China and Africa: Towards a community of shared future and a common destiny

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China and Africa: Towards a community of shared future and a common destiny

“China and Africa: Towards a community of shared future and a common destiny,” being a paper presented at a lecture to course 27 participants of the National Defence College, Nigeria on the 9th of January, 2019 at the auditorium of the National Defence College, Abuja.


China in Africa is recently exacting political paranoid in some circles in the \West and especially in the United States of America.

Mr. John Bolton, U.S national security adviser on a recent remarks “on the Trump Administration’s New Africa Strategy,” delivered at a Washington D.C-based Think Tank, Heritage Foundation mostly worried that “Great Power competitors, namely China and Russia are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa, aggressively targeting their investment in the region to gain competitive advantage over the United States. He went ahead to name China 18 times in a 6-page remark in which his main grouse seemed that “U.S aid to Africa…, have not prevented other powers, such China Russia from taking advantage of African states to increase their own power and influence.”

It is no gainsaying that the Africa Mr. Bolton largely refers to is a passive, unimaginative, unresponsive and a lumber of wood waiting to be moved and exist largely in his imagination, and not the Africa that Nigeria former military leader General Murtala Mohammed roared in his famous letter to Mr. Gerald Ford in 1976, has come of age and has the good sense of judgment to chose her friends, without been prodded by extra-regional powers.

Africa is surely open to partnerships of mutual benefits with all members of the international community, but very unlikely as a theater of Great Power competition as her experience in the cold war was nothing to write home about.

But should China in Africa trigger such paranoid as to evoke a specter that seems to hunt some certain quarters in the West.

China in Africa and the continent engagement with Beijing is not particularly new, although there is no denying the fact that China/Africa cooperation is currently in the frontline of contemporary international relations. As political and ideological tempers rise feverishly at the status of China-Africa Cooperation today, the scholarly community is jammed in the high traffic of outputs , some eminent others, not so eminent and yet others down-right mediocre. But the fact is that no strand of international cooperation has been intensely scrutinized, critically examined and loudly interrogated as China-Africa cooperation. Because of China, no foreign ministry of any major or medium country in the world today can ill afford not to have Africa’s directorate with high caliber personnel. There was a time, Africa policy management of major western countries were sub-let to super star celebrities – musicians and film actors and middle cadre technocrats at multilateral financial institutions, mostly the Britton Wood Institutions but certainly not any more.

Africa’s strategic visibility and eminent profile on the global scene, has come through a fresh vigour of internally generated momentum to lift herself but also benefited from a complementary impetus of her foremost and dynamic international partnership with Beijing that has kept steady and stable through elaborate mechanisms of regular contacts, consultations, and cooperation. The fore- most institutional expression for China-Africa relation has been the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which held it third Summit in September last year in Beijing. Since its founding, more than 18 years ago, the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) had driven rapid development of China-Africa relations. In the past 18 years since the founding of FOCAC, the annual trade value between China and Africa multiplied 17 times, from 10billion U.S dollars in 2000 to 170billion U.S dollars in 2017 even as China’s investment in Africa rose to 40 billion USD from almost nothing.

To a considerable extent, FOCAC has driven exponential growth of China-Africa relations, essentially on account of its stability and predictability, clearly a very important asset in a world of uncertainties. Of the plethora of cooperation mechanisms related to Africa globally, FOCAC is one of only a few to operate on schedule for nearly two decades. For example, the EU-Africa summit launched in 2000, did not convene its second meeting until 2007 and missed one in between.

The latest Korea-Africa, which was planned in May 2014, was postponed more than two years to December, 2016. The latest India-Africa Summit and Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum were both delayed more than a year. Despite the several cooperation mechanisms between United States of America and Africa, the U.S-Africa leaders Summit was only held once in 2014. In the case of FOCAC, since inception in 2000, it has been held once every three years in addition to relevant meeting of foreign ministers and other high-ranking officials and coordination conferences on action plans implementation.

