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Opinion

Opinion: Elevating Africa's role in the world through FOCAC

Source: CGTN 2018-09-07

Editor's note: James Rae is a Fulbright visiting scholar at Beijing Foreign Studies University. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Trade between China and Africa may have begun almost 2,000 years ago, and the 15th-century exploratory visit to the Horn of Africa by Chinese Admiral Zheng He demonstrates the great legacy of mutual respect and reciprocal interest between China and the various nations of Africa.

Those ties accelerated in the 1960s through enormous cooperation between new leaders that opposed imperialism and supported socialist principles and non-interventionist foreign policies.

For the past two decades, those relationships have been reinvigorated through the institutional linkages built through this Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) opened on September 3, 2018. Now, almost all countries of Africa are members of FOCAC, and China's place in African international relationships has become central to development aspirations across the region.

Today, China is the largest trade partner for the African continent, having surpassed the United States in 2009. China is also the fastest rising nation providing foreign direct investment in Africa, and thus responsible for creating the most jobs in the area among foreign countries.

China is also Africa's largest creditor, proving enormous platforms for infrastructure growth, mainly through the Belt and Road initiative and other bilateral efforts.

Thus, the focus is on enhancing commodity exploitation to provide revenue to African governments and assisting in securing natural resources for China's vast economy, while selling manufactured goods to the growing populace of African consumers.

The commitment among all sides to promoting cooperation through FOCAC has created deeper and broader interdependence between Africa and China, surpassing not only the role of the United States in Africa but the historically influential European states, who now pale in comparison despite their relative proximity.

Often left out of discussions of international relations owing to the limited scale of development and lack of major powers present on the continent, Africa is nonetheless culturally, historically, and politically relevant to any emerging trends in world affairs.

More than others, China is practicing this recognition by fostering harmonious bilateral ties to all countries with whom it has diplomatic relations in Africa, investing in regional governance and multilateralism through assistance to the African Union itself and via partnerships established within FOCAC.

Chinese leaders are even re-establishing people to people and party to party ties, for instance by helping to create the Julius Nyerere Leadership School in Tanzania.

Of course, China's commitment to South Africa through BRICS and to others through the G20 demonstrate its goal to help lift up the diplomatic and economic profile of the continent.

Certainly, African leaders will be sensitive to ensuring that they do not become too dependent on Chinese lending, and of course, the nature of trade is not near parity since much of African exports are basic commodities.

Those challenges have been addressed over the years within FOCAC, and while mainly the United States has seen the trade with Africa cut in half as it has prioritized other regions of the world, Chinese leaders do the hard work to build trust and mutual respect. 

Now, Western countries cry foul regarding China's presence in Africa and suggest selfish motivations. Although much of the current relationship is simply transactional, it belies the reality that enormous advances are being made in education, social, and cultural exchange.

Mutual understanding is always improving, and dialogue is the preferred method to enhance ties. China's commercial fleets once again sail to Africa, bringing products and creating opportunities.

In the half millennium between now and Zheng He's visits, Africa experienced savage colonialism, the ravages of slavery, economic exploitation and cultural degradation from European imperialism. Ironically, those countries try to judge others without taking much responsibility for their historical oppression. 

African leaders and ordinary consumers have made it clear they appreciate China's attention, welcome further connections through this September 2018 Summit in Beijing, and look to a future that gives African states a seat at the table for global issues.

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