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Deep-rooted Commitment
Companies taking part in the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa emboldened as China renews its commitment to the continent at FOCAC 2018
By Ge Lijun & François Dubé | NO. 37 SEPTEMBER 13, 2018

Chinese and South African staff work at a technology innovation center of Huawei Technologies in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 11 (XINHUA)

Only with deep roots can a tree yield rich fruit. These words resonate strongly with Sun Pishu. They are an accurate description of how his company has adapted and evolved in Africa throughout the years despite the obstacles and challenges. Its roots grow deeper with every project.

"Chinese enterprises should not simply invest in and trade with Africa. They should use their strong sense of social responsibility and mission to promote the continent's development and share China's best technology, ideas and experience," Sun said.

As the CEO of Inspur Group, one of China's leading IT companies, Sun has learnt firsthand how critical it is for Chinese businesses to pay close attention to local African needs in order to take root and bear fruit on the continent.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Chinese President Xi Jinping used the very same analogy in his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) on September 3.

Xi pointed out that partnerships between Chinese and African businesses have been successful in addressing the lack of infrastructure and other issues that constrain Africa's development.

Great progress has been made on the continent in the areas of industrialization and modernization, infrastructure construction, trade and investment facilitation, capacity building, and poverty alleviation, he said.

Much to the delight of the participating leaders—who hailed from 53 countries, in addition to a delegation from the African Union (AU) Commission—Xi promised that China's support would continue over the next three years, pledging a further $60 billion in financing to Africa.

Xi described Africa as a historical and natural extension of the ancient Silk Road, and as an important participant in the Belt and Road Initiative. Looking forward, he said that China hopes to turn the Belt and Road Initiative into a road of peace, prosperity, openness, green development and innovation that brings together different civilizations.

"We need to see to it that the Belt and Road Initiative and the AU Agenda 2063, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the development programs of African countries better complement each other. Through these efforts, we can expand areas of cooperation, unlock new cooperation potential, consolidate our traditional areas of cooperation and foster new highlights of cooperation in the new economy," said Xi.

Partnership through technology

For Sun, who attended the High-Level Dialogue of China-Africa Leaders and Business Representatives and the Sixth China-Africa Business Forum, which also took place as part of the FOCAC Beijing Summit, this renewed commitment from the Chinese president is good news.

"China and Africa are both in a developmental stage. Therefore, they can work together to overcome common obstacles, in addition to building, exchanging and sharing know-how and experience in economic development," he said.

From its first foreign venture on the continent many years ago, his company has now become one of the largest providers of cloud computing and Big Data solutions, with its products having been adopted across Africa. To date, Inspur has established itself in more than 100 countries around the world.

Sun believes that emerging technologies have brought about equal development opportunities to many countries. By learning from China's experience in information technology (IT), African countries can directly benefit from cutting-edge developments such as cloud computing and Big Data. This can help them promote industrialization and modernization, while supporting their integration with the global economy, he said.

"At present, we have developed cloud infrastructure in many countries in Africa. In Ethiopia and Ghana, Inspur cooperates with local enterprises to build cloud data centers and information-based development infrastructure through which local governments can develop industries involving the Internet, Big Data and artificial intelligence," explained Sun.

Such development will not only improve the livelihood of local people, but also benefit the development of similar industries in neighboring countries, he said.

"We are willing to share with African countries the best and most mature Chinese IT creations, such as smart cities, smart education and smart agriculture, so that they can take fewer detours and more expediently achieve leap-frog, IT-fueled development," he added.

Strength in numbers

When it comes to the best way for Chinese companies to gain a foothold in Africa, Huo Jiangtao is a strong believer in numbers.

As the Vice President of the Africa Guangdong Business Association (AGBA), she believes that it is more advantageous for Chinese companies to take an approach of mutual assistance when going abroad. Relying on industrial parks on the continent, her association aims at better achieving the clustering effect for newcomer enterprises, so as to better complement their industrial resources.

At the same time, park operators should focus on providing basic public facilities and services that are most needed by enterprises, and carry out targeted exchanges with relevant local institutions to identify and address issues in the local development process. Only by doing so can the parks be relevant to individual enterprises, she said.

"It is with this objective in mind that we established AGBA in August in Nairobi. At the same time, Guangdong New South Group Co. Ltd., the head company of AGBA, started work on the construction of the Pearl River Special Economic Zone in Kenya," Huo, who attended the FOCAC Beijing Summit, told Beijing Review.

During his speech at the High-Level Dialogue of China-Africa Leaders and Business Representatives, Xi talked of his high expectations for Chinese and African entrepreneurs, including the need for them to shoulder their share of social responsibility.

Huo could not agree more. She recalled her experience in Senegal, where local partners said they needed more professional training.

"To a certain extent, we realized we had to change our previous methods of assistance, which consisted of exporting standardized and closed black-box technology products, into a more flexible approach with technologies that can be transferred and adapted. Therefore, we saw value in targeted vocational training," she explained.

In May, AGBA established the African Business School in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, where it now provides vocational training to its African partners. "I hope we can use this initiative to train more talent for the long-term development of China-Africa trade and economic cooperation, and gather more momentum," she said.

As with its previous iterations, the FOCAC Beijing Summit concluded amid a wave of expectation for the future of Sino-African relations.

"Cooperation with China has been going on for more than 50 years, and judging from the Beijing Summit, more concrete things will be done. This shows that China has learned from its experience in dealing with Africa, and the same is true for Africans," said Jean Claude Nkou, Communication Strategist with the Presidential Office of the Republic of Congo.

"Judging from the commitments that have been made, I can safely say that the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit did not disappoint," he added.

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com

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