“China and Africa relations and the context of 40 years of China’s reform and Opening up”

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“China and Africa relations and the context of 40 years of China’s reform and Opening up”

The seventh meeting of the China-Africa think tanks forum is held in Beijing on July 4 and 5. /CGTN Photo

Being a paper presented at the 7th China-Africa Think Tanks Forum in Beijing, Peoples Republic of China  from the 4th to the 5th of July, 2018.

Forty years of ceaseless exertions, relentless drive and uncommon focus, China’s governing party, the CPC in cooperation and coordination with other responsible social forces, leading the Chinese people have opened a fresh vista and bright prospect for human possibilities, putting to an end very firmly that history has drawn to a close to the power creative thinking and critical imagination. Forty years into what some people called the China’s second Revolution, it is not only the country that has changed but even mankind faces a bright and new prospect of opportunities that can address the core concerns of humanity ranging from the existential material needs to peace and security. The Chinese experience teaches that there is no ready-made model or any one way to modernization but in ceaseless and confident experimentation of “crossing the river by feeling the stones” with only cautious and natural impulse of careful examinations of any particular step taken, with a view to either reduce or increase the pace but never standing still or turning back.

If making a “revolution is not a dinner party or writing an essay or painting a picture or doing embroidery,” to stay steady and firmly on the course of reforms, described by president Xi Jinping as “in-depth Revolution,” is even far less of a pleasure ride but rather, a determined struggle that engages man’s fertile faculty in “seeking truth from facts”.

Forty years of relentless drive of China’s modernization through reforms and opening up have proved that difficult but independent choices made, from understanding one’s real national condition, engaging it realistically and a constant evaluation of the inherent contradictions and its inbuilt mechanisms for fact checks, can guarantee the steady development of capabilities and capacities to drive sustainable and inclusive development.

The long trajectories of shared fate between China and Africa and the historical imperative to raise answers about the questions of the course of actions to address the existential needs of their respective brotherly peoples for better life has taken a life of its own, but however, suggested that critical fundamentals must be interrogated and that fact as it objectively exist today is the experience of China’s forty years of reforms and opening up.

With forty of intense modernization efforts, consisting largely of persistent reforms and opening up, China is evidently restless, and far from resting on her oars. Having plucked the low hanging fruits of reform, the country is even more poised for deeper reforms and wider opening up.

In an exclusive interview with a Russian Television in February, 2014, President Xi Jinping said “it is no easy job to advance reform in China, which has a population of over 1.3 billion, and having been pushed for more than 30 years, China’s reform has entered a deep-water zone.

It can be said that the easy part of the job has been done to the satisfaction of all. What are left are tough bones that are hard to chew. This requires us to act boldly and progress steadily. To act boldly means to advance reforms despite difficulties and be eager to take on challenges, chew tough bones, and wade through dangerous shoalsTo progress steadily means to stay on course and proceed in safety and, more importantly to avoid fatal mistakes.”

And to give institutional support and continuity to the course of reforms president Xi told his interviewer that “to concentrate on advancing reform, we founded the Central leading Group for comprehensively continuing the Reform, with me as the head.”

He has earlier on 31st December, 2012, in a speech at the second group study session of the political Bureau of the 18th CPC central committee said that “reform and opening up is always an ongoing task and will never end. Without reform and opening up, China would not be what it is today, nor would it have the prospects for a brighter future. Problems occurring in reform and opening up can only be solved through reform and opening up.”

Persisting in reform and opening up in the past 40 years has equipped China with a steady momentum of inclusive growth, opened the prospects to attain a moderately prosperous society and provided the impetus for China to enter into a “new era” of greater material improvements and cultural advancement of the Chinese people and also more importantly, greater role for China in shouldering global responsibilities and engage more actively in improving the quality of global governance.

Reform and opening up has brought for China, unprecedented prosperity in  not only raising the quality of life for its people and increase the tempo of continuing  to seek better life for them but also brought her face to face with the responsibility to help drain the swamps of global poverty, sieve the endemic network of insecurity and help ensure that the dividends of prosperity and peace, created by the advancement in knowledge, science and technology are more evenly spread across all humanity.

