China-Africa relations: joining hands to build a high-level community with a shared future

Gideon Chitanga. Picture: Supplied

Gideon Chitanga. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 26, 2024


Gideon Chitanga

Addressing the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs, held in Beijing on December 28, last year, President Xi Jinping gave an important speech emphasising the important role of China and its diplomatic engagement with its partners in building a community with a shared future.

President Xi further explained the concept of building a community with a shared future for mankind as the noble goal pursued by China in conducting major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics for the new era, stating that it is a major historical cornerstone of Chinese foreign policy, including in the context of China-Africa relations.

There is no better moment to rally humanity towards a shared future than at this contemporary historical moment characterised by polarised geopolitical uncertainty and unpredictability, fuelled by unipolar continuities on the back of rising others. As a hallmark of Chinese foreign policy and diplomacy, the idea of building a community with a shared future for mankind is central to Beijing’s thinking in tackling the major questions of our time, shaping the kind of world we need, as well as how to build such a world based on deep understanding of the laws governing the collective development of human society.

Over the past decades, building a community with a shared future for mankind has developed from a Chinese initiative to an international consensus, from a promising vision to substantive actions, and from a conceptual proposition to a scientific system to anchor solid bilateral and multilateral relations between Africa and China, and China and the Global South.

The quest to build a community with a shared future has served as a glorious banner marked by historic steps in consolidating China-Africa relations. China-Africa relations will reach another notch as the leaders from both sides meet for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) 2024, to be held in Beijing. FOCAC was established in 2000 as a uni-multilateral partnership platform between China and 53 African states for the purposes of collective consultation, dialogue and cooperation. The Forum has strengthened consultation and expanded cooperation within a pragmatic framework, promoting mutually beneficial political and economic cooperation and dialogue at the highest levels, including Heads of State and Government.

As the primary multilateral coordination mechanism between African countries and China, FOCAC is the main mechanism for promotion of diplomatic trade, security and investment relations between China and African countries, providing the integrated framework governing Sino-Africa relations based on consensual norms and values anchored on mutual respect.

At the FOCAC Beijing Summit in 2018, China and Africa reached a strategic agreement to build a China-Africa community of a shared future, characterised by joint responsibility, win-win cooperation, happiness for all, cultural prosperity, common security and harmony between humanity and nature. This is a fundamental programme of action and a lofty goal for the two sides.

The 2015 and 2018 FOCAC Summits held in Johannesburg and Beijing respectively, adopted 10 major cooperation plans and eight major initiatives driving Africa-China relations. The diversification and realignment of Africa-China cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will likely see expansion of investment in the traditional areas of partnership, as well as new ones, such as new technologies and climate change and energy transition, with an emphasis on green and smarter cooperation. This is as both parties seek to consolidate political mutual trust and expand pragmatic cooperation in various areas to boost peace and development in Africa and the world.

Africa-China cooperation will also play significant roles within the framework of such initiatives as the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI) broadly anchored on the high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. China is also a major player in BRICS+, working with other countries from the Global South to enhance socio-economic and political cooperation, as well as people-to-people diplomacy. While South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia are the current BRICS+, many African countries have indicated their interest to join the group, and several African leaders and AU representatives were invited to the BRICS Johannesburg Summit held last year.

The Sino-Africa efforts towards building a high-level community with a shared future have reaped significant continental and national benefits. Significantly, the partnership between Africa and China has rendered the continent more room and a voice to manoeuvre in global multilateral affairs. The African continent has immensely benefitted from the inflow of Chinese finance in diverse sectors of its economy, stimulating socio-economic transformation. More importantly, the framework of relations comes with a break from conditionality, a major coercive instrument associated with Western countries and multilateral institutions. Within the rock-solid strong Africa-China relations, Beijing has been the main driver of massive infrastructure development, agriculture and technological cooperation, climate change and energy transition, education and people-to-people diplomacy.

China has demonstrated its commitment to working with African countries to drive continental industrialisation, agricultural modernisation and talent development, creating more opportunities for the continent with the youngest population in the world. China has been Africa’s largest trading partner for 14 consecutive years, since 2009, and has also been South Africa’s largest trading partner. From 2000 to 2020, China helped African countries to build more than 13,000km of roads and railways and more than 80 large-scale power facilities and has funded over 130 medical facilities, 45 sports venues and over 170 schools.

Beijing also trained more than 160,000 personnel for Africa and built a series of flagship projects, including the AU Conference Centre. During the Covid-19 pandemic, China cancelled the outstanding debts of 15 African countries in the form of interest-free loans that matured at the end of 2020. China’s investment in Africa has built up sound momentum over the past few decades to cover a wide range of fields, including mining, processing and smelting of ores, equipment manufacturing, agriculture, home appliance production, aviation services, medicine and health, and the green, blue and digital economies.

China is promoting cooperation with Africa in social fields such as poverty reduction, health, education, science and technology, environmental protection, climate change and exchanges among young people and women. Through strengthening exchanges, providing assistance and sharing experience, China is helping African countries to improve their comprehensive social development, which then provides internal impetus for their economic growth, enhanced people-to-people cooperation and determined focus on peace and security. Furthermore, through security cooperation and support for UN initiatives, China is supporting the enhancement of Africa’s autonomous capacity in peacekeeping, stability preservation, and counter-terrorism through joint exercises, joint training and visits of vessels. The synergies between the AU agenda 2063, UN Agenda 2030 and the BRI will steer the Africa-China cooperation to a new development stage focusing on boosting the quality development cooperation to foster enduring peace, prosperity, openness, green development, innovation and cultural exchanges.

The leaders from both sides have continued to engage at the highest levels based on mutual respect, maintaining regular contact on national and global multilateral issues, maintaining frequent exchange of visits, communication and coordination on bilateral and multilateral issues of common interest. The two sides conduct close exchanges between political parties, legislative bodies and consultative bodies, as well as the AU and African sub-regional organisations, while consistently working to diversify and improve intergovernmental dialogue, consultation and cooperation mechanisms.

As expressed in the spirit of the Beijing Summit of September 2018, the quest for a stronger China-Africa community with a shared future, based on shared principles and values, will take China-Africa relations and cooperation into a new era of prosperity, peace, security, stability and progress for all. Working through FOCAC and the Belt and Road Initiative, amongst other multilateral and bilateral platforms, both parties can deliver a higher level China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership and a brighter future together.

Gideon Chitanga, PhD, is a Research Associate at the African Centre for the Study of the United States, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

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