50 African states meet in Beijing

Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, July 19.

A two-day meeting on July 19-20 in Beijing was the focus of international attention as ministers from 50 African states held discussions with officials of the People’s Republic of China. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation also attracted the heads of state of six of these countries: South Africa, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti and Niger. Also attending was United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

FOCAC was formed in 2000. Its existence has fostered growing trade and state-to-state relations between the African continent and China.

In the concluding news conference on July 21, Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Yang Jiechi noted, “We are pleased with the results of our cooperation since we launched this forum. African countries have registered tremendous growth in infrastructural development.” (The New Times [Rwanda], July 22)

Yang went on to say, “We are committed to open more and more prospective ways of strengthening our mutual cooperation with Africa.” During the meeting a “Beijing Declaration” and “Beijing Action Plan (2013-2015)” were adopted.

Also at the concluding press conference, South African Minister of Foreign Affairs Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that the meeting built on the already strong foundation enhancing sustainable development in Africa. “Let us continue to act in the spirit of mutual trust and sincerity to make our partnership stronger,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.

Emphasizing the continental approach to Africa-China relations, Nkoana-Mashabane pointed out that South Africa will not pursue its own separate agenda in regard to relations with Beijing. “It will be based on the aspirations of the African agenda and leadership.”

Now co-chair of the FOCAC, South Africa will host the next summit in Johannesburg in 2015. Egypt just ended its co-chairpersonship at the meeting

On July 19, the Chinese government pledged to extend another $20 billion in concessional loans — government-to-government loans at low interest — to various African states over the next three years. These loans will assist in developing infrastructure, agricultural development, manufacturing and the growth of small – and medium-size enterprises.

Growth in relations since 2000

There has been tremendous involvement in Africa by China over the last several years. In 2011 trade between the continent and China reached $166.3 billion, with exports from Africa to China totaling $93 billion.

Zambia’s Daily Mail newspaper, in a guest article by Chen Deming, China’s minister of commerce and honorary co-chair of the Chinese Follow-up Committee of FOCAC, provided a glimpse of some of the joint Africa-China projects begun over the last few years. The article points out that between 2009 and 2011, total trade volume grew by 83 percent.

According to Chen, “In Malawi, a landlocked African country, rows of cotton cultivated by local farmers with instruction from Chinese experts are budding; in Ethiopia, a shoe factory, which was built with investment from the China-Africa Development Fund, is teeming with local workers; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a hydropower station, financed by credit from China, has just been inaugurated.” (July 23)

In 2009, when the world capitalist economic crisis was causing retractions throughout North America and Europe, the fourth FOCAC meeting announced eight new measures that advanced concrete cooperation between the two regions. These included development assistance, credit and financial support, technical training and promotion of trade. Products from China are gaining wider distribution in Africa, and goods produced on the continent are being made available to Chinese consumers.

In reference to direct investment, China’s involvement stood at $14.7 billion by the end of 2011, a 60 percent increase over a period of just two years. Investment projects are taking place in various sectors of the African economy, including energy, mining, construction and manufacturing, in addition to greater collaboration in the fields of finance, aviation, agriculture and tourism.

This escalation in economic investments has involved more than 2,000 Chinese firms. In regard to project contracting, the African continent is now China’s second-largest international market.

The inflow of Chinese capital assistance has brought about an improvement in Africa’s infrastructural development. Social improvement projects have created new schools, water and clean energy projects, and the education of more than 20,000 people in numerous occupational fields over a three-year period. The Daily Mail article stressed, “These programs, tailor-made to meet the needs of African countries, focus on enhancing the welfare of the local people.”

The same article states that the China-Africa projects “are promptly implemented without any political strings attached, contributing to the realization of the millennium development goals (MDGS) in Africa. They are testimony to the friendship between Chinese and African people. … China and Africa are spotting new and greater opportunities in our economic co-operation.”

During the opening ceremony of the FOCAC meeting on July 19, Chinese President Hu Jintao said, “China will staunchly support African countries in upholding peace and stability and seeking strength through unity. China will play a positive and constructive role in African affairs.” (Xinhua, July 19)

When referring to the character of cooperation between Beijing and the continent, the Chinese president said, “Both sides should oppose the practices of the big bullying the small, the strong domineering over the weak, and the rich oppressing the poor. We should step up consultation and coordination and accommodate each other’s concerns and work together to meet global challenges on climate change, food security and sustainable development.”

Mutual cooperation,
not colonialism

The increasing role of China in African development has drawn the ire of U.S. imperialism, which has sought to denigrate these projects as a new form of colonialism. This seems ironic considering the historic and contemporary role of the U.S. and Western Europe in the overall underdevelopment of Africa.

The legacy of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism has rendered Africa and its people to a state of poverty and political instability. In all efforts aimed at African liberation and sovereignty, the imperialist states have always come down on the wrong side of history.

The People’s Daily Online refuted the imperialist view on Africa-China relations, pointing out that “Africa’s exports of crude oil, minerals, steel and agricultural products have played an active role in lifting the Chinese people’s livelihood. Meanwhile, the continent also serves as an indispensable market with great potential for Chinese products.” (July 18)

The same article goes on to report, “Beijing is focused on helping build the continent’s productive capacity by improving its infrastructure and boosting the manufacturing sector, rather than involving the so-called ‘resource-grabbing practice.’ China also provides Africa with much-needed products and technologies, and a vast market for its commodities.”

The article also points to the “loans made by the Export-Import Bank of China as an example. Most of the 500 projects it has financed are designed to support local infrastructure construction, including water treatment plants, schools and irrigation systems.”

Even though the capitalist governments are attempting to discourage ever-growing relations between China and Africa, the alternative for the continent’s governments and peoples are clear. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) drone attacks in Somalia, the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 and the failure to initiate effective assistance programs for the continent have illustrated to the world that imperialism has nothing positive to offer the majority of the world’s working and poor people.

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