AFRICA and China are readying for the 2021 Forum on China-Africa Co-operation that will be held in Senegal next week (November 29-30).
This year’s conference is significant because it marks a major milestone of two decades since the first summit was held in Beijing in 2000.
FOCAC, the meeting between China and African countries, is arguably the most important framework between the continent as a bloc and a foreign partner, with the relationship between Africa and China growing in leaps and bounds over the past two decades.
Zimbabwe is among the countries that are enjoying increasing co-operation with Beijing that has so far yielded a number of benefits from infrastructural developments, funding, trade, tourism, energy, among other areas.
The numbers — such as the billions of dollars in aid and trade between the two sides; or the increasing political significance of the co-operation — point to the making of a formidable force in global geopolitics.
Further, the peoples of China and Africa, itself a vast continent of different countries, are finding each other and understanding each other’s needs more than ever in more than half a century of modern diplomatic relations.
But how did it all begin?
China and Africa have a long history of co-operation dating back to centuries. However, China as part of its modernisation which began in the 1970s, has established dynamic and progressive diplomatic relations with political parties and governments, leading it to support liberation movements as well as post-Independence governments.
China has found itself in a favourable position because of it having never colonised any country. Instead, the country was a victim of colonialism itself, something that draws it closer to Africa because of a shared history.
China is the biggest developing country, making it a close kin with Africa, many countries of which are following its developmental journey as a blueprint for their own advancement with vital lessons from China.
On top of that, China has made co-operation with Africa a cornerstone strategy in its vision of a “global shared future”. In the year 2000, China and Africa made the most concrete step to formalise and crystalise their relationship within a framework that gave birth to FOCAC.
A ministerial conference was held in Beijing from October 10-12, 2000 with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji of the State Council and Vice President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China participating in the conference. The meeting comprised more than 80 ministers from China and 44 countries and representatives from 17 international and regional organisations.
African attendees included President Gnassingbé Eyadéma of Togo, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, President Benjamin William Mkapa of Tanzania, and Secretary-General Dr Salim Ahmed Salim of the then Organisation of African Unity, now African Union. The conference passed the Beijing Declaration of the Forum on China–Africa Co-operation and the Programme for China–Africa Co-operation in Economic and Social Development. Since then, a number of mechanisms at ministerial and diplomatic levels have been initiated.
The most significant vehicle, however, has been the triennial FOCAC summit, held alternately in Africa and Beijing. In 2003, the summit was held in Addis Ababa; in 2006, Beijing; in 2009, Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt); in 2012, Beijing; in 2015, Johannesburg (South Africa) and the last one was held in 2018 hosted by Beijing.
The FOCAC eighth ministerial conference of this year to be held in Senegal will be the fourth time Africa has hosted this showpiece. What are the issues in 2021?
This year’s meeting is significant, first of all, as an occasion to reflect on what have been path-changing two decades of China-Africa co-operation.
The relationship has given birth to a number of positive results that have significantly altered global geopolitical configurations while delivering material changes to the peoples of Africa and China. Under the framework, China has assisted a number of countries to build infrastructure for economic, governance and social uses. These include rail, road and air transport infrastructure as well as construction of government buildings, schools, hospitals. China has helped African countries in energy, tourism, trade, as well as technological transfer in agriculture, among other areas.
All these have been significant and life-changing.
In 2021, the two sides will entrench co-operation in these areas.
Some of the expected outcomes include four important documents that will give direction to the co-operation, namely, the Dakar Action Plan 2022-2024; 2035 Vision of China- Africa Co-operation; Sino-African Declaration on Co-operation on Climate Change; and a final Declaration.
In light of the pressing issues facing the globe in general and the continent in particular, the summit is likely to entrench the successes that have been achieved in the past 20 years.
The key feature of this co-operation is that it is based on a solid framework that allows China and its partners to think and act strategically, with focus on the future.
Zimbabwe’s participation means that the country will continue getting assistance from China and also share experiences and ideas within the communion of China and other African peers.