The fact therefore, is that FOCAC’s high degree of stability and predictability have provided a sound strategic and policy environment for cooperation.

Despite its regularity and predictability, Africa has other important incentives to give centrality to FOCAC in her international engagement.

Within the pragmatic framework of FOCAC and its practical outcomes, China provides an alternative pillar to solve practical problem. In the first half of the 20th century, the success of China’s national liberation movement set an example for the national independence of Africa countries.

In this context, founding leaders of the Peoples Republic of China such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai established profound and intimate friendship with African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere. Such historical connections laid solid foundation for contemporary China-Africa cooperation.

Even as it is said that more interactions trigger more frictions, it is however, such emotional ties that puts the brakes on the negative factors of China-Africa Cooperation and prevent frictions from escalating. Information released by Pew Research Centre show that most African country’s favorability towards China remained above 60% throughout the entire decade from 2007 to 2017.

As it stand today, China has set a new example for Africa with its development experience and achievement; which has seen a “great reversal,” happening between China and Africa since China’s adoption of reforms and opening up policy.

In 1978, China’s nominal GDP was about 149.5 billion USD, and that of sub-Saharan Africa was 180.6 billion USD, including 46.7 USD of South Africa, 36.5 billion USD of Nigeria, and 5.3 billion USD of Kenya. China’s GDP has since multiplied 81 times to reach 12 trillion USD by the end of 2017, much more than that of the entire African continent, let alone any single African country.

The same happened in terms per-capita GDP. In 1978, China’s per-capita GDP was only 156.4 USD much lower than 1, 651.6 USD for South Africa, 527.1 USD for Nigeria and 351.6 USD for Kenya. The Chinese figure was less than one-third of the average of sub-Saharan Africa (which stayed at 495.4 USD). But now, China has overtaken all Africa countries, with its per capita GDP increasing to 8, 827 USD by the end of 2017 while the figure is 6, 160.7 USD in South Africa, 1, 968.6 USD in Nigeria, 1,507.8USD in Kenya and 1, 553.8 on average in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the broad context of China-Africa cooperation what is on offer is beyond its practical and tangible outcomes of development support and assistance but also in the powerful example of China in lifting herself beyond any conventional sense can imagine.

This change in fortune, following the adoption of the reforms and opening up policy by China in 1978 largely justified the report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October, 2017 which stated that “Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, China is blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization, and offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving that Independence.”

A key factor driving the FOCAC process is that Africa is a top priority of China diplomacy and has become strategically important for China.

In the more than two decades, China has evolved diplomatic tradition, where every year, Chinese foreign minister visits Africa first at the start of Beijing global diplomacy and the symbolism of Africa’s preeminence in China’s diplomatic work and foreign relations cannot be lost.

From the perspective of China-Africa relations, China’s diplomacy has roughly undergone three stages in which Africa’s role evolved in ties between China and other parts of the world.

Africa occupied a core position in the first stage and is playing a key role in the current third stage. The first stage extended from the founding of the modern China in 1949 until the adoption of the reform and opening up policy in the 1970s. During the period the cold war set the main tone of the global order and China chose to stand on the side of the Socialist camp led by the Soviet Union, adopting a diplomatic policy of “cleaning up the house before inviting guests” (meaning it needed to clear out the remnants of imperialist forces in the country to pave the way for building equal diplomatic relations with countries around the world). After Sino-Soviet split, Africa became the top priority for China’s diplomacy. The second stage started from the late 1970s and lasted until 2000, during which China placed priority on its relations with developed countries, in a bid to achieve a “rise through imitating” under the frame-work of international system. As China’s development entered a higher level, imitating developed economies could not solve emerging challenges to realize sustainable development.

Meanwhile, developed countries became highly skeptical of China’s “rise through innovation” under the framework of the international system. In this context, China’s diplomacy entered the third stage, during which the strategic importance of developing countries rebounded.

