African students studying acrobatics in Wuqiao in north China's Hebei Province display their certificates after graduation on May 13, 2015 (XINHUA)
With frequent high-level visits and the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in September, for China, 2018 was the "year of Africa." From July 21 to 28, 2018, President Xi Jinping visited Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius, his fourth Africa visit since he was elected president in 2013, which showed the great importance he attaches to Sino-African relations.
In the first half of 2018 alone, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, special presidential representative Yang Jiechi, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) Li Zhanshu, and Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Wang Yang visited Africa one after another.
In addition, African leaders visited China frequently. Within half a month after China concluded the annual sessions of the NPC and the CPPCC National Committee in March, the presidents of Cameroon, Namibia and Zimbabwe visited China. The three leaders expressed their wishes to strengthen alignment between their own development strategies and the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative. Sino-Namibian and Sino-Zimbabwean relations were upgraded to comprehensive strategic cooperative partnerships during the visits.
A new chapter
The 2018 FOCAC Summit, held on September 3-4, pushed the "year of Africa" in China to its climax, opening a new chapter of Sino-African relations. The most prominent achievements at the summit included an agreement by China and African countries to work toward a stronger community with a shared future, with African countries emphasizing their desire to more actively support and participate in the Belt and Road Initiative.
During the summit, 28 African countries, as well as the African Union, signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with China on the Belt and Road Initiative, increasing the number of African countries that have signed MoUs to 37. This number accounts for 70 percent of the countries that participated in the 2018 FOCAC Summit.
According to the National Development and Reform Commission, China will reinforce close communication with related African countries on the Belt and Road Initiative with the aim of expanding the initiative to the whole continent so as to benefit African countries and peoples in a concrete manner.
Infrastructure construction and the building of industrial parks—which form important parts of the Belt and Road Initiative—are on the rise on the African continent and have seen preliminary success. For instance, the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, which went into operation on May 31, 2017, had transported 1.72 million passengers and 2.1 million tons of goods by August 2018, far exceeding estimates. In addition, the railway has helped reduce logistics costs by more than 40 percent, contributing up to 2 percent to the growth of Kenya's GDP.
The construction and operation of the railway also diversified business operations and promoted industrial chain development along the route, laying a solid foundation, along with other projects, for new industrialization in Kenya.
Apart from industrialization, forging closer people-to-people ties is a strong component of the Belt and Road Initiative. Building friendships on the ground can enhance mutual understanding among the peoples of China and African countries and can help counter slander from Western countries about China's intentions on the continent.
The year 2018 saw more people-to-people ties between China and African countries in areas such as education, tourism, medical care, science and technology, and culture. Since the Chinese Government put forward "expanding people-to-people and cultural exchanges" as part of its eight measures at the Fourth FOCAC Ministerial Conference in 2009, China-Africa exchanges in culture, think tanks, personnel, media, youth and women, and volunteer services have been growing. For instance, the Fifth China-Africa People's Forum in 2018 issued the Program for China-Africa People-to-People Friendship and Partnership (2018-20), promoting 30 people-to-people cooperation projects in three years.
To promote closer people-to-people exchanges, China has held a series of trainings for culture-related human resources personnel, including in Chinese kungfu, traditional handicrafts, museum operation, theater management and intangible cultural heritage protection. In May 2018, 15 people from Benin, Cameroon, Mauritius, Nigeria and Senegal arrived in China for an 11-day training course on cultural relic repair.
The culture industry has become a new area of China-Africa cooperation in recent years. In 2018, China and South Africa held a forum on culture industry cooperation, while China held an animation carnival in Nigeria as the two countries are discussing cooperation in the animation industry.
According to a report issued by Ipsos, a global consultant agency, China has become the most recognizable development partner among Kenyan people, surpassing the United States.
China-Africa people-to-people ties and cultural exchanges will be deepened in 2019. Among the eight initiatives put forward at the 2018 FOCAC Summit, three are related to people-to-people ties and cultural exchanges.
For instance, capacity building initiatives will target the younger generation of Africans. China will establish Luban Workshops in different African countries to provide vocational training for young Africans. It will launch a program to train 1,000 high-caliber African personnel, provide Africa with 50,000 government scholarships and 50,000 training opportunities for seminars and workshops, and invite 2,000 young Africans to visit China on exchanges.
The healthcare initiative focuses on building the public healthcare system in Africa. China will upgrade 50 medical and health aid programs in Africa, particularly flagship projects such as the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention and China-Africa Friendship hospitals. China will also train more medical specialists in Africa and continue to send medical teams to the continent. More mobile medical services will be provided for the treatment of cataracts, heart diseases and dental defects, along with targeted healthcare services for women and children.
According to the people-to-people exchange initiative, China will establish an institute of African studies and upgrade the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Plan. China will continue to support Africa's participation in the Silk Road International League of Theaters, the Silk Road International Museum Alliance and the Network of Silk Road Art Festivals. In addition, a China-Africa media cooperation network will be established. Qualified African educational institutes will be welcomed to host Confucius Institutes, and more African countries will be promoted as destinations for Chinese tour groups.
China-Africa 2018 Highlights
(in chronological order)
The Chinese-built Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway began commercial operations on January 1.
Construction of the Lekki Deep Sea Port by China Harbor Engineering Co. Ltd. started in Nigeria on March 29.
First overseas center for the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System opened in Tunisia on April 10.
China and Burkina Faso resumed diplomatic ties on May 26.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited several African countries from July 21-28.
The Fifth China-Africa People's Forum was held in Chengdu, China, on July 23-24.
China and Mauritius signed free trade agreement on September 2.
The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit was held in Beijing on September 3-4.
First Electronic World Trade Platform in Africa was launched by China's Alibaba Group and the Rwandan Government on October 31.
African exporters attended the First China International Import Expo in Shanghai from November 5-10.
The author is a senior researcher with the Charhar Institute and a researcher at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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