By Azhar Azam
The Africa-China cooperation is described as a relationship between two partners in which Africa wants to gain from China’s development model and circumvent western pressure, to make political and economic reforms such as infamous structural adjustment, through Chinese soft lending and unconditional access to expertise.
China is a most reliable African ally and perhaps the only major economy never intended to colonize the continent. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in September 2018 defended Chinese involvement and refuted the western view that a new colonialism was taking hold in Africa.
The pandemic was expected to threaten the 30-plus year tradition during which every Chinese foreign minister kicked off the New Year from his visit to Africa but the virus couldn’t affect the unshakable friendship as Wang Yi successfully completed his first overseas tour in 2021 to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Botswana, Tanzania and Seychelles.
Since the first triennial FOCAC summit, two sides have closely worked together and delivered more than 70 percent outcomes on all eight major initiatives including industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, healthcare, people-to-people exchange and peace and security.
In the throes of global pandemic, Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is maintaining its momentum as more than 1,100 cooperation projects are going on seamlessly in Africa with about 100,000 Chinese technicians and engineers constantly giving their valuable contributions to improve the economic and social well-being of African communities.
The world’s second-largest economy hasn’t dithered to extend its steadfast support to help Africa mitigate a hard set of economic, infrastructure, poverty and security challenges. In addition to this, the association between the two ancient civilizations is so comprehensive and deep that every new concept only reinvigorates the already strengthened bilateral ties.
Besides opening a number of Confucius Institutes and establishing 150 pairs of sister cities in Africa to enhance the people-to-people ties, China has funded construction of soccer stadiums and government buildings in at least eight African countries to promote sporting and cultural activities and enrich African’s cultural life.
While progress on wide-reaching, public-oriented and eco-friendly projects will spread infrastructure networks, uplift trade, alleviate environmental risks and encourage more locally based industrial operations – Chinese efforts to engage African people in artistic and recreational events would buff up their hidden creative potential and add another dimension to reinvigorate an ever-growing relationship.
Between 2013 and 2018, the proportion of Chinese aid to Africa had increased to 47 percent from 36 percent in 2010-12. David Shinn, a professor at Elliot’s School of International Affairs at George Washington University, reckoned that Africa is now receiving $3.3 billion a year from China on account of foreign aid as compared to $2.5 billion previously.
The robust increase in foreign aid reflected China was regularly sharing the achievements of its economic growth and benefits of transition from low- to middle-income group with African people. It also reaffirmed that the long geographical distance could not restrict the intimate connection from transcending to the micro levels.
Out of some 42 countries that have started rolling out coronavirus vaccines, no one is from low-income states. As rich nations have taken complete control of the entire vaccine supply chain, billions of high-risk people in the developing world, with almost the entire Africa comprising over 50 nations, could be left out until next year.
Amid selfish gestures of wealthy countries to hoard vaccines for their citizens, China is building a COVID-19 vaccine delivery conduit to immunize Africa with a cold-chain air bridge from Shenzhen to a logistical hub in Addis Ababa with manufacturing capabilities in Egypt and Morocco. The big courtesy will win over African hearts and further elevate China’s standing in the continent.
Western media casts doubts on a promise made by China to provide vaccines to Africa on priority basis. The biased approach would take a dive as Egypt has already obtained the first batch of China’s Sinopharm vaccine on December 10 and Morocco received it on January 27 after Moroccan authorities found the Chinese vaccine complied with “international standards of quality and health safety.”
The seven consensuses Abuja and Beijing reached seven consensuses during Wang’s visit to Africa will promote bilateral cooperation on green and digital economy apart from accelerating Nigerian industrialization and improving independent development capabilities under BRI framework. The adoption of technology and clean economic expansion will reduce unemployment and poverty – key drivers fueling cultism, farming conflicts, kidnapping, banditry and violent extremism in Nigeria.
Green environmental protection, Blue Ocean and tourism are the three key areas China is willing to enhance collaboration with Seychelles. Beijing’s support to cope with climate change, pledge to encourage Chinese tourists to visit the small African island and cooperation in the fields of seafood farming, maritime scientific research and shipping transportation will diversify the heavily tourism-reliant economy.
On debt relief, China has signed debt service suspension agreements with 12 African countries and waived off the matured interest-free loans for 15 continental nations through the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative. While Beijing looks to widen the scope to other African countries to ease their debt crisis, the signing-up of the DRC and Botswana as 45th and 46th BRI partners will allow them to become part of a great clean-and-green development and modernization process.
The bottom line is that it’s not just Chinese financing, infrastructure development, trade boosting and industrialization efforts, which have charmed and fascinated the African governments and people to fall in love with China. Beijing has earned this honor through its understanding of Africa’s priorities, respect for African culture, care of the continent’s environment and people’s health and decades of untiring unwavering support for the continent.
Azhar Azam works in a private organization as market and business analyst and writes about geopolitical issues and regional conflicts. Views here represent author’s not necessarily DWC.