Africa’s own exposure to international relation through colonial domination and imperialist plunder made her considerably sensitive and emotionally attached to a framework of equal relationship, and win-win cooperation. China historically offered hands of solidarity and equal partnership and the entire trajectory of China-Africa relation has been driven by mutual respect and benefits. Under the framework of FOCAC, China has made great and meaningful contribution in closing the gap of Africa’s infrastructure deficit and the facts of these is too visible all over Africa to take our time here.

The latest, triennial Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC), held in Beijing on September 3rd-4th last year, cements China’s role as one of Africa’s key partners, in terms of loan finance, investment and trade. With delegations from almost all African states in attendance, including many at the head of state level (including South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya), China’s president, Xi Jinping, unveiled loan and investment commitments of US$60bn over the next three years, with a significant portion geared to addressing Africa’s large infrastructure deficit. Apart from cementing China’s role as a key partner, the latest summit’s significance is amplified by two factors: the deepening of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which places its engagement with Africa in a broader context; and the emergence of US‑led protectionism, which leaves China as the defender of a multilateral, rules-based trading system, giving a further boost to the country’s influence.

The US$60bn sum pledged by China at the 2018 summit is the same as in 2015 (when South Africa hosted the FOCAC), although it will be structured differently, to reflect shifting priorities. The total amount, to be spread over three years, will comprise grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans (US$15bn), credit lines (US$20bn), a special fund to deepen China-Africa relations (US$10bn) and projected direct investment by Chinese firms (US$10b). The final US$5bn constitutes a second special fund, geared to boosting China’s imports from Africa, which fell sharply in 2015‑16, thereby turning China’s former trade deficit with the continent into a large surplus. China also plans to make it easier for African countries to issue bonds in China. Partly to deal with criticism of lax safeguards surrounding Chinese projects, President Xi signalled a renewed focus on environmental issues, potentially heralding greater involvement in renewable energy. President Xi also noted about “vanity” projects. In addition, the Chinese premier announced a partial debt write-off, covering interest-free loans owed by poor or landlocked countries and small island nations.

China’s lending pledges at FOCAC meetings
Year  Meeting Total financing commitment Breakdown
2000 First ministerial conference n/a n/a
2003 Second ministerial conference n/a n/a
2006 First summit & third ministerial conference US$5bn US$3bn in concessional loans; US$2bn in export credit
2009 Fourth ministerial conference US$10bn Concessional loans
2012 Fifth ministerial conference US$20bn Concessional & commercial loans
2015 Second summit & sixth ministerial conference US$60bn US$5bn in grants & interest-free loans; US$35bn in concessional loans & export credit
2018 Third summit & seventh ministerial conference US$60bn US$15bn in grants, interest-free loans & concessional loans; US$20bn in export credit
Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Despite the debt forgiveness on offer, the debate over China’s loans to African countries and sustainability or otherwise—and therefore of longer-term benefit—appeared evidently exaggerated. Research by Johns Hopkins University underscores no potential dangers arising from Chinese lending, noting that just three countries—Djibouti, Congo (Brazzaville) and Zambia—are excessively reliant on Chinese loans (in terms of the proportion of foreign debt held by China).

Even at that , the U.S national security adviser Mr. John Bolton recent claim of China’s loan to Zambia which has allegedly caused Beijing to take over Zambia’s Utility company has  been denounced by Zambia as blatant lie, and further clarifying that its external debt stock is 9.3billion USD with China share at a little over 3billion USD.

Even the research at John Hopkins University put a smaller degree of risk to Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Moreover, after Chinese lending to Africa surged to US$30bn in 2016, thereby lifting total disbursements to about US$125bn since 2006, the sum fell to a provisional US$9bn in 2017, according to Johns Hopkins (although the figure may still be revised upwards). Notably, about 60% of Chinese lending has been directed towards infrastructure projects.