Reform and opening have given China a sophisticated tool of global engagement and beyond her neighborhood; there is no other region in the world where the intensity and depth of Beijing profuse and comprehensive cooperation is more evident that in Africa.

The transformation of China in the past 40 years is epochal and the harvests of key indices in human development and national aggregates are too well known to be repeated here. The context of China-Africa cooperation have similarly but exponentially grown from shared history of brutal colonial assaults, epic collaboration and solidarity against colonial domination to now comprehensive strategic partnership in engaging the practical issues of core developmental concerns, especially the critical and enabling inventories, necessary to translate Africa’s famed potentials into actual gains for improvements in the quality of  the lives of the people of the continent.

Noting that “Africa’s ties with China are more multilayered than is often recognized,” one critical study of “Africa and China and how Africans and their governments are shaping relations with China,” argued that “what in the early 2000s began as Beijing’s push for commodities and Africa’s demand for infrastructure and financing has evolved to encompass peace keeping missions, business and technology ventures, educational initiatives etc.” Noting also that “Africa’s ties with China have become more bottom-up than initially perceived, the Study observed that since the turn of the century, when China-Africa engagement began to draw global attention, “Africa has seen an explosive uptake of mobile and other disruptive technologies, as well as the steady emergence of a credible consumer class, notwithstanding the challenges of falling commodity price, rising youth unemployment, and environmental and governance difficulties.”

Given how mobile phone and other technologies are transforming Africa and emboldening previously marginalized non-state actors, “every day Africans would become critical actors in Africa’s ties with China. This study on how Africans and their agencies, both state and non-state, affect relations with China, believe that “it is the bottom-up, grassroots interactions between ordinary Africans and Chinese that are likely to be more significant over the long-term – especially as more and more Africans are brought into the political and economic fold through advancements in technology,” even as governments and corporations are of course, central players in the relations.”

Even as new forces from both sides would certainly come into the fray as the cooperation between China and Africa advances to new frontier, as it has already covered considerable mileage, prompting the last year’s report of Mckinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, which “evaluated Africa’s economic partnerships with the rest of the world across five dimensions: trade, investment stock, investment growth, infrastructure financing, and Aid” and  “found that China is in the Africa’s top four partners in all these dimensions”, concluding that “No other country matches this depth and breadth of engagement.” The technology media journal, Techcrunch in similar breath enthused that Africa’s ties with China is a “macro mega-trend set to impact everything.”

While salutary effusiveness as the ones gushed by Mckinsey & Company or skeptical alarms raised by former U.S secretary of State, Mr. Rex Tillerson in his official trip to Africa, few months ago, about China and Africa are common place, the context of the exponential growth in cooperation and relations between the two sides have not been appropriately situated and therefore robs contemporary discourse, the profound social and historical insights which has substantially driven and sustain the rising momentum of the relation between the two sides.

Just as many researchers on the relations between China and Africa will describe history as hubris, the contemporary trajectories of China-Africa cooperation is not a happenstance. It is in the context of China’s reform and opening up that Africa-China have become both enigmatic and generated huge quality of scholarly interrogations and seared a community of global political watchers. As several strategic networks of cooperation have evolved and gained momentum and acquired lives of their own, they were mostly derived from early and deliberate efforts by the two sides to create enabling framework to build a mutually beneficial cooperation. Apart from mutual empathy solidarity and visionary leadership focused on the future, there was actually no compelling reasons for economic or commercial gains that would warrant an obviously poor China then, to invest in the construction of the nearly ten thousand railway line between the Zambia’s copper miles to the Tanzanian port of Dar-el-Salem in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a project to essentially neutralize the political backlash of the then, racist regime in South Africa, which most international financial institutions then including the World Bank, IMF, UN and even the “anti-imperialist” former USSR, rightly described as economically nonviable.  Chairman Mao Zedong in accepting to help Zambia, and Tanzania construct the railway admitted that China at that time has no railway of comparable length. While scholarly literature described such era of China Africa as ideologically driven, it conveniently leaves out the strategic insights of both leaderships to the prospects and potentials of the relations to give value and raise questions to the answers of the critical and enabling imperatives required to drive modernization in the future.

