China accelerates reforms to ramp up post-Covid rebound

Gideon Chitanga is a researcher at the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

Gideon Chitanga is a researcher at the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

Published Mar 27, 2024


Gideon Chitanga

Africa stands to benefit from China’s shift towards a high-level socialist market economy driven by the development of new quality productive forces to ramp up post-Covid-19 economic recovery.

Despite being a major source of much-needed technological raw materials, and with its 1,4 billion youthful demography, Africa has mainly remained a huge market for tech consumables. The new focus in Beijing offers Africa huge opportunities to seriously focus on innovation and to locate new technologies at the heart of Africa-China relations in line with Beijing’s focus on new quality productive forces.

New quality productive forces simply mean new drivers of socio-economic growth, powered by frontier technologies, environmental protection, overall reform and coordinated regional development. The focus on new quality productive forces locates innovation as the leading anchor in fostering advanced productivity that is freed from the traditional economic growth mode and productivity development paths, featuring high tech, high efficiency and high quality as articulated in China’s new development philosophy, and Chinas important Two Sessions meetings in 2024.

The Two Sessions is China’s annual week-long meetings of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). This year, the meeting was held between March 4 to 11, gathering some 3 000 delegates from the political, business and cultural sectors in Beijing.

Leaders at the meeting announced a 5% GDP growth target for 2024 and a one trillion Yuan National Bond as the backbone of China’s main goals of stability, the development of critical sectors and stimulating the economy. The Two Sessions also indicated a sharper focus on developing critical sectors, especially biomedicine, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, and immense success in the upgrading of the manufacturing sector through automation, leveraging on technology to enhance people’s quality of life.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced governments to impose comprehensive lockdowns informed largely by both domestic and international pandemic trends, which resulted in a global economic slowdown, including in China, the second largest global economy. However, despite Western sanctions, also called “decoupling” by its Western proponents, China is set to maintain steady growth and post-pandemic recovery, above the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), whose GDP growth averages 1.6%, dropping from 2.9% in 2022.

China has been the single largest driver of global economic growth at double digits for more than a decade and half. According to the Government Work Report, China's gross domestic product expanded by 5.2% last year, while grain output reached a record 695 million metric tons. China also created 12.44 million urban jobs, at a time when additional tax and fee relief measures introduced last year resulted in savings exceeding 2.2 trillion yuan.

Ahead of the Two Sessions meetings held in March this year, President Xi Jinping articulated Beijing’s focus on building a high-level socialist market economy, based on the imperative to accelerate the improvement of basic systems underpinning the market economy, such as those for property rights protection, market access, fair competition and social credit. A raft of reforms will see the removal and/or reduction of market access restrictions on foreign investment in the manufacturing and services sectors, such as telecommunications and health care, making it easier for foreign nationals to work, study and travel in China.

Furthermore, Xi stressed the need to strengthen basic research, including in applied sciences, to achieve breakthroughs in core technologies in key fields and foster new drivers for developing new quality productive forces. In line with this goal, Beijing is set to improve and implement the institutions and mechanisms to consolidate and develop the public sector and unswervingly encourage, support and guide the development of the non-public sector to facilitate the growth of the private sector and enterprises.

President Xi also emphasised the need to deepen the reform of systems involving science and technology, education and professional personnel, while removing any barriers obstructing the development of new quality productive forces to create a world-class business environment that is market-oriented, law-based and internationalised as a way of fostering new strength for a higher-level open economy.

During the Two Sessions meetings, China emphasised its renewed focus on “future technologies” and “future industries”, backed by the development of new technologies to achieve self-sufficiency. As detailed in the Government Work Report, new technologies – from electric vehicles to commercial space flights – will help reboot China’s economy, while stimulating economic recovery and growth in its partner countries through exploring new opportunities for employment creation, particularly in the technology centred economies, where Africa largely lags behind other continents.

China ranks amongst some of the globally leading countries in the production and sales of new technologies-driven transportation, such as new energy vehicles. China is a global leader in the production of automobiles and boasts the longest express way network. China accounted for over 60% of global electric vehicle output and sales last year, with a 30% increase in exports of the “new trio”, namely, electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries and photovoltaic products. China also successfully introduced high-speed railways and urban rail transit systems internationally, alongside the development of large aircraft and some of the best facial recognition technologies.

The new quality productive forces approach will see a more concerted effort to transform scientific research into marketable products in line with the thrust towards high-quality development. Such new forces range from infotech, biotech, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, new energy and new materials, to deep space, deep ocean and deep mind. The strategy will play an important role in foreign technology substitution on the back of hostile and punitive Western policies against China’s peaceful development, rapid industrial adoption and strategic defence empowerment.

More importantly, China has remained on target to meet its climate targets by 2060, and its green technologies could boast continental green policies and strategies in partner countries, including amongst African countries, to meet their climate targets. Beijing is further set to improve its fiscal, tax, financial, investment and pricing policies in support of green development.

China remains Africa’s largest development partner, extensively investing in bilateral and multilateral partnerships spanning sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing, mining, agriculture, new technologies and people to diplomacy, while championing a more equitable and inclusively participatory global order.

Africa could work closely with China to become a player, and producer, of new technologies, not just a consumer. Contrary to suggestions by critics that Sino-Africa relations, and indeed investments, were likely to choke in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, China has maintained its bilateral and multilateral priorities with the continent. Accelerated reforms in Beijing will continue to expand relations, while consolidating the qualitative goals and outcomes of investments in partnerships with Africa; hence, a more innovative Africa could successfully leverage on the new opportunities to boost its post-pandemic economic prospects.

Gideon Chitanga, PhD, is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS) at the University of Johannesburg.

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