10 December 2021
Compiled by Obert Bore (Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association)
The Forum on China- Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) is a platform that was established for diplomatic engagements between China and Africa on matters of mutual interest. Ever since the establishment of FOCAC in 2000, China has extended huge financial and economic support to African countries. The 8th edition of the recently ended FOCAC 2021 took place in Dakar, Senegal and was held under the theme “Deepen China-Africa Partnership and Promote Sustainable Development to Build a China-Africa Community with a Shared Future in the New Era”. This blog seeks to analyse some of the key aspects of the Vision 2035 for China-Africa Cooperation which was adopted in Dakar and what it means for Africa.
Vision 2035 for China-Africa Cooperation
This vision paves way for future strategic partnership for the next 15 years and improving the quality and efficiency of bilateral cooperation. For the next three years, the plan is for China to work with Africa towards implementing programmes that deepen partnerships and sustainable development. Some of key programmes are discussed below;
- Medical and health program – China pledged 1 billion of vaccines to Africa, which will come in the form of 600 million doses as donation and 400 million doses to be provided through joint production.  This is crucial as it will advance the African Union (AU)’s goal of vaccinating 60 percent of the Africa’s population against the COVID-19, by 2022. While China is already the largest supplier of vaccine doses to African countries, this pledge would mean that China is the largest vaccine donor. While the pledge is a welcome development, Africa needs to build its own capacity to produce its own vaccines, and China can capacitate the continent’s health professionals through joint production of vaccines, transfer of skills and knowledge of pharmaceutical products within the continent. Thus, the medical and health program is momentous as it advances the realisation of aspirations for a continent where African people have a sound health and well-being as espoused by the first goal of AU’s Agenda 2063.
- Poverty reduction and agricultural development – this program is primarily meant to address Africa’s food insecurity challenges and reduce poverty through promoting agro-tech exchange, vocational training and skills development. To achieve this, China committed to support the establishment of 10 poverty reduction and agricultural projects for Africa and send 500 agricultural experts to Africa. Interesting to note is that China also pledged to support the Alliance of Chinese Companies in Africa for Corporate Social Responsibilities in launching the initiative of “100 Companies in 1,000 Villages”. The mentioning of CSR at the highest political and diplomatic level could be a sign that China is beginning to take serious allegations against its companies that fail to respect their corporate responsibilities when they invest abroad. For Africa, FOCAC could be utilised as a platform to raise issues that affect communities as a result of failure to adhere to principles of corporate social responsivity such as transparency, accountability and sustainability.
Furthermore, it must be emphasised that the first ten year plan of the AU’s Agenda 2063 seeks to end poverty in Africa and build a shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent. Similarly, aspirations for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development is anchored on the development of modern agriculture technology for increased production, productivity and value addition in order to contribute to Africa’s collective food security. Thus, these promises can significantly contribute towards achieving inclusive and sustainable development in Africa.
- Trade promotion – Over the past 20 years, trade between China and Africa has increased twenty-fold. In 2021 alone, trade between China and Africa increased by 40.5% and was valued at a record high of USD 139.1 billion. However, Sino-Africa trade flow has been highly influenced by China’s interests in Africa’s primary commodities which is in turn fuel Africa’s own overdependence on the export of such natural resources. To increase imports and scope of products from Africa, China committed to open “green lanes” for African agricultural products, speed up the inspection and quarantine procedures, and charge zero-tariff for certain products. However, there were no indications as to the goods that are likely to attract zero tariff. It is imperative to highlight that trade facilitation is crucial for Africa in order to deal with trade costs, customs delays and infrastructural gaps. Interestingly, China undertook to provide $10 billion dollars of trade finance to support African exports to China, build in China a pioneering zone for in-depth China-Africa trade, China-Africa industrial park for Belt and Road cooperation and also support the secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). While the AfCFTA is an African initiative meant to boost intra-African trade, China seems to be interested in supporting this initiative for various strategic reasons. For instance, supporting trade infrastructure development in Africa such as construction of roads, airports and railway lines will reduce the amount of time and cost to transport goods from landlocked countries to coastal ports for shipping to China. Again, supporting the AfCFTA trade infrastructure will feed into China’s Belt and Road initiative that is meant to develop an expanded and interdependent market for China. Remarkably, if China’s target to reach $300 billion of African imports over the next three years is achieved, and $300 billion in annual trade by 2035, China would become Africa’s largest export destination.
