No mention of controversy as China sticks to game plan

From November 29 to 30, the eighth edition of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was held in Dakar, Senegal, bringing together foreign ministers and high-level participants from African countries and China. This year’s theme was “Deepening China-Africa Partnership and Promoting Sustainable Development to Build a China-Africa Community with a Common Future in the New Era.”

FOCAC is a triennial meeting launched by China in 2000 to project and coordinate Chinese foreign policy and cooperation goals in Africa through commitments in consultation with African leaders. Previous meetings have taken place in Beijing (2000, 2006, 2012, 2018), Addis Ababa (2003), Sharm-el-Sheik (2009) and Johannesburg (2015). This latest meeting was the first of FOCAC to be hosted by a West African and French-speaking country, reinforcing China’s presence in a region that has traditionally attracted less Chinese attention than other regions of China. ‘Africa.

The forum adopted four resolutions: the Dakar Action Plan (2022-2024); Vision 2035 for China-Africa cooperation; the China-Africa Declaration on Climate Change; and the Declaration of the Eighth Ministerial Conference of FOCAC.

This latest FOCAC highlights how China views the African continent as an aggregate of countries as part of a long-term Chinese strategy for increased geopolitical influence and economic growth.

Speaking via video link from Beijing, President Xi Jinping announced an additional 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines in Africa and pledged $ 40 billion in funding focused on promoting economic growth. The funding was lower than promised in previous FOCACs, but that doesn’t mean China is pulling out of Africa. Rather, it reflects a shift in China’s approach from large and expensive state-funded infrastructure projects to encouraging more targeted investment from a variety of actors across a wider range of sectors. .

Xi also outlined the priority areas for the next three years, listing health, agricultural development, trade promotion, investment promotion, digital innovation, green development, people-to-people exchanges, peace and peace. security. Some of them are traditional pillars of China-Africa cooperation, while others suggest a shift in priorities.

The focus of the green development forum and the dissemination of the first-ever China-Africa Climate Change Declaration signals China’s intention to lead climate change mitigation and adaptation in Africa. Investment promotion is not new, but the focus on government-backed private sector investment is. We can expect to see more public-private partnerships, private investment promotion and Chinese companies venturing into Africa, perhaps thanks to regulatory incentives from the Chinese government.

Finally, China’s focus on digital innovation in Africa is a natural consequence of its solid experience in building the continent’s digital infrastructure. China also announced the establishment of a cross-border RMB center to increase the use of the yuan in trade.

In particular, it lacked a substantive discussion or serious recognition of the debt problem facing many African countries struggling to repay or renegotiate their loans with China.

Senegalese Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall suggested that China do more to tackle growing insecurity in the Sahel (Demba Gueye / Xinhua via Getty Images)

Given the urgency of the post-Covid recovery, the meeting was a good opportunity for African leaders to publicly raise thorny issues and show solidarity with one another. Countries that hold vital resources for China’s economic growth, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or others that benefit from “comprehensive strategic partnerships” with China such as Algeria, Egypt and South Africa. South, could have taken the lead. This suggests that the hope, expressed by many Chinese-African commentators, that African states would use the forum to leverage their collective influence and advocate for a more equitable and inclusive relationship with China has not materialized.

This apparent reluctance is in part due to the structure of FOCAC, which serves as a platform for announcements while specific agreements are negotiated bilaterally. But it is also due to the centrality of elite state relations in the Sino-African relationship in general, and to a lack of will on their part to deviate too much from the status quo which benefits them. This year’s FOCAC included all 55 members (53 African countries plus the African Union and China), highlighting that, as in previous FOCACs, more African leaders chose to attend FOCAC than United Nations General Assembly in September.

Above all, this latest FOCAC underlines how China views the African continent as an aggregate of countries as part of a long-term Chinese strategy for increased geopolitical influence and economic growth, and sticks to it. his game plan.

In her welcoming speech, Senegalese Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall suggested that China do more to help tackle growing insecurity in the Sahel; it seems to have gone unheeded. Nonetheless, Sall spoke up. If African elites or civil society want their countries to have a more equitable relationship with China, they must seize opportunities to say so, especially at high profile events such as FOCAC when international attention is focused. on Sino-African relations.