Analysis by The Economist Intelligence Unit finds Kenya to be a useful (and more balanced) example of how Chinese lending affects Africa. Kenya’s bilateral debt to China has risen sharply, from just US$0.94m in 2013 (8.8% of the total) to US$5.2bn in 2017 (22.8% of the total), although the increase is smaller than for commercial bank borrowing (including sovereign bonds), which soared from US$0.69bn in 2013 to US$6.86bn in 2017 (30.1% of the total). Most of Kenya’s Chinese loans are non-concessional, but they are typically cheaper to service than bank loans (or bonds) and is largely accounted for by a new standard-gauge railway, which, is yielding practical benefits and enabling Kenya’s competitive business environment. By contrast, a large part of Kenya’s US$2bn sovereign bond in February 2018 continues to prop up foreign-exchange reserves, which is a costly way of bolstering import cover. Caution towards massive borrowing from China may be warranted, but Kenya’s example shows that an even heavier reliance on commercial borrowing, including sovereign bonds, poses a greater threat to overall debt sustainability.

Data on foreign direct investment (FDI) flows by source country are in short supply, although China’s contribution has undoubtedly risen strongly over the past decade. The latest World Investment Report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) suggests that China’s FDI stock in Africa climbed to US$40bn in 2016, from US$16bn in 2011). Inflows from China, as from other countries, are mainly driven by commercial factors, although the government’s prominent role in the Chinese economy (and its stake in numerous Chinese firms) adds an extra, political dimension. This makes it more likely that Mr Xi’s target of US$10bn in African FDI over the next three years will be realized. Barring major new investment from traditional Western sources, China will continue to climb up Africa’s FDI league, perhaps overtaking the US in the medium term.


China’s total trade with Africa grew briskly until peaking in 2014, at US$221.6bn, according to Chinese official data, before a sharp slide in 2015 and 2016, when the total ebbed to US$149bn, largely because of a sharp downturn in imports, in line with commodity price trends, especially for oil. Imports from Africa jumped from US$67.1bn in 2010 to US$117.5bn in 2013, but subsequently sagged, sliding to just US$56.7bn in 2016. Exports to Africa jumped from US$60bn in 2010 to a peak of US$108.5bn in 2015, before dipping to US$92.3bn in 2016. With imports falling far more quickly than exports (which are dominated by machinery and other manufactured goods), China’s trade balance with Africa turned from a deficit in 2010‑14 (averaging US$17.9bn a year) to a surplus in 2015‑16 (averaging US$36.9bn a year). The fall in Chinese exports to Africa is probably caused by the same factor as declining imports from Africa, namely lower commodity prices, which have stifled Africa’s growth, and hence import demand. Chinese imports from Africa probably rose again in 2017, and even further in 2018, but the balance may remain in China’s favour, explaining the new fund, announced at the FOCAC to bolster purchases from the continent, especially of non-traditional commodities.

In addition to expanding the frontiers of cooperation between China and Africa, is the opportunity of the Belt and Road, China’s initiated strategy of international cooperation. The vision of and project of building networks of infrastructure connectivity, policy coordination, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people to people contact within and among countries reflects the seeming convergence of human aspirations beyond the territorial borders of State Sovereignty.

The Belt and Road takes from the ancient Silk Road.

Human being always have moved from place to place and traded with their neighbours, exchanging goods, skills and ideas. Throughout history, Eurasia and some parts of Africa, were criss-crossed with communication routes and paths of trade, which gradually linked up to form what are known today as Silk Roads; routes across both land and sea, along which silk and many other goods were exchanged between people from across the world. Maritime routes were an important part of this network, linking East and West by sea, and were used for the trade of spices in particular, thus becoming known as the spice Routes.

These vast networks carried more than just merchandise and precious commodities however: the constant movement and mixing of populations also brought about the transmission of knowledge, ideas, cultures and beliefs, which had a profound impact on the history and civilizations of the Eurasain and African peoples. Travellers along the Silk Roads were attracted not only by trade but also by the intellectual and cultural exchange that was taking place in cities along the Silk Roads, many of which developed into hubs of culture and learning. Science, arts and literature, as well as crafts and technologies were thus shared and disseminated into societies along the lengths of these routes, and in this way, languages, religions and cultures developed and influenced each other.

