deal that, for 12 consecutive years, China has remained Africa’s largest trading partner, coming without accompanying stringent structural adjustments that hobble rather than help countries grow their economies.
Common actions for tangible benefit find expression in that, from January to September this year, it is estimated that China-Africa trade linkages reached $185.2 billion, a sizeable increase from 2020 by more than 32%.
Of course, the challenge remains for Africa to transition to become a global economic player by adding value to its exported raw materials and a sizeable player in industrial goods production, as China has achieved in one human generation, a feat unprecedented in human history.
The Senegal Focac Summit, coming after the UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26) held in Glasgow, also announced a movement towards green economies and low-carbon energy development, which is important if we are to cut down greenhouse gas emissions since climate inaction has an irreversible tipping point.
Similarly, much also rests on the implementation in the three years of the co-authored China-Africa Co-operation Vision 2035 blueprint. Under this blueprint, for instance, it is anticipated that China will target reaching almost $300bn in imports from Africa, and will undertake digital economy projects in Africa to capitalise on its demographic dividend.
Lessons for South Africa abound in its relations with other countries and regions.
First, is the significance of leveraging its democratic project for building the common good in countries mired in conflict and internecine wars.
Second, is the effectiveness of decisive executive leadership in addressing societal problems instead of endlessly convening task teams and committees where nothing tangible is attained.
Third, is prioritising a select few areas for societal development and immediate implementation and monitoring, instead of including a smorgasbord of issues.
The 8th Focac Summit has reviewed progress made to date and announced its immediate future plans; what remains now is for countries and regions to place their shoulders to the wheel to implement the four summit resolutions, namely the 2035 Vision, the Sino-African Declaration on Climate Change, the Dakar Action Plan (2022-2024), and the Declaration of the Eighth Ministerial Conference of Focac.
* Professor Tembe is a Sinologist and founder of Sele Encounters.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.