Xi’s Visit to Boost Sino-African Relations
This will mark the opening of another “new chapter of relations between China and Africa” and cement China’s role as one of the continent’s closest economic and diplomatic allies.
By Ehizuelen Mchael Mitchell Omoruyi
Ahead of the 2018 BRICS Summit, Xi Jinping is to visit five nations in the Middle East and Africa following the signing of documents related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This will mark the opening of another “new chapter of relations between China and Africa” and cement China’s role as one of the continent’s closest economic and diplomatic allies. Expect little in the way of concrete policy in this trip, with most tangible agreements coming at September’s China-Africa Cooperation Forum. The visit follows last week’s China-Arab Cooperation Forum, where Middle Eastern nations agreed to deepen their relationship. Now, China will turn to Africa in hopes of achieving a much similar effect. Xi’s visit is expected to promote the deepening of mutual political trust, mutual development assistance, mutual learning of each other’s concepts, and the establishment of a closer Sino-African community of common destiny. Africa is highly consistent with China in the direction and philosophy of its foreign policy, and stands ready to work together with China. China’s foreign policy in Africa is clear; its policy displays restraint, cooperation, and a common future of the destiny of mankind between both developing entities. As the African Union draws up an ambitious blueprint, Agenda 2063, for Africa’s next five decades of development. China is working hard to realize the Chinese dream of the great renewal of the Chinese nations. With both sides facing the task of attaining modernization, Sino-African relations have entered a new period of development that promises to blossom into even more splendor.
Δ The emblem of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation—FOCAC. (Photo / VCG)
Fruitful Results of Investment and Development in Africa
Having said that, China’s fascination with Africa is not hard to see. Since the millennium, China-Africa trade has been soaring at about 20 percent per year. According to a recent McKinsey report, there are presently over 10, 000 Chinese-owned firms operating in Africa –four times the previous estimate –and about 90 percent of them are private firms of all sizes and operating in diverse sectors. As such, foreign direct investment has grown even faster over the past decade, with a breakneck annual growth rate of 40 percent. According to Africannews report, China has invested in 293 FDI projects in Africa since 2005, totalling an investment outlay of $66.4 billion and creating 130, 750 jobs. Still, on the McKinsey report, Chinese firms could amass combined revenues of US $440 billion in 2025, about twice those of Apple in 2016 and more than double the US $180 billion they generated in 2015. China’s financial flows to Africa are 15 percent larger than official figures propose when non-traditional flows are included, making China a large and fast-growing source of financial assistance and the largest source of construction financing. Currently, China is funding a 1,400 km railway in Nigeria, a highway in Algeria, and new cities in Egypt and South Africa. Already, Chinese-built infrastructure – telecommunication networks, power stations, railways, dams, harbors, and roads – is speedily transforming the physical appearance of Africa. Also, Chinese-financed educational programs and media outlets have increased in size, increasing and redefining China’s influence over young Africans.
Δ On May 29, 2017, the Mombasa Nairobi Railway connecting the Kenyan port city of Mombasa and the capital Nairobi was officially completed and opened to traffic. The crew waited for the train to leave for Nairobi. (Photo / VCG)
A Reliable Partner, A Trustworthy Friend
As such, neither Western partners like France, the UK, the US, nor major developing nations such as India and Brazil match China in the depth and breadth of involvement in Africa. With increased influence, the country has also found geopolitical victories. Burkina Faso established diplomatic relations with China in May 2018, leaving Swaziland, which is now called eSwatini which means “land of the Swazis”, as Taiwan’s only supporter in Africa. Chinese leaders have always made a point of visiting African nations regularly and early during their time in power. When President Xi assumed presidency in 2013, he also selected Africa as part of his maiden trip overseas and went on to visit Africa two or more times during his first term. This shows that Africa is in the heart of China. The West is increasingly losing its influence in Africa for the reason that it “took the continent for granted”. The West seems to look at Africa via this security and good governance lens…which is fully dissimilar from the viewpoint of China. Chinese leaders look at Africa from an economic standpoint –the West is lagging big time.
