Free Trade Zones

8th China-Africa Ministerial Conference: Issues and Raised Questions

The 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation will be held in the Senegalese capital of Dakar on November 29-30, 2021. The Africa-China Cooperation Mechanism founded at the turn of the century has become a model of international cooperation renowned for producing measurable, tangible and practical results, even with less bureaucracy and glamor. The theme of the 8th Ministerial Conference “Deepening China-Africa Partnership and Promoting Sustainable Development to Build a China-Africa Community of Destiny in the New Era” would certainly build on the phenomenal results of the two immediate summits of heads of state. . and the government held in Johannesburg, South Africa (2015) and Beijing, China (2018) respectively. The two summits, although drawing on FOCAC’s cherished tradition of defining specific areas and contents to deepen cooperation, were nevertheless major turning points and new historic starting points for the FOCAC mechanism.

President Xi Jinping when taking office in 2013 left no doubt that Africa is truly the cornerstone or foundation of China’s foreign relations by making his very first trip abroad in as president in the Russian capital, Moscow. From there he flew to Tanzania, where he asserted that “unity and cooperation with African countries is the foundation of China’s foreign policy. That will never change, even if China grows stronger and enjoys a better international reputation. ”

In an overview that is essential to the current trajectory of China-Africa engagement, President Xi stressed in his inaugural address in Tanzania that “a similar historical experience, common development tasks and shared strategic interests have bound us. We both see each other’s development as our opportunity, and we both seek to promote mutual development and prosperity through cooperation.

FOCAC is the essential mechanism that stimulates the mutual opportunity that China and Africa represent for each other.

With ministerial conferences or triennial summits between them, the FOCAC process does not tolerate complacency as follow-up activities, ranging from project implementation, dialogues and consultations at the intergovernmental and non-governmental levels involving a wide range of actors at various levels, culminating in setting agendas and building consensus on key issues of common interest, characterize the time lag between one summit or conference and another. The basic feature of the FOCAC mechanism is the follow-up process, the key element of which is to deliver tangible and practical results on the outcomes of Heads of State Summits or Ministerial Conferences.

The two Heads of State Summits, held in Johannesburg and Beijing respectively ahead of the 8th Ministerial Conference scheduled for later this month in Dakar, Senegal, were phenomenal milestones in the history of the FOCAC process. At the Johannesburg summit in South Africa, President X1 presented 10 cooperation plans and backed them with financial support of $ 60 billion. The range of cooperation plans described which included industrialization, agricultural modernization, infrastructure, trade and investment, poverty reduction, public health, peace and security, among others clearly and objectively aligned on the key and major requirements of Africa to accelerate growth, sustainable and inclusive development. Between the period of the Johannesburg Summit and its counterpart in Beijing, so far, Africa’s infrastructure profile and its pace of industrialization have grown tremendously, generating top-notch real sector jobs and improving massively capacity building and skills acquisition among the continent’s burgeoning youth population. . In 2017, the US-based international management and consultancy firm McKinsey and Co released a report of its investigation and fieldwork on Chinese companies in Africa and came to the conclusion that it generates tens of thousands of jobs and also generates senior and middle management among African workers. The report places China ahead of others in strategic sectors in Africa such as finance and infrastructure construction, trade and investment.

At the Johannesburg summit, President Xi said that the ten cooperation plans “will help accelerate Africa’s industrialization and agricultural modernization and thus help Africa achieve sustainable development on its own.”

From the summit period and now, the first electrified railway connecting Ethiopia’s industrial heartland to the port of Djibouti, cutting travel times and costs by less than half, has been fully operational. Kenya’s nearly 500 km standard gauge Mombasa-Nairobi railway, 167 km Abuja-Kaduna railway and its Lagos-Ibadan counterpart in Nigeria have all become fully functional, improving passenger and freight freight more efficiently.