The context of the evolution of modern China was the hard course of the ceaseless interrogation of realities that rigorously isolate the flight of fancy. From its founding, the Communist Party of China said that it was not a Marxist debating society that would be enamored by high sounding rhetoric but a hard fighting and thinking political platform that would engage China’s reality with the explicit revolutionary duty to transform it and this was what it did in the more than a quarter century of struggle leading to national liberation and has continued to do in, the more than 60 years since the founding of modern China.

Despite the persistent reform in the life of modern China, since her founding, the decision to decisively focus on economic modernization as the focus of reform and opening up was taken at the epochal 11th Central Committee of the 3rd plenary session of the CPC in 1978.

The decision itself was not lightly made or any adventure of some sort. It was the outcome of profound and sober political introspection, or a rare act of courage to travel through unknown road, fortified with abiding confidence in the trust of the Chinese people, imbued with a thorough-going discipline to stay the course and armed with the formidable theoretical compass of Marxism-Leninism. By the time, the epic 1978 3rd plenary session of the 11th Central Committee was over, the ideological haze has given way to the theoretical innovation of Building Socialism with Chinese characteristics, outstanding integration of Chinese social reality and national condition to the universal insight of Marxist-Leninist Scientific Theory.

This is precisely, the background to the establishment of reform and opening up as the core of China’s economic modernization.

The illustrious trajectories of the reform and opening up has spawned an accumulation of unprecedented national aggregates by China, enabling her to nearly accomplish construction of moderately prosperous society, and continually fulfill one of her founding leader’s vision, (Deng Xiaoping) who assured that China would make enormous contributions to world, when she crosses the threshold of 1000 US dollars per capita income.

From the fruits of China’s modernization, consisting essentially of the reform and opening up, the cooperation between China and Africa have been the impressive and outstanding opportunity of international partnership and external relation to compulsively shake up the structural gridlocks that have notoriously undermined Africa’s post-colonial ambitions for sustainable and inclusive development.

China’s promise of deeper reforms and wider opening up to the world with even greater comprehensive engagement would undoubtedly bring more vitality to Sino-Africa cooperation, the strand of China’s foreign policy that Beijing routinely declares as fundamental of her external relations.

At the annual Boao Forum in Hainan, last April, President Xi Jinping though speaking to an Asian Assembly but in a message to the world said “we live at a time with an overwhelming trend toward openness and connectivity. Human history shows that openness leads to progress while seclusion leaves one behind. The world has become a global village where our interests are intertwined and our economic and social progress inter-connected. To promote common prosperity and development in today’s world, we have no choice but to promise greater connectivity and integrated development”.

Quoting a Chinese philosopher who lived over 2,500 years ago, President Xi said “that one does not have to follow a beaten path if he wishes to benefit the people and one doesn’t have to observe old conventions if he wishes to get things done,” and added that, “reform and innovation are the fundamental driving force of human progress and those who reject them will left behind and           assigned to the dustbin of history.”

He has earlier told his audience, that “over the last four decades, the Chinese people have kept forging ahead and demonstrated the strength of the nation through keeping pace with progress of the times. Ours is a truth-seeking nation           with an open mind. Our efforts to open up our minds have advanced side by side with our endeavor to reform and open up. Our search for new ideas and experiment of practices has been mutually reinforcing. Such is the great strength of a guiding vision.”

In a strong line that would re-echo across the world especially in Africa with a unanimous endorsement, President Xi expressed boldly that “we will stay committed to advancing reform in all respects, and prevail over whatever challenges that may lie ahead. We will tackle longstanding problems with courage and resolve, and break the impediments of vested interests to see the reform through,” and added in what look like a manifesto of China in the new era, “China will stick to the path of peaceful development, actively pursue global partnership, firmly support multilateralism and take an active part in reforming the global governance system and by doing so, we will be able to build a new type of international relations and promote a community with a shared future for mankind.”

To dis-abuse of any disruptive intents, he assured that “no matter how much progress China has made in development, she will not threaten anyone else, attempt to overturn the existing international system or seek spheres of influence,” and added solemnly that “China will stay as determined as ever to build world peace, contribute to global prosperity and uphold the international order.”

