There’s an old Chinese saying, “good friends feel close to each other even when they are thousands of miles away,” and the same can be said about China-Africa relations today.
Despite the geographical distance between them, China and Africa enjoy a friendship that has stood the test of time.
China staunchly supported Africa’s struggle against colonialism when many countries were fighting for independence in the 1960s and 1970s. For decades, Chinese engineers, medics and farm experts have been working side-by-side with Africans. These days, Chinese-built railways, roads, dams, factories and schools can be seen across the continent.
But more is yet to come.
In September, the red carpet will be rolled out to welcome African leaders attending the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
Chinese President Xi Jinping has said he is looking forward to meeting African leaders at the Beijing summit and called for new impetus in the China-Africa comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.
“Regardless of how the international order changes, China will continue to maintain the policy of sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith, and uphold justice and shared interests to continuously support Africa in achieving prosperity,” Xi said at the BRICS Johannesburg Summit in July.
Xi has visited Africa four times as Chinese president. His first overseas trips after being elected and re-elected president — in 2013 and 2018 respectively — both took him to Africa.
“Strengthening solidarity and cooperation with African countries is an important foundation of China’s foreign policy,” said Luo Jianbo, a professor specializing in China’s diplomacy at the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
“As history has proven, most African countries stood by China when it faceddifficulties. And China has adopted the principle of ‘upholding justice while pursuing shared interests’ to show African countries that it will always pay great attention to enhancing ties.”
China has been Africa’s largest trading partner since 2009. There is perhaps no better place than Guangzhou to feel this. Many Africans call the southern Chinese city “home”, as they run thriving businesses that export goods made in “the factory of the world” to Africa.
Senegalese businessman MouhamadouMoustaphaDieng is among them. During its heyday, his company sent home 150 containers a month. “A container is like a supermarket. It has all kinds of goods ranging from jeans to motorcycles,” he said.
And yet, Dieng sees opportunities. He hopes to open a packaging factory in Senegal, introducing China’s bottling assembly lines. If his business idea takes off, he plans to export Made-in-Senegal goods to China one day, Dieng said.
Helping Africa industrialize is high on the 10 cooperation plans announced at the 2015 FOCAC summit in Johannesburg. Many Chinese entrepreneurs have sprung into action, investing in the labour-intensive manufacturing sector that spurs growth and creates jobs.
Dieng said China had provided African countries with opportunities to boost their development. “This is more meaningful than simply buying low and selling high,” he said.
In Rwanda, a garment factory set up by the Chinese on the outskirts of Kigali now hires more than a thousand local workers, churning out uniforms, safety warning vests and African fashion.
The project is hailed as a positive example to boost Rwanda’s textile industry and be self-reliant, counter-balancing the influx of hand-me-downs from the West which stifles local production.
Inside a workroom of C&H Garments, a Chinese-English-Kinyarwanda trilingual poster hangs on the wall: “Roll up our sleeves to work harder; Your dreams will come true” — borrowing a phrase Xi used in his 2017 New Year Speech.
The company’s human resources manager Ericson Ndagijimana said the slogan appealed to many local people like him. “When I came here, I didn’t know anything about this (garment making); that’s why I decided to work hard,” he said.
An Ernst & Young report said Chinese FDI into Africa has well been diversified across sectors. In 2016, jobs created from Chinese FDI projects hit an all-time high — more than three times the number of jobs created by the next biggest investor.
To make the 10 cooperation plans work, China in 2015 announced funding support up to 60 billion U.S. dollars. As of March this year, about 90 percent of the money had been disbursed or committed, said Dai Bing, head of the African affairs department of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
With the support, new infrastructure projects are emerging across the continent: an electric railway connecting Ethiopia with Djibouti, the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway in Kenya, the Maputo Cross-sea Bridge in Mozambique and many others.
Raphael Tuju, secretary general of Kenya’s ruling Jubilee Party, said China has won the hearts and minds of Africans for assisting the continent with loans and grants to improve infrastructure.
Global consulting firm McKinsey and Company said in a report last year that in just two decades China had become Africa’s most important economic partner.
“Across trade, investment, infrastructure financing, and aid, no other country has such depth and breadth of engagement in Africa,” it stated.
Many believe this engagement will get a boost at the FOCAC summit.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who serves as the rotating chair of the African Union for 2018, said that the African side looks forward to the summit and stands ready to push forward the development of FOCAC to generate more benefits for the people of both sides.