The staff of a Chinese company introduces products to attendees at the first China-Africa Industrial Capacity Cooperation Expo in Nairobi on December 13, 2017 (XINHUA)
On January 26, China was accused of spying on the African Union (AU) as well as stealing information from AU severs over the past five years by French media outlet Le Monde Afrique, two days before the opening of the 30th AU Summit.
These accusations were quickly put down by high-ranking African officials at the event. AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, AU Chairperson Paul Kagame and others dismissed the allegations, stating there was no evidence to back up the claim.
This is not the first time that the Western media has sought to sully China's image in Africa. With China playing a more important role in leading cooperation with African nations, the international community becomes increasingly curious about China's influence on the continent's development.
Evident in the history of Sino-African ties is bilateral cooperation that has not only brought new opportunities for African countries, but which also reflects the direction of South-South cooperation, an important driving force for balanced global development.
The ongoing warming of ties between China and Africa reflects a global trend and is the fruit borne of bilateral understanding and effort. In the late 1990s, with the deepening of globalization and international development patterns being adjusted, the African countries themselves suggested that China establish multilateral cooperation mechanisms with Africa of the kind already employed by developed countries like Japan and the United States.
Against the backdrop, China and the African nations jointly established the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, seeking to build a new type of partnership for the 21st century. In 2006, the ministerial conference of the FOCAC was upgraded to a China-Africa leaders' summit, and key figures from both sides committed to developing a new look China-Africa strategic partnership.
In 2015, the FOCAC Summit was held in Africa for the first time in Johannesburg. Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the forum and proposed the upgrade of the China-Africa strategic partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation, while also putting forward five pillars for this partnership, namely political equality and mutual trust, win-win economic cooperation, mutually enriching cultural exchanges, mutual assistance in security, and solidarity and coordination in international affairs. In the meeting, China also announced to provide $60 billion in financial support to African countries from 2016 to 2018, focusing on 10 areas for pragmatic cooperation, including industrialization, the modernization of agriculture, the construction of infrastructure, finance, green development, trade and investment, poverty reduction and public health.
Meanwhile, China has also strengthened institutional cooperation with Africa. In China's Africa policy paper released in 2006, China acknowledged the AU's important role in safeguarding regional peace and stability and promoting African solidarity and development. China demonstrated its appreciation for open cooperation with the AU across various fields, offering support for the union's positive role in regional and international affairs.
In 2015-16, the two sides signed memoranda of understanding to cooperate on infrastructure construction and on collaboration with the African Center of Disease Control and Prevention, in order to promote the interconnectivity of the African continent to improve people's quality of life.
The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation and the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), held in 2017, have injected new impetus into the Sino-African relationship.
The Belt and Road Initiative, as an important international project to promote common development, is open to Africa and will be coordinated with other development strategies in the region such as the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the Agenda 2063 of the AU.
According to the 19th CPC National Congress report delivered by President Xi, who is also General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, China-Africa relations in the new era should be developed in light of the need of building a community with a shared future.
Instead of one-directional assistance, cooperation between China and the AU takes place on the basis of mutual learning, and benefits the third party at large. For instance, in the agricultural field, cooperating with the AU to strive for the modernization of African agriculture, China has also learned from the experience accumulated by the AU in promoting its New Partnership for Africa's Development.
In a meeting with Mahamat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in June 2017, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described how China is ready to deepen cooperation with the AU through the aligning of each other's development strategies, the conduction of peace and security cooperation, the enhancement of cooperation in public health, the implementation of human resources development and increased coordination in international and regional affairs. Wang pointed out that cooperation across these five fields was in line with Africa's current requirements, the aspirations of the African people and the strategic direction set by the Agenda 2063. China is ready to act in these areas and to accommodate closer partnership with the AU.
It should be mentioned that, the development of Sino-African ties in recent years is the product of an inherited traditional friendship which hails from the spirit of unity, fellowship and cooperation reached at the Bandung Conference in 1955. The relationship conceived then is an important part of South-South cooperation today.
Increasingly close ties between the two regions are also attributed to effort on China's part. By promoting opportunities for peace and development, China has spread solidarity among developing nations, particularly through close cooperation with African countries, which provides a model for collaboration among other regions of the developing world.
China has placed great emphasis on synergizing its own development strategy with that of Africa, and on realizing common development though capacity-building cooperation. According to the Agenda 2063, New Partnership for Africa's Development and other African development strategies, China has formulated plans which can meet the requirements of both sides and fully support the independent development of Africa.
China also values sustainability in development, and has accordingly focused on pragmatic cooperation oriented by enterprises and guided by the market. In particular, China has supported African participation in the latest technological revolution and the Industry 4.0 process, having actively promoted cooperation in hi-tech fields as well as the training of personnel and the transfer of technology. China has also supported Africa in improving its infrastructure and carrying out new-energy development projects so as to ensure the progress of urbanization, industrialization and agricultural modernization.
In the future, China will continue to treat Africa as a friend, valuing tangible results in cooperation, cultivating kinship-like qualities in their relationship and focusing on sincerity in addressing problems. China will continue to support the development of African countries, sharing experiences of governance while avoiding both interference in internal affairs and the harming of regional interests.
China has gradually transformed itself from a mere participant into a leader of international multilateral development mechanisms. Such a change has attracted global attention and led to suspicion. When China provided assistance in the building of the AU headquarters, some in the Western media suggested that China was seeking greater influence in Africa.
However, this suggestion was nothing but imaginative speculation on the reality of improving ties between China and Africa. Such allegations besmirched China's image in Africa, reflecting that the sources themselves do not believe in the independence, self-empowerment and determination of the continent. The reputation China enjoys today in supporting peace and development in Africa is bestowed upon it by the African countries themselves, and is a direct reflection of this reality.
China harbors great hopes and spares no effort toward the prosperity of the African continent, which is not only favorable to the African people, but also to the balanced development and stability of the world.
During the two decades since FOCAC was founded, the attitude of the international community has changed from curiosity to recognition by way of concern. Actually, China's increasing engagement with Africa also provides more opportunities to the international community for third-party cooperation with China in the continent. To promote the peace and common development of the region, more and more Western countries are expected to conduct third-party cooperation with China and Africa. As Macron suggested during his visit to China, China and France should seize the opportunity presented by the Belt and Road Initiative to conduct third-party cooperation in Africa.
The author is a research assistant with China Institute of International Studies
Copyedited by Laurence Coulton
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org