‘Silk Road’ is in fact a relatively recent term, and for the majority of their long history, these ancient roads have no particular name. In the mid-nineteenth century, the German geologist, Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen, named the trade and communication network (the Silk Road), and the term, also used in the plural, continues to stir imaginations with its evocative mystery.

The rediscovery of the ancient Silk Road and its historical contemporary spirit and their re-incarnation in the China’s initiated Belt and Road strategy of international cooperation testifies to the enduring and formidable human spirits to re-enact the finest of its trajectories despite the odds.

It is therefore an ode to an incredible thought and exponential rigour of profound theoretical explorations to connect the extant tapestries of histories, to the contemporary challenge of the future for all mankind.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) stands out as one of the contemporary scientific answers to the vexed questions of an inclusive roadmap to accommodate the objective strands of global integration and the critical infrastructure necessary to bring about a community of shared destiny and future for mankind. Whether it is perceived as grand strategy of Beijing to accelerate her dominance, as Mr. Bolton alleged in his discourse of U.S Africa policy. However, the sound theoretical and scientific ramification of the Belt and Road process cannot be over-emphasized.

The Belt and Road Initiative is not happenstance, a mere projection of power or a geopolitical calculus of emerging world police inspector. It is the outcome of the theoretical rigor and exertions of a proletarian party and the government and people it leads,  the outcome of diligent scientific interrogation of contemporary social realities and the crystallization of the depth of inquiry of arriving at truth through the intense examination of facts and a confirmation of the endless trajectories of reforms, embodied in the latest theoretical achievement of the CPC, dutifully manifested in the “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era,”

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) issued from the objective analytical interrogation of contemporary realities, reflect a profound grasp of the unfolding global trends of common universal aspirations for a shared future and destiny for all mankind. The sheer depth and rigor of thought invested in fleshing out the social architecture of the Belt and Road Initiative, the output of massive physical road map and the overwhelming inclusive global acceptance and ownership testifies to the resourcefulness of the Chinese proletarian party to toil on behalf of humanity despite the humongous burden of advancing in particular the well being and prosperity of the Chinese people. Interestingly, it sees the opportunities of the dialectical relationship between the wellbeing and prosperity of the Chinese people and the rest of humanity as mutually reinforcing and complementary.

The objective convergence of universal aspirations for peace and development, inclusion and participation contradicts the existing pockets of isolationism and unilateralism in the international order. The former yearns for practical expression while the later yields to the cold war ideological fixations of power politics and hegemony.

Meanwhile, as the inimitable spirit of new international cooperation asserts itself, the ideological and intellectual fervor, justifying and enabling the conflictual paradigm as the elemental drive of international intercourse persists with seductive scholarly allure. The most recent incarnations though, with less intense appeal as the Mr. Francis Fukuyama ideologically feverish “End of History,” in the 1990s, is the “Destined for war: can America and China escape Thucydide’s Trap?” by Graham Allison, director of the U.S Harvard Kennedy School’s Belter Centre for Science and International affairs.

Referring to the Greek historian Thucydides, who observed that the Peloponnesian war that ruined the ancient Greece was caused mainly by “the rise of Athens and the fear instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” According to the author, similar conditions of when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling one, have occurred sixteen times over the past five hundred years and twelve ended in war, with only four ending in peaceful compromise. Professor Graham Allison went on, to raise the question whether “in the seventeenth case, an irresistibly rising China is on cause to collide with an immovable America.”

Even as he outlined premises, by which the “clash” may be averted through strategic recognition of each other’s vital interests, the emerging international trends, that is subordinating geopolitical calculations to the contemporary integrative mechanism objectively accelerating the convergence of human aspirations, did not particularly appeal to the author, who appeared obsessed with strategic conflict management of aggressive competitions.

Though couched in contemporary rise of China and the perceived America’s existential dilemma, allegedly arising from it, Prof. Allison Graham’s “Thucydide’s trap” largely re-echoes the “Clash of civilization,” published towards the end of last century by Professor Samuel Huntington.