Emphasizing what he called the “irreversible trend of our times,” President Xi said “I wish to make it clear to all that China’s door of opening up will not be closed and will only opened wider,” and added that “what has happened proves that opening-up was key to China economic growth over the past 40 years and in the same vein, high quality development of China’s economy in the future can only be achieved with greater openness.”

Such profundity in professing reform and opening up as the cutting edge in the           modernization drive of contemporary China, naturally recommend it, to extensive and diligent study in Africa, where policy framework of modernization efforts suffer from serial ambushes of both outside and internal vested interests. Even though opening up and reform, according to President Xi is a strategic decision made by China based on its need for development as well as a concrete action taken by China to move economic globalization forward in ways that benefits people across the world,” the lessons and experiences in staying in the arduous course of reform and opening up constitute critical and strategic resource materials from which vital insights can be gleamed in driving the course of sustainable and inclusive development in Africa.

Africa’s development trajectories have serially suffered hiccups for not want of           courage or persistence but in the deficit of grasping the existential specific condition and the contradictions it generates and from which any meaningful outline and policy ramifications can be drawn. China’s basic outline in reform has consisted essentially in understanding the severity of the existential realities and national condition at any particular time and the huge exertions and toils that must be deployed to engage it and that this trajectories of ceaseless engagements with contradictions does not brook complacency,           laxity or even a momentary relaxation.

Forty years of relentless reform and opening up in China has demonstrated ample and very clearly of the prospects of human capacity to transform its conditions despite the severity of challenges and speak boldly to the Africa’s possibilities and the choices, it must decide to make by itself, because as president Xi Jinping said in Boao Forum speech, which I have generously alluded, “the successful practice of the Chinese people is a proof that there is more than one path leading to modernization. With the right direction and with           unremitting efforts, all roads will take us to Rome.”

As lessons are mutually learnt and experiences generously shared, the mutual opportunities of China and Africa to themselves even steadily grows.

With solid political footing of mutual respects to the core concerns and interests of both sides, the flagship of the current high profile cooperation which is deepening economic engagement will soar even higher.

In a report issued last year by international management consultancy firm, Mckinsey & Co, it said “one thing is clear to those who are closest to the China-Africa relationship: it will grow.” According to the report, it interviewed more than 100 senior African business and government leaders and nearly all of them said the Africa-China opportunity is larger than that presented by any other foreign partner-including Brazil, the European Union, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States.”

Positing scenarios in which “Chinese firms could dramatically accelerate their growth,” the report noted that by expanding aggressively in both existing and new sectors, these firms could reach revenues of 440 billion U.S dollars in 2025 and that in the accelerated growth scenario, not only do the three established areas of Chinese investments would grow faster than the economy, but Chinese firms also significant forays into five new sectors: agriculture, banking and insurance, housing, information communications technology (ICT) and Telecommunications and transport and logistics.”

As China-Africa cooperation has acquired a life of its own, accelerating its momentum, the Forum On China Africa Cooperation, (FOCAC) which would hold  a summit very shortly in this beautiful city, Beijing and the turbo-charged           China’s initiated Belt and Road Strategy of international cooperation, would very likely inject quality vigour and dynamism and accelerate the train of China-Africa relations, which has already left the station, garbed in the solid attire of strategic and comprehensive partnership to the admiration and goodwill of the greater number of the global community.


Mr. Charles Onunaiju


Centre for China Studies, (CCS)

Abuja, Nigeria.



Selected Bibliography

 –      Xi Jinping – Governance of China Vol. I&II –  Foreign languages Press Ltd. Beijing (2014 & 2017).

 –      Elizabeth Economy: The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State – Oxford University Press, New York (2018).

–      Wangari Maathai – The Challenge of Africa – Pantheon Books, Toronto, (2009).

 –      Mckinsey & Co. – Dance of the lions and dragons: How are Africa and China engaging, and how will the partnership evolve? (June, 2017).

 –      Xi Jinping – “An open and innovative Asia for a world of greater prosperity,” speech at 2018 Boao Forum for Asia.

 –      Charles Onunaiju – China’s struggle for Modernization: From Revolution to Reform – Yalian Press, Abuja (January, 2016).

 – AlekSandra W. Gadzala – Africa And China: How Africans and their governments are shaping relations with China – Rowman and littlefield publishing group, paperback edition (2018).




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