Belt and Road blueprint creates favorable conditions and opportunities for further growth
Since the Belt and Road Initiative was first proposed, China-Africa cooperation has seen all-round progress and presented new features. In March 2013, when visiting three African countries, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed to build a China-Africa community with a shared future and summarized new concepts of future cooperation between the two sides as "sincerity, real results, amity and good faith".
At the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), President Xi stressed that China and Africa need to develop a community of shared future by sharing responsibilities and gains, achieving win-win cooperation.
The Beijing Declaration-Toward an Even Stronger China-Africa Community with a Shared Future, the FOCAC Beijing Action Plan (2019-21) and the eight major initiatives China is implementing with African countries have provided new road maps for bilateral cooperation. The two sides have also signed nearly 150 cooperation-related protocols.
China-Africa cooperation has thus been strengthened across the board. With the ongoing expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative, it has seen tangible progress. China has been Africa's largest trading partner for 10 consecutive years. In 2018, trade between the two sides reached a record high of $203.54 billion, in which China's imports from Africa were $98.97 billion and its exports to Africa reached $104.57 billion. China's trade with Africa rose by 16.4 percent year-on-year with imports and exports rising by 27.3 percent and 7.7 percent respectively, both much higher than the growth of the country's overall foreign trade during the same period. From January to October 2018, China's investment in non-financial areas in Africa was $2.463 billion, a year-on-year increase of 4 percent. The value of newly signed project contracts between two sides reached $59.8 billion, up 19 percent year-on-year. Infrastructure construction projects such as the Mombasa - Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway and the Karuma Hydroelectric Power Station have brought considerable economic benefits to local people. In other areas such as finance, China-Africa cooperation has also been advanced.
The vitality of Africa's economy is being unleashed as the continent is expected to become a key area in the next wave of industrialization in the world. With abundant natural resources, Africa also enjoys a young labor force and it is projected that the number of African workers will surpass those of China and India by 2034. Meanwhile, accelerating urbanization and increasing consumption are also making its economic growth prospects brighter.
The Belt and Road blueprint has created favorable conditions for Africa to overcome difficulties facing its development and provided opportunities for further growth. The eight major initiatives lay great focus on the needs of African countries and the aspirations of local people, highlighting that measures for cooperation need to be targeted and effective, and projects should be inclusive and forward-looking. Apart from areas already bearing fruits, these eight initiatives are also exploring new areas of cooperation: China will enhance vocational training for African talents and improve local security.
Still, the challenges facing the Belt and Road Initiative cannot be ignored. First, the capacity of African countries in registering stable development needs to be improved. Although Africa has seen initial growth, issues such as regional conflicts, weak drivers of development, limited national governance capabilities and inadequate high-end talents are still blocking the progress of the initiative.
Second, the business environment in Africa needs further improvement. The initiative, which focuses on economic cooperation, has revealed the urgent need for an improved business environment, problems still loom large in African countries because local laws and regulations that can attract and protect foreign investment are not yet full-fledged. Moreover, preferential policies and government services are not fully in place.
Third, a better public opinion environment is needed. Currently, there are still some attempting to drive a wedge between China and Africa and trying to undermine their cooperation by groundlessly claiming that China is plundering African resources and China-Africa cooperation will lead to debt crises in African countries or create dependency.
Looking to the future though, China-Africa cooperation will continue to maintain sound momentum. Many African countries have expressed their intention of supporting and participating in the initiative.
First, China will adhere to new concepts of China-Africa cooperation by maintaining sincere and friendly relations, treating its African partners as equals, adhering to righteousness, pursuing people-centered development in a pragmatic and efficient manner and carrying forward openness and inclusiveness. It will not interfere in African countries' affairs, impose its will on the countries, attach political conditions to assistance or seek political interests through investment and financing.
Second, it will continue to promote cooperation through improved policy-related exchanges. China will uphold the principles of achieving common benefits through consultation and collaboration, pursuing openness, transparency and inclusiveness as well as advocating green and sustainable development. By combining the Belt and Road Initiative, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union Agenda 2063 with the development strategies of African countries, China aims to achieve higher-level, complementary and common development with its African partners.
Third, China will work with African countries to advance the eight major initiatives including industrial promotion, facility connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, health and hygiene, people-to-people exchanges and peace and security. Focusing on helping Africa to develop growth impetus, it will bolster China-Africa cooperation to a higher level by innovating relevant concepts and modes.
Fourth, it will introduce third parties to strengthen cooperation with Africa. To propel cooperation which cannot be achieved by China alone, participation of third-party economies can be conducive to promoting the development of African countries.
Fifth, it will make more efforts to improve the public opinion environment. China is willing to co-host exhibitions with Africa to showcase the cooperation achievements made under the Belt and Road Initiative, which can improve the confidence of African countries in cooperating with China and redress unfavorable international public opinion.
Overall, China will continue to strive for more and better cooperation with Africa with the aim of building a community with a shared future.
The author is senior research fellow and executive vice-chairman of the Board of Directors, and secretary-general of the National Institute for Global Strategy at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.