Δ Chinese President Xi Jinping (R front), accompanied by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, inspects the guard of honor before their talks in Kigali, Rwanda, July 23, 2018. (Xinhua)
Rwanda: Intimate Relationship Promotes Key Initiative
Based on the 2015 data from John Hopkins University, China’s top ten FDI destinations in Africa includes Algeria at $2.53 billion, Nigeria at $2.38 billion, Ghana at $1.27 billion, Sudan at $1.81 billion, DRC at $3.24 billion, Tanzania at $1.14 billion, Angola at $1.27 billion, Zambia at $2.34 billion, Zimbabwe at $1.80 billion, and South Africa at $4.72 billion without Rwanda and Senegal. So, at first glance, Rwanda and Senegal seem unusual choices given that they do not receive a large amount of investment from China nor are they large nations in terms of population. However, Rwanda has a key position in the Belt and Road plan, Xi’s ambitious worldwide trade and investment initiative which aims to boost economic connectivity between Asia, Europe, and East Africa. Rwanda is hoping to integrate itself into the burgeoning railway network in East Africa as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. As such, Xi’s visit could assist secure funding for key roads, and expansion of the national carrier RwandAir. Kigali is moving towards diversifying its relationship away from the US and European Union, and China sees a good chance to develop ties.
Δ Chinese President Xi Jinping and Senegalese President Macky Sall hold talks in Dakar, Senegal, July 21, 2018. (Xinhua)
Senegal: Shared Development Outcomes
For Senegal, there have been suggestions that the Chinese government might be interested in the possibility of building ports on the Atlantic Ocean. The selection of Senegal and Mauritius, respectively, is in line with China’s attempts to establish its presence on Africa’s Atlantic coast and to dominate the Indian Ocean. Ever-closer bilateral ties with Africa are a natural result of the decades-long cultivation of cooperation with Africa by China’s leaders, dating back to the early days of the Communist administration in the 1950s. Thus, Xi Jinping’s visit to these African nations is consistent with the natural tradition and result of Chinese leadership and indicates how the Chinese leaders are “sharing their diplomatic love” across the continent to show that the Chinese people will always honor their commitment and work together with Africa to improve Sino-African relations. This is massively appreciated in most African nations, especially by the political elites. The high degree of economic complementarity and frequent investment and commerce have connected the two sides in an inseparable bond that leverages their respective strengths. The importance of Africa in China’s diplomacy has been consistent and the Belt and Road Initiative has only accentuated the role of Africa even more.
Δ On July 21, 2018, President Xi Jinping arrived in Dakar, Senegal, for a state visit to the republic of Senegal. Local people welcomed xi. (Photo / VCG)
Misunderstanding for an Explicit Form of Neo-Colonial Exploitation
China’s involvement in Africa is without problems and controversies which have emerged along with China’s expanding footprint in Africa, with critics labeling the country a “neo-colonialist” only interested in exploiting the continent’s rich resources and cheap labour. Activists have highlighted cases of human rights abuse that include ill-treatment and poor pay of local workers. These accusations reflect a mostly Western tendency to both target and often demonize China and to evaluate China’s activities in Africa as a reflection of the West’s own not-so-distant histories of colonialism in Africa. China has made great efforts to distinguish itself from the Western legacy of colonialism, exploitation, and intervention politically and economically. China explicitly rejected the Afro-pessimism that had portrayed an increasingly ‘hopeless continent’ in need of paternalistic enlightenment. China “portrays Africa in a positive light” and emphasizes similarities such as “common prosperity and shared ‘development nation’ status” rather than assuming a paternalistic role and resorting to terms such as “development assistance” and “language of aid”. This complements nicely the importance of humbleness in Chinese culture. The good grace and emphasis on humbleness are more effective in building stronger, tighter relationships because it neither elevates one partner above the other nor allows for bias ethnocentrism – at least on a public level. This is the outstanding aspect of Sino-African cooperation which emphasizes an equal relationship based on shared prosperity. Corkin said that“Africa-China cooperation should be seen as a ‘marriage of suitability’ between both parties rather than an explicit form of neo-colonial exploitation”. One thing we all need to agree on, however, is that Chinese leadership commitment to Africa should be seen as “unfathomable and extensive” – as mirrored by Chinese leaders’ frequent visits, contrary to America relative dearth of attention to much of the continent.
Ehizuelen Mchael Mitchell Omoruyi, The Executive director of Center for Nigerian Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University.
Editor: Cai Hairuo
Intern Editor: Yang Ruoxi
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China Focus