Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian unveiling the Mandarin Teaching Station of Confucius Institute at Clairwood Secondary School, south of Durban. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Chinese Ambassador Lin Songtian posed the question to renowned scholars from China and Africa yesterday at the historic Governance and Socioeconomic development conference in Tshwane on Tuesday: "If China Can Succeed in Developing, Why not Africa?"

Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed with African leaders at the FOCAC Summit last year to deepen people-to-people exchanges, and to facilitate exchanges on governance and socioeconomic development. This promise has been kept with the official opening of the China Africa Institute (CAI) in Beijing in April this year, and with the Symposium on Governance and Socioeconomic Development co-hosted by the Human Sciences Research Council and the CAI this week in Tshwane. 

The President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Xie Fuzhan led a delegation to South Africa this week to attend the symposium which was attended by government officials, renowned experts and scholars from China and the continent. 

“We need to create the opportunity to share ideas on where to go and how to get there,” Chinese Ambassador Lin Songtian said in his keynote address. Songtian credited China’s unparalleled development success in such a short space of time to its governance capacity, and the commitment of the Communist Party of China to “put people first.” 

Songtian noted that China achieved long-term social and political stability which is a precondition for prosperity and rapid development. 

Songtian highlighted China’s achievements such as its annual average growth rate of 9.5%, and its per capita GDP having gone from US$35 in 1949, to US$156 in 1978, to US$10 000 in 2019. There are now less than 3% of the Chinese population living in poverty, and the country is the largest trader and manufacturer, has the largest foreign exchange reserves, and sends US$1.9 trillion in Foreign Direct Investment out of the country. 

“We must work together for common prosperity. The West will never agree, because we jump over them. They are scared and try to contain China,” Songtian said. The purpose of the 10 major cooperation plans of FOCAC is to help the African continent facilitate industrialisation and modernisation. 

Fuzhan argued that China’s governance experience provides a reference for those who want to accelerate development. “China respects development models that suit development conditions, and we don’t say that others have to copy China,” Fuzhan said. 

The CEO of the HSRC Craig Soudien called this week’s conference “historic,” and hailed the creation of the CAI, calling it a major platform for collaboration to bring together policy makers. He characterised the role of the HSRC in such collaboration as being to act as an exchange platform to deepen understanding, develop research programs, train professionals, and support scholars through exchanges and seminars. 

* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor