Since its establishment in 2002, the influence of the African Union (AU) has continued to grow. It is now becoming the banner leading the unity and joint development of African countries. In the meantime, the China-AU relationship is further deepening based on traditional cooperation and friendship between China and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the AU's predecessor.
Cooperation between China and the AU made significant progress in 2012. In January 2012, the AU Conference Center and Office Complex in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—constructed with the aid of China—officially went into service just before the 18th AU Summit. Jia Qinglin, then Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, who attended the inauguration of the new AU headquarters, hailed it as a gift from the Chinese Government and people, as well as a symbol of the growing China-Africa relationship. The project started in November 2008 and was completed at the end of 2011, with a total cost of about 800 million yuan ($127 million). During Jia's January 2012 visit to Africa, China also announced it would provide a total of 600 million yuan ($96 million) in aid to the AU in the following three years. Prior to that, China donated $1 million to the AU every year.
In July 2012, the AU attended the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing for the first time as an official member, fulfilling the long-held wishes of the AU for participating in the FOCAC.
One of the highlights of the Fifth FOCAC Ministerial Conference was to strengthen cooperation on African peace and security between China and the AU. The action plan adopted at the conference put forth that China will launch the Initiative on China-Africa Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Security, provide financial support for AU peacekeeping missions in Africa and the development of the African Standby Force, in addition to training more officials in peace and security affairs and peacekeepers for the AU.
Cooperation between China and the OAU began very early. In the 1970s, China started to provide the OAU with assistance such as funding, training, goods and projects, and also conducted cooperation with it in the fields of medical treatment, agriculture and the military. Since the establishment of the AU, China has sent delegations to participate in its summits. In March 2005, China became one of the first countries outside Africa to appoint a representative to the AU. In November 2008, the first China-AU strategic dialogue was held at the AU headquarters, and strategic dialogues have been held every year since.
The AU has been playing an increasingly prominent role in promoting African economic development and integration. With the further deepening of economic globalization, the biggest task for African countries is to develop the economy and improve people's livelihood. In the past 10 years, Africa's average annual economic growth was 5 percent, ranking second in the world after Asia. This has provided a sharp contrast to the pessimistic view held by many countries toward the continent's development potential shortly after the end of the Cold War. The renaissance of Africa driven by the AU has become a consensus of the international community.
The AU has attained notable achievements in promoting African security. It has changed the traditional principle of non-interference by introducing mandatory intervention in member countries facing major crises. When member countries encounter war crimes, genocide or large-scale humanitarian crises, the AU reserves the right to intervene in accordance with AU Assembly resolutions.
AU leadership has been widely recognized by African countries and the international community. There are missions from around 60 non-African countries and international organizations residing permanently at the AU headquarters. The declarations and resolutions of the AU on many hotspot issues in Africa often become reference points for outside parties to take action.
The AU has a strong interest in cooperating with China. Over the past 30 years, China has seen unprecedented development on its way to becoming the second largest economy in the world. Against this backdrop, some African countries have adopted a "look east" strategy in recent years. In her report to the AU Summit on January 27 this year, AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma expressed hope that African countries can learn from China to speed up their development.
In October 2010, AU leaders proposed the Trans-Africa Highway plan, which includes nine cross-country roads with a total length of 56,683 km. The AU hopes China could play a bigger role in its infrastructure development to promote the continent's integration. China is rich in international cooperation experience in infrastructure construction as well as related technologies. Its huge foreign exchange reserves also serve as an advantage for China to cooperate with the AU in this regard.
The author is deputy director of the African Studies Center at the Shanghai Normal University
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