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What’s to be done after the Fourth FOCAC?

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What’s to be done after the Fourth FOCAC?

Li Anshan

The fourth FOCAC has come to an end. What did we see from this China-Africa gathering? China tried to strengthen the China-Africa strategic partnership through the announcement of eight new measures related to investment, aid, trade, cultural exchange, etc. African governments expressed the importance of this bilateral relationship through the attendance of a large number of top officials and through their comments at the forum, while it attracted global attention through media coverage from various countries. Premier Wen’s eight measures covered most fields of China-African cooperation and they need more elaboration and analysis, however, since I have written about the history of China-African friendship, characteristics of the bilateral relations, and principles of China’s African policy, I only want to emphasise more practical issues, namely, what China should pay attention to in the implementation of the commitments and providing suggestions for both sides.

Technology transfer is urgent for African development. Thirty years ago when the opening-up policy was adopted, China needed money and technology- both of which Africa also needs now. China-Africa cooperation has achieved great success and China has provided some financial support, e.g. grant, preferential loans, or exemption of debt. Yet, what Africa needs more of at this stage is technology transfer. With the increasing number of imports, Africans are facing the danger of “deindustrialization”. What China should do is help African industry to raise its productivity and avoid “deindustrialization”. Nig-Sat I and the Sudanese oil industry are good examples of cooperation and technology transfer. China has promised it will “enhance cooperation on satellite weather monitoring, development and utilization of new energy sources, prevention and control of desertification and urban environmental protection”, build clean energy projects for Africa covering solar power, bio-gas and small hydro-power projects, and “combine economic cooperation and trade with technology transfer”. All these high-tech projects require technology transfer and it is hoped that this Action Plan will bring this into practice.
Social responsibility is an important issue. For developing countries, social responsibility is emphasised less in the early stages of development and China has suffered because of this in the areas of mining, forestry, and other environmental related fields. However, social responsibility has now been put on the top of China’s domestic development agenda. In a recent published article, I put forward a notion of “social responsibility without borders”. The Chinese government should encourage Chinese companies to give more attention to this issue. Vice Chairman Cheng Siwei warned Chinese enterprises in 2007 that a lack of social responsibility toward the communities in which they work would threaten their reputation and even their viability in local markets. In the recent FOCAC China promised to ask Chinese companies in Africa to “shoulder more social responsibilities and live in amity with the local people” however, action speaks louder than words.
Africans showed great initiative in the creation of ancient civilization, national independence and Pan-Africanist movement. It is vital to revive African initiatives towards its developmental agenda too, including strategic planning, policy making, implementation of a national plan, etc. Africans have to decide what road they should take. Answering a question at a press conference at FOCAC, Premier Wen said, “Many people are trying to offer prescriptions for Africa's development, such as the ‘Washington Consensus’ or the ‘Beijing Model’. Yet it seems to me that Africa's development should be based on its own conditions and should follow its own path, that is, the African Model. All countries have to learn from other countries' experience in development. At the same time, they have to follow a path suited to their own national conditions and based on the reality of their own countries. In the final analysis, the development of a country depends on the efforts of its own people.” This shows Premier Wen has a clear vision. China or other countries can offer help, but the work should be done by Africans themselves.
For Africa, it is essential to get rid of the “mentality of dependency” and get down to hard work. The traditional aid scheme has existed for half a century. W. Easterly estimated the ODA figure of the past 50 years to be US$ 2.3 trillion, yet it brought little change in Africa. Some scholars have asked “Why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good?” “Why foreign aid isn't working?” as aid has not only created many problems for development, but also produced the “mentality of dependency”. That is why Dr. Moyo calls for the end of foreign aid in her work Dead Aid. Only if the needy realise the importance of poverty reduction and get down to hard work can the aim be achieved, with or without foreign aid. China’s experience is to adhere to the principle of “self-reliance first, foreign aid second”, so that China can develop according to its own strategy. Furthermore, if a country relies too heavily on aid it will gradually develop a mentality of dependency, and when you depend on foreign aid yet cannot access aid, you may yield your sovereignty for access to that aid.
As for the future of China-Africa cooperation, it is necessary for both sides to develop strategic planning based on regional or continental integration, and develop comprehensive thinking around a variety of projects. In Africa, different countries have their own corresponding needs, yet regional or continental integration is taking place and thus strategic planning should take this into consideration. First, infrastructure projects such as hydro-power stations can be shared across smaller countries, especially amongst those that do not possess the required domestic capacity. Second, internal investment and trade should be encouraged in Africa itself as the internal investment will create an opportunity to build capacity amongst African enterprises, while trade would pave the way for development of internal markets- both very important for the expansion of African enterprises. Third, joint-venture projects may be a win-win strategy for African and Chinese companies, as risks and resources are shared resulting in favourable profit-sharing. What’s more, both sides would address their respective needs, e.g., technological transfer, managerial training, or human resource administration.
I am always confident about the bright future of China-Africa cooperation.
Prof Li Anshan is Director of the Institute of Afro-Asian Studies at the School of International Studies at Peking University. He is also Vice President of the Chinese Society of African Historical Studies.