African heads of state and prime ministers flocked to Beijing on 19-20 July for the 5th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Chinese President Hu Jintao opened the forum saying important progress has been made in realizing China-Africa new type of strategic partnership, thanks to the joint efforts of both sides. “China and Africa have enhanced all-round friendly political relations featuring mutual respect and mutual trust. The two sides have conducted more frequent high-level exchanges of visits and more in-depth dialogue and exchanges, and provided stronger support to each other. China’s relations with all African countries, the African Union and other regional organizations have grown in strength”, he said.
China’s trade with and investment in Africa expanded rapidly in the past years. In 2011, the two-way trade reached US$ 166.3 billion, three times the figure in 2006. Direct Chinese investment in Africa has exceeded US$15 billion, with investment projects covering 50 countries. China’s assistance to Africa has also been growing steadily. China funded the building of over 100 schools, 30 hospitals, 30 anti-malaria centres and 20 agricultural technology demonstration centres.
“In the next three years, the Chinese government will take measures in five priority areas to support the cause of peace and development in Africa and boost a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership,” said Hu Jintao. According to this plan, the Chinese side will expand cooperation in investment and financing to support sustainable development in Africa. Funding will be available to open a US$ 20 billion credit line to develop infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, and small and medium-sized enterprises.
The Chinese government has also said it will continue to support agricultural and technological growth to help African countries increase production capacity. Scholarship will be available to African students to train 30,000 people in China, and 18,000 more in Africa to build cultural and vocational skills.
China proposed to set up a “China-Africa Press Exchange Centre” in China to encourage exchanges and visits between Chinese and African media, and China supports exchange of correspondents by media organizations of the two sides. China will continue to implement the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Plan to sponsor 100 programs for research, exchange and cooperation by academic institutions and scholars of the two sides.
A hint to military involvement was given with the promise to promote peace and stability in Africa and create a secure environment for Africa’s development. China will launch the “Initiative on China-Africa Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Security”, deepen cooperation with the AU and African countries in peace and security in Africa, provide financial support for the AU peace-keeping missions in Africa and the development for the African Standby Force, and train more officials in peace and security affairs and peace-keepers for the AU.
China’s involvement in Africa is usually well regarded by local governments. The Asian power has a tradition of no interference in local matters, and turns a blind eye to human rights issues. However, in the past months criticism has been growing. In Zambia and Zimbabwe, Chinese firms have captured the headlines for the systematic abuses of workers and the corruption surrounding multimillion contracts and the copper trade. Besides, many organizations pointed out that security arrangements in mines controlled by Chinese firms are the worse in the continent. Human rights activists and part of the media have accused China of practicing a new style of neo-colonialism.
China’s presence in Africa is also criticized by the other financial powers. The European Union defined China’s business with Africa as “chequebook” diplomacy; forgetting its own ‘divide et impera’ attitude towards that continent. In her recent visit to seven African countries, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged African nations to embrace democracy and partnerships with responsible foreign powers. Also Mrs Clinton forgot that China and the USA’s presence in Africa is about exploitation of natural resources and geo-political control.
African leaders know that and they voiced their preoccupation during the Forum. South African President Jacob Zuma said “this kind of (resource based) trade is unsustainable in the long term and need to be cautious when entering into new partnerships”. Besides, openings towards other markets (i.e. Brazil and India) were underlined in the African project to set up a new development bank, a contradictory move challenging the IMF and World Bank dominated economic system.
Lou Ko Ky