Chapter 1: Introduction, FOCAC and Africa

1 Introduction
FOCAC and Africa

A Strategic Opportunity


Garth Shelton and Farhana Paruk


Monograph No 156, December 2008


At the conclusion of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit in Beijing in November 2006 two historic documents, a declaration and an action plan for 2007–2009, were adopted by the Chinese and African leadership. The declaration confirms the establishment of a ‘new type of strategic partnership’ between China and Africa, while the action plan provides a detailed road map for China–Africa cooperation until the FOCAC IV meeting scheduled for late 2009 takes place in Cairo, Egypt. The action plan proposes cooperation in the fields of politics, economics, international affairs and social development. At a related conference held in the Great Hall of the People, Premier Wen Jiabao proposed an accelerated trade programme aimed at increasing two-way trade to a total of $100 billion by 2010. Trade between China and Africa totalled only $10 billion in 2000, but had reached almost $40 billion by the end of 2006. FOCAC III was the highest level and the largest meeting that had taken place between Chinese and African leadership since diplomatic relations were opened in the 1950s.

The historic Beijing summit was attended by 41 heads of state and senior officials from 48 African countries. President Hu Jintao opened the proceedings, and announced a doubling of China’s assistance to Africa by 2009, consisting of the provision of $3 billion in preferential loans, $2 billion in preferential buyers’ credits, a $5 billion fund to encourage Chinese investment in Africa and a cancellation of a portion of African debts owed to China by the heavily indebted poor countries. President Hu also outlined a comprehensive programme for strengthening China–Africa relations on both the political and cultural levels.

Research on China’s African engagement has increased significantly in recent years and covers a wide range of topics and issues. While much of this research has been critical of China’s activities on the continent, few observers have attempted to analyse or understand China’s policy towards Africa and the specific diplomatic framework (FOCAC) constructed by China to advance dialogue, problem solving and mutual benefit. FOCAC forms the central pillar in advancing China–Africa relations and is the arena for constructive diplomatic interaction. It provides the foundation for building a long-term ‘win-win’ China–Africa relationship. A fuller understanding of FOCAC as a mechanism for advancing such a China–Africa win-win relationship and for building positive South-South relations is required to advance the China–Africa research agenda.

The FOCAC process provides a unique diplomatic mechanism to promote dialogue between China and Africa, while at the same time it facilitates the development of a common political and economic agenda which will advance constructive South-South cooperation for mutual benefit. FOCAC is the arena for developing Sino-African cooperation and problem solving and also provides an important framework for developing a common development agenda in a rapidly globalising international system. The FOCAC deliberations have brought African and Chinese leaders closer together and crafted a shared vision for policy coordination, expanded commercial interaction and common prosperity.

The various FOCAC declarations provide policy frameworks for building Sino-African relations and set the agenda for future constructive interaction. This offers Africa an opportunity to shape Sino-African relations through high-level consultation and diplomatic interaction. FOCAC has promoted a process of mutually beneficial interdependence between China and Africa, underpinned by China’s commitment to peaceful co-existence, equality and respect for sovereign independence. Africa has gained significantly from this and stands to gain further through ongoing interaction and diplomatic exchanges. The regular and structured interaction provides a mechanism for identifing and developing new opportunities.

Through the FOCAC process, China has cancelled African debt, facilitated expanded market access and provided a wide range of new opportunities for positive engagement. FOCAC reflects the form and content of Sino-African relations while mapping a future in which both sides can achieve common prosperity. The objective of this monograph is to provide a full outline the FOCAC process, from inception to date, focusing on the positive outcomes of this process in advancing Sino-African cooperation and building common development. The research will also propose a comprehensive framework for continued future mutually beneficial interaction. FOCAC’s central role in advancing a positive China–Africa relationship will be systematically investigated and prospects for FOCAC IV assessed.

The third and largest meeting of the Forum for Chinese-African Cooperation brought together 1 700 delegates from China and Africa in Beijing late in 2006 under the banner of ‘friendship, peace, cooperation and development’. The meeting confirmed China’s new strategic partnership with Africa and China’s role as a global power on the continent. The summit concluded with the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and the Action Plan 2007–2009, which lays the foundation for a new stage in China–Africa relations, described by Beijing as a new kind of ‘strategic partnership’. The agreements concluded in Beijing form the foundation for further diplomatic exchange and commercial interaction between China and Africa. In addition, they include a detailed programme for investment, trade and development assistance. The China–Africa Business Conference resulted in the conclusion of investment agreements with 11 African countries, valued at almost $2 billion. Since the initiation of the FOCAC process in 2000, this forum has become one of the key interstate mechanisms in Africa.

