China-Africa ties set for big boost as Beijing forum kicks off today

Officials gather in Beijing ahead of a summit on China-Africa cooperation expected to strengthen relations and benefit both sides.

Flags of African countries are seen at Tiananmen Square yesterday, ahead of the Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which will kick off today.

Foreign ministers and ministers or representatives responsible for foreign economic and trade affairs from the 53 members of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and senior representatives of the African Union Commission met in Beijing yesterday for the Seventh Ministerial Conference of FOCAC on the eve of the forum’s Beijing summit.

State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan co-chaired the meeting with South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu and South African Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies.

As African leaders gather for the summit, expectations run high for the two sides to strengthen their already solid friendship and further enhance pragmatic cooperation to bring tangible benefits to the Chinese and African people.

The two-day summit aims to build a closer China-Africa community with a shared future, further dovetail China’s Belt and Road Initiative with African development, set a new path for a higher level of China-Africa cooperation, and deepen people-to-people exchanges.

“We believe that with the joint efforts of China and Africa, the Beijing summit will be a great success and establish a new historical monument of friendly cooperation between China and Africa,” Wang told a press meet ahead of the summit.

Established 18 years ago, FOCAC has achieved fruitful results and has become a significant mark of China-Africa cooperation. China-Africa trade volume amounted to US$170 billion in 2017, up from just over 10 billion dollars in 2000, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce.

“We could see a two-digit growth rate in the next five to 10 years,” Wei Jianguo, former vice commerce minister, told a recent China-Africa seminar at Renmin University of China. “Is it possible to reach US$300 billion in 2020? Some people say it’s unlikely, but I believe it’s totally possible.”

Wei’s confidence comes from his expectation of strengthened pragmatic cooperation between the two sides. In the near future, China-funded industrial parks will cover the entire industrial system, Chinese tech companies will set up numerous development bases in Africa, dozens of jointly-built agricultural demonstration centers will bring huge, historical changes to Africa’s agricultural industry, and more private companies will invest in Africa, he said.

Just in late August, Chinese mining firm Nonferrous China Africa launched production work for its greenfield project in Chambishi town in Zambia’s Copperbelt province, which was hailed by Zambian President Edgar Lungu as an example of serious investment.

The commencement of mining, he said, was significant to the people in the town as the new project implies more business opportunities for them.

A more well-known name would be Huajian, a Chinese shoemaker that produces for brands like GUESS and Calvin Klein. The Chinese company has already provided direct jobs to more than 8,000 Ethiopians with its two local factories.

More concrete projects are expected to come into being during the upcoming series of FOCAC events, including the High-Level Dialogue of China-Africa Leaders and Business Representatives and the 6th China-Africa Business Forum.

“The FOCAC summit has now become a regular summit between Africa and China and there are big projects coming out of this partnership within the FOCAC summit,” African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs Amira Elfadil said earlier, adding the AU Commission is going to play a big role by participating in the summit.

“The expected outcome of the summit will translate the strong willingness of both sides to deepen pragmatic cooperation into concrete action, and make comprehensive plans for the priority areas and key directions of China-Africa cooperation in the next three years and beyond, particularly those areas related to African people’s livelihoods and employment and meeting the needs of African economic transformation and upgrading,” foreign minister Wang said.

It will speed up the industrialization and modernization of the continent, and push China-Africa cooperation to a higher level, he added.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, with more African countries expressing their interest in joining the grand project.

So far, 10 African countries have signed BRI cooperation pacts with China, and a few more are in negotiations. Recently in July, during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Africa, China signed cooperation documents with Senegal and Rwanda.

Proposed in 2013, the BRI refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road trade routes.

Cooperation under the initiative, which certainly goes beyond infrastructure, is expected to be a major topic of the upcoming FOCAC summit.

China is willing to work with Africa to dovetail BRI with the Agenda 2063 of the AU, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the UN, as well as the development strategies of individual African countries to explore new opportunities and inject new impetus for Africa’s development, Wang said.

Liberian President George Weah has said that his country is ready to align its “pro-poor agenda” with the BRI. Speaking from the capital Monrovia, he said Liberia will seek opportunities at the Beijing summit.

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