The Belt and Road Initiative: Breathing Life into China-Africa Cooperation
More than a decade ago, a bright November morning witnessed the opening of the first formal China-Africa summit in Beijing, officially referred to as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). This year, the meeting comes at the time when China is celebrating its four decades of reform and opening up. It provides an opportune time for Chinese and African leaders to deepen cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The fact that China is sharing its amazing experience of industrialization and development in the past four decades with the rest of the world is a key element of success. China lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, as attested by such institutions as the World Bank, through investments in urban and rural infrastructure projects, and mega-projects in transportation, water and power. This is an unparalleled achievement that can be replicated in Africa.
The Belt and Road Initiative, a vehicle that calls for spurring regional connectivity, is breathing life into China-Africa cooperation by broadening consensus, strengthening friendship and promoting infrastructure development in Africa. The Initiative has expanded China-Africa cooperation to broader frontiers such as trade, infrastructure, skills transfer, sports, tourism, medicine, technical management and scientific research. The Initiative has enabled Chinese investment and loans in Africa to give priority to infrastructure construction such as Kenya’s monumental Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway.
The Initiative has also helped propel bilateral trade between China and Africa recently. For example, China Customs statistics display that China-Africa trade was “off to a flying beginning” of US$170 billion in 2017, up by 14 percent year-on-year. Furthermore, trade volumes between China and African economies reached US$116 billion in the first seven months of 2018, up by 18.7 percent year-on-year.
China launched a new multilateral financial institution—the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that was formally established in late 2015—to help low- and middle-income economies pay for infrastructure improvements, such as new roads and power lines to rural villages. China also enlisted the help of other emerging economies, including Brazil and South Africa, to establish a development bank of their own, similar to the World Bank and the IMF. And China is increasingly investing in African countries through aid, loans and direct investment.
What’s important is how African economies will continue to strategize to leverage on the Belt and Road Initiative since the Initiative is a good channel for Africa to engage China more in infrastructure. Tremendous opportunities exist for Africa to secure Chinese financing for its infrastructure development to support intra-continental trade, which will help facilitate the newly signed agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Africa is also likely to benefit from the newly created China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) designed to coordinate China’s foreign aid programs. The CIDCA institutionalizes a mutually beneficial and win-win concept of “development coordination” that is strongly connected with the Belt and Road Initiative. Africa is yet to climb the value chain of mineral processing and manufacturing. With the Initiative African economies could attract such funding to add value to their natural resources and produce commodities, which would help the region unlock its full potential of natural resources.
We are facing dramatic and dynamic changes in the world. China and Africa have once again come to a crossroad since both sides are undergoing economic and social transformation. Numerous African economies are looking forward to fully participating in the Belt and Road Initiative to reverse Africa’s anti-industrialization process due to their failed adjustment guided by Western “structured reforms” in the 1980s. The final goal is to accelerate technology transfer, job creation and Africa’s comprehensive transformation.
At present, China is continuing diversified high-tech, labor-intensive and capital-driven industrial capacity cooperation with countries across the African continent and islands nearby. It is for sure the FOCAC Beijing Summit this September will bring more impetus to accelerate the fourth industrial revolution driving an economic leap forward both in China and Africa.
The author is executive director of the Center for Nigerian Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University.