Special economic zones and industrial parks in which Chinese companies have invested as a hub for Africa’s industrialization are mushrooming across Africa, as are seaports, airports, power stations and China-assisted road networks through concessional loans and grants, bringing unprecedented dynamism and energy to the sector, as Africa rushes to fill historic infrastructure connectivity deficits that previously made the concept of pan-African unity and integration a hollow rhetoric.

Examples include the Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, the first of its kind established in Africa. It is leading the upstream extraction of the Chambishi copper mine and the downstream smelting of production and at the same time, introduces more Chinese companies that do construction business in the local market. Eastern industrial zone in Ethiopia where the textile processing, shoe making and garment making industries are concentrated, the Suez Canal economic zone in Egypt focuses on petroleum equipment, auto parts and some high tech industries. The Mauritius-Jinfei Trade and Economic Cooperation Zone develops trade and trade logistics, tourism and financial services. These and several others, including Nigeria’s Lekki Free Trade Zone, are some of the critical and high-end results of China-Africa cooperation.

Cooperation between China and Africa has been greatly enriched and made more proactive thanks to the vigor of the FOCAC multilateral process. In the era of deceptive nationalism, China and Africa through the mechanism of FOCAC have reaffirmed multilateralism as the trend of the times, which accords with the aspirations of the general interests of humanity.

FOCAC Beijing Summit further enhanced FOCAC’s profile as steps towards an even stronger China-Africa community of destiny in the new era were taken when efforts were made to consolidate the 10 axes of cooperation in Johannesburg. . Three years earlier, with the launch of eight new initiatives, which President Xi said “worked closely with African countries for the next three years and beyond.” The eight initiatives included industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, capacity building, health care, person-to-person exchanges, and peace and security. The progress of these initiatives, as well as the 10 cooperation plans that they were to complete and consolidate, were on track in the best tradition of the FOCAC follow-up process when the centennial disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. . But in the face of the common affliction inflicted by the pandemic, China-Africa cooperation has proven to be resilient and has established itself as an example of international cooperation in the face of a raging pandemic whose profile of equal opportunity killer s ‘is clearly established when it ravaged both the poor and the rich in equal measure.

As the pandemic wreaks havoc on lives and livelihoods, China and Africa have called an extraordinary summit on solidarity against COVID-19 on June 17, 2020.

Concretely, President Xi said China will put in place what it takes to support Africa in its efforts to develop the African Continental Free Trade Area, improve connectivity and strengthen industrial and supply chains. The only known international summit held amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China-Africa relations through the FOCAC process have proven to be a model of international cooperation and solidarity that has resisted, unwavering even in the face of a strange pandemic. The FOCAC process has negotiated the most fruitful and productive cooperation in which a traditional friendship and solidarity has been transformed into concrete and measurable results, resulting in tangible and practical added value to the national aggregates of the participating countries. The addition of the exponential engine of the Belt and Road Initiative to the FOCAC process has further accelerated the pace of Sino-African development cooperation, multiplied its valuable inputs and given it considerable quality reach, which integrates green development and all the key concerns of contemporary climate change issues.

The 8th Ministerial Conference in Dakar, Senegal, this month will be introspective, reflective and prospective at the same time. The pandemic has slowed people-to-people contact between China and Africa even as e-commerce and other aspects of the digital economy have skyrocketed. But since the people are the foundation of China-Africa cooperation, the Dakar ministerial conference should initiate ideas that would help the rapid restart of people-to-people contacts.

Post COVID-19 economic reconstruction would obviously be a priority and new drivers of cooperation would likely be announced. However, it is imperative to strengthen the existing system. Africa and China, as forerunners of the community of destiny in the new era, must take practical steps to safeguard multilateralism, deepen its mechanisms and practices while remaining steadfast in their commitment to dialogue, consultation and cooperation.

The 8th Dakar Ministerial Conference is a historic turning point as it takes place in the context of its predecessors, the very successful summits that preceded it and the challenge of Sino-African cooperation based on equality, mutual respect and awareness of the mutual strategic opportunity offered by each.

Mr. Charles Onunaiju, is the Research Director, Center for China Studies, Abuja

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