China–Africa trade has increased more than four times since 2000, reaching almost $50 billion by the time FOCAC III took place in Beijing. Beijing’s objective is to double trade to $100 billion by 2010 and given preset trends, the target is achievable. China has become Africa’s third most important trade partner, after the United States and France. The complementarity of the Chinese and African economies underpins the rapid growth in two-way trade with Africa exchanging raw materials for China’s manufactured products. Although the trade structure has raised questions, such as a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which warned that a ‘raw materials trap’ in the China–Africa trade relationship is unavoidable in view of the relative phases of economic development.2 On the other hand, the World Bank has emphasised the advantages for consumers arising from the wide availability of Chinese manufactured products in Africa.3

The Beijing FOCAC summit confirmed the China–Africa relationship as the apogee of South-South cooperation in a rapidly globalising international system. The South-South agenda is to be advanced through solidarity in international organisations and an expanded Africa-Asia dialogue. China has pledged support in advancing Africa’s agenda, including encouraging the industrialised nations to fulfil development promises to bring Africa in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the conclusion of the Doha world trade negotiations and better representation for Africa in global fora. China has undertaken to support African unity via the African Union, African regional integration efforts and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) development programme. Apart from trade and investment, China has become a key development donor and investor in Africa. The urgency and commitment displayed by Chinese corporations have impressed their African hosts and injected a new dynamism into Africa’s commercial processes.

Besides the economic dimension, China and Africa are linked by the common objective of advancing the South-South agenda. In this context China and Africa are seeking a stronger voice for the developing world on the world stage and in international institutions such as the United Nations, World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. China is seen as a partner of Africa in the struggle to democratise international fora and reshape global development agendas. Africa’s perception of China is shaped by China’s historical commitment to Africa’s freedom struggles. A strong sentiment of liberation solidarity underpins the relationship. China’s successful development model, grounded in strong state management of economic liberalisation and development, holds wide appeal in Africa, where states are seeking to escape the poverty trap. A central element of the China–Africa relationship is the principle of equal rights and mutual respect through which Africa can negotiate with China as equals, seeking mutually beneficial outcomes. Political conditionalities demanded by Western donor nations do not feature in China’s African intervention. Instead, the focus is on practical, realistic and achievable objectives based on a common development agenda. China’s commitment to develop Africa’s infrastructure and further educational, agricultural and economic development is interpreted as proof of China’ intentions to assist Africa over the longer term, rather than simply seek an exploitative relationship based on oil and mineral extraction.

China’s active engagement on the continent has contributed to a general African growth rate of over 5 per cent in recent years as well as to a significant improvement in infrastructure. Africans have welcomed China’s active involvement in construction, an area of activity that Western donors have long neglected. African leaders have also welcomed China’s commitment to assist in poverty reduction on the continent. For example, the International Poverty Reduction Centre founded with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2005 has reinforced dialogue between China and developing countries, as well as between China and international development organisations. Africa has welcomed China’s FOCAC commitments to increase aid to Africa and to promote conflict resolution and post-conflict peacebuilding in Africa.

It is widely acknowledged that China’s very significant intervention in Africa over the last few years has completely altered the continent’s traditional dependency on the US and former colonial Western donors.4 Africa now has an alternative source of aid, trade and investment and the Chinese engagement methodology differs considerably from the West’s restrictive, patronising and unrealistic conditional engagement. China’s commitment to non-intervention in African domestic affairs and a determination to build partnerships based on equality and mutual respect are widely welcomed on the continent. Africa is not patronised and treated as a needy aid recipient by China, as Beijing rather seeks trade and investment partners on a continent predicted to have significant growth potential. African states have been quick to respond to China’s fresh approach, and agreements have been concluded on a wide range of aspects. Some states, such as South Africa, have suggested a common approach to China to maximise Africa’s benefits, but most Africa states are satisfied with a bilateral interaction and the rewards which flow from this. The enormous potential for South-South cooperation has been recognised by the AU, where a high-level working group of the AU Commission has been set up to address the issue of closer China–Africa relations.

This monograph seeks to analyse the unfolding FOCAC process from an African, rather than a Eurocentric, perspective presenting a view against a Sino-African milieu. The central premise is that FOCAC offers Africa a comprehensive agenda for political, economic and social interaction with China, to which Africa must respond appropriately in order to maximise positive outcomes. China’s African engagement offers enormous opportunity if well managed and coordinated. The challenge is for Africa to maximise the opportunities flowing from this process.

With a view to investigating the FOCAC process, a range of issues are discussed:

In Africa, European and American criticism of China’s new African engagement is interpreted as an attempt to undermine a new competitor. Moreover, suggestions that China neglects democratisation is rejected as hypocritical given the West’s colonial and Cold War record in Africa.5 The poor results of Western donor aid and funding in addressing poverty in Africa has created space for a new contender and a new development model which holds the promise of success for developing countries. China’s commitment to work more closely with the AU and with regional organisations holds out the prospect of an innovative development framework, while the FOCAC process is to be more closely integrated with Africa’s own development agenda in the form of NEPAD. In July 2006, a memorandum of understanding between China and the NEPAD secretariat was concluded to advance closer coordination and cooperation. The synergy being generated between China and Africa is advancing a common agenda on economic development. The FOCAC process offers Africa a new opportunity for a partnership with China and the prospect of a long-term mutually beneficial relationship with the world’s fastest-growing economy.

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