China-Africa ties example of mutual respect

For such economic contact to be sustainable, there should be concurrently an emphasis on cultural exchanges in the hope of attaining better understanding between the people.

As the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) opened in Beijing on Monday, there was a whiff of excitement in the air, as evidenced by the ubiquity of forum banners on my way from the airport, the ubiquity of easily recognizable volunteers on the streets, flowers, and the night streetscape illuminated in a way fit for major festivals.

But in many other aspects, the city remained business as usual. As a matter of fact, the forum was held with a view of four principles: business as usual, frugality, green, and the participation of local residents.

In a sense, I think the participation of local residents is of particular significance to a successful forum.

“Friendship, which derives from close contact between the people, holds the key to sound state-to-state relations,” so goes a saying by Han Feizi, a thinker living in the Warring States period (500-221 BC).

If we scrutinize China-Africa relations in light of this philosophy, it is easy to see we have achieved a lot.

At the Forum media center I picked up a hefty volume of book titled “China and Africa: Win-win Cooperation,” which documents, among other things, China’s effort in poverty reduction, public health and green development in Africa. The big screen in the media center also shows how Chinese health workers help control schistosomiasis in Tanzania.

But there is still room for furthering understanding at the people level. There are still many misconceptions that need to be cleared up, to begin with.

For instance in a recent article carried on titled “How much do you know about Africa?”, readers were tested on the truthfulness of some statements which include: Africa is very hot, and thus uninhabitable, and African countries are all impoverished.

These are all misconceptions.

China is very far away from Africa, but China’s first contact with Africa can be traced to 2,000 years ago, when Zhang Qian in the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD) successfully opened the Silk Road, which linked China with Europe and Africa.

It has been established that during Admiral Zheng He’s voyages to the west during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) he had reached a number of African destinations, which include at least what is today Egypt, Somalia, and Kenya.

But China and Africa should find greater affinity in their recent history, as both China and Africa were victims of invasion and rule by the West, and have waged long struggles against imperialism and colonialism or semi-colonialism in their respective pursuit of independence and emancipation.

In recent years, the economically complementary nature of China and Africa has made Africa an important trade partner with China. According to statistics, by the end of 2017, Chinese investment in Africa totaled US$100 billion, with 3,500 Chinese enterprises investing or operating there.

For such economic contact to be sustainable, there should be concurrently an emphasis on cultural exchanges in the hope of attaining better understanding between the people.

China and sub-Saharan Africa have developed an independently enduring and glorious civilizations, and so unique are they that it is difficult to interpret them within the framework of the theoretical discourse constructed and dictated by the West.

In a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Beijing Summit of FOCAC on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China follows a “five-no” approach in its relations with Africa: no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries’ internal affairs; no imposition of China’s will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa.

“No one can undermine the great unity between the Chinese people and the African people,” Xi said.

Indeed, the two ancient civilizations have a lot to contribute to today’s international relationships in need of ever more mutual respect and trust.

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