- Investment promotion – According to the 2021 World Investment Report, published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, China was the fourth biggest investor in Africa between 2015 and 2020. For the next three years, Chinese businesses and companies will be expected to invest not less than $10 billion in Africa. In order to meet this goal, China committed to establish a platform for China-Africa private investment promotion, which will be in the form of 10 industrialization projects for Africa, extension of credit facility worthy $10 billion to African banks and African small and medium entities on a priority basis. The promises on promoting investment, private sector cooperation and support to African SMEs are invaluable, against the backdrop of high unemployment rates, low investment for start-ups in Africa and overreliance on informal businesses.
- Digital innovation – China undertook to support the development of 10 digital economy projects for Africa, set up centres for China-Africa cooperation on satellite remote-sensing application, and support the development of China-Africa joint laboratories, partner institutes, and scientific and technological innovation cooperation bases. In light of Africa’s digital divide, investment in digital technology infrastructure will increase internet penetration, affordability and quality in Africa. Even though Africa’s digital divide has been lagging, the continent has shown readiness to embrace full digitization, as evidenced by the increase in technologies, particularly in the mobile banking services. The digital innovation programme ties in with Africa’s vision for a continent underpinned by science, technology and innovation for sustainable development.
- Green development program – China promised to build 10 green development, environmental protection and climate action projects for Africa, and support the development of the “Great Green Wall”. Additionally, China pledged that it would build centres of excellence on low-carbon development and climate change adaptation in Africa. In light of the impact of climate change on livelihoods security in Africa, China’s support towards greening Africa’s economy has the potential to generate knowledge and awareness on the continent on green economy and its economic, social and environmental benefits, which could encourage governments and stakeholders to refocus policies. Furthermore, this support critically addresses Africa’s quest for climate finance and adaption support which the 26th United Nations climate change conference could not deliver.
- Peace and security program – China undertook to support 10 peace and security projects for Africa and deliver military assistance to the AU, and individual states for capacity to independently maintain regional security and fight terrorism, and conduct joint exercises and on-site training. For years, the AU has been grappling with maintaining peace and security in many parts of the continent, and there has been numerous incidents of conflict such as the recent insurgency in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, Tigray conflicts in Ethiopia, Afar-Somalia crisis and many others. Resultantly, continental frameworks and strategies have been developed (i.e.AU Peace and Security Council, Panel of the Wise and Peace Fund), with a mandate to silence guns on the continent. While these structures have been in place, they have not been able to silence guns or respond timeously to insurgencies due to challenges such as limited capacity and military resources. Thus, the support from China to deliver military assistance would go a long way in maintain peace and security in Africa.
The Vision 2035 reinforces China’s presence in Africa for the next 15 years and demonstrates China’s desire to further deepen its footmark on the continent. This strategic vision will provide a springboard towards the realisation of Africa’s Agenda 2063, in particular its aspiration for peace and security and inclusive growth and sustainable development. For Zimbabwe, the realisation of the Vision 2030 for an Upper-Middle Income Society, anchored on the National Development Strategy 1 (2021 to 2025) can substantially reap benefits from China’s support towards vision 2035.
It is important to note that while China made huge commitments to Africa, the AU did not make any commitments to China. This is because individual African states engage and negotiate with China bilaterally. This raises the question of whether individual African states have the aptitude to strategically negotiate with China individually, given the huge disparities in economic strength, bargain power and differing interests. Thus, if African state cannot negotiate for better deals individually, how best can they engage China? Can they negotiate as blocs created by regional economic communities (RECs)? It is a mammoth task but African states could start by developing an engagement strategy, utilise its competitive advantage and develop entrepreneurial acumen for it benefit from its relations with China. This is because China is a highly sophisticated entrepreneurial state which has a clear strategy and financial muscle.
Furthermore, it may be prudent for policy makers and
CSOs to collaborate in developing standards and guidelines that apply to all
Chinese projects across the continent. CSOs could also strengthen the monitoring
of the implementation of China’s promises, as well as building capacity of
citizens and community based organisations to engage with Chinese companies
that operate within their localities.