Yet, Henry Kissinger, doyen of U.S diplomacy with whom former U.S President the late Richard Nixon pioneered modern Sino-US relations in the early 1970s, has in his insightful work published in 2014, asked “will the rapidity and scope of communication break down barriers between societies and individuals and provide transparency of such magnitude that age-old dreams of human community will come into being? Or will the opposite happen. Will mankind, amidst weapons of mass destruction, networked transparency and the absence of privacy, propel itself into a world without limits or order, careening through crises without comprehending them?

However, while intellectual speculations are welcomed to flourish on the intervening complexities of the current human conditions, it will take a bolder act of theoretical rigour to apprehend the evolving trajectories and navigate it through an inclusive and participatory process and enabling a considerable global consensus on the framework and the roadmap of its physical and institutional architecture.

In a strong and powerful affirmation that China and Africa are a community of shared future, leaders of the two sides met in Beijing last September for the 3rd summit of the heads of state and government of the Forum On China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), and called “on all countries to work in concert toward a community with a shared future for mankind, an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity, and a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, with a view to upholding and advancing world peace and development.”

The successful convocation of the Beijing Summit of FOCAC clarified and laid out the foundational architecture of integral global system whose functional dynamics would be underpinned by active collaboration and participation in nurturing and sustaining an inclusive international order.

In offering themselves as a model of a community of shared future,” China and African countries through the mechanism of FOCAC demonstrated what is possible in a genuine, practical and mutually respectful partnership despite the vagaries of geographical divide and even differences in social systems and political organizations.

The China-Africa relations as a trend of contemporary international cooperation defined by the principles of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith is a powerful current and rare opportunity to re-define international relations beyond the cold war and its aftermath characteristics of zero sum game, power politics and the vexatious practice of hegemonism.

While pockets of entrenched, powerful and vicious special interests, nestled at vintage corners of some national political arenas would not be easily persuaded to the historical imperative and the obvious viability of international cooperation and partnership against the outdated paradigm of conflict and alliance, the trajectories of historical course and especially in its current manifestations bears out a stronger push to the construction of a community of shared future for all mankind.

As a powerful impetus driving the emergence of an inclusive and cooperative international order, China is neither a “superpower” nor a “hyper-power” and to my understanding would never aspire to be.

The then vice premier, Deng Xiaoping dispelled any notion of ever, a hegemonic China. In a landmark speech at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on the 10th of April, 1974 he defined “a superpower as an imperialist country which everywhere subjects other countries to its aggression, interference, control, subversion or plunders and strives for world hegemony” vowing that “China is not a superpower, nor will she ever seek to be one,”

Deng Xiaoping plainly told the world that “if one day China should change her colour and turn into a Superpower, if she too, should play the tyrant of the world, and everywhere subjects others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her as a social imperialism, expose it, oppose and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.”

Nearly five decades after  Deng Xiaoping, the core of the Chinese second generation leadership, well regarded for the profound insight in pioneering China’s enigmatic reforms and opening up, spoke up to the world on the historic trajectory to international cooperation and inclusive participation, President Xi Jinping, the contemporary core of China’s fifth generation leadership from the rostrum of the 3rd FOCAC Summit in Beijing last September announced that “to respond to the call of the times, China will get actively involved in global governance and stay committed to the vision of consultation, cooperation and benefit for all in global governance.”

“To create new drivers to power common development through a new platform of international cooperation, President Xi Jinping said that “China is ready to jointly promote Belt and Road initiative with international partners,” vowing that “China take it, its mission to make new and even greater contributions to mankind, and work with other countries to build a community with shared future for mankind.”

With development footprints and partnership across all regions of the world, China definitively means what it says and has remained true to her historic vision of inclusive and equitable global order.

The paradigm of the Belt and Road Strategy of international cooperation and the vision of community of shared future for mankind are two important questions of our time and how they are reckoned would inevitably shape the fate of humanity.


Charles Onunaiju,

Centre for China Studies,

Abuja, Nigeria

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