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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: October 25, 2010 NO. 43 OCTOBER 28, 2010
A Win-Win Forum
A decade later, the FOCAC has generated tangible benefits for both China and Africa

TALKING BUSINESS: Chinese and Zimbabwean entrepreneurs exchange views at a bilateral investment forum in Shanghai on August 12 (ZHANG MING)

Several new features have been introduced to the FOCAC. Beginning with the second ministerial conference, an entrepreneurs' conference was held alongside the ministerial conference in a bid to forge business connections. At the FOCAC Beijing Summit, it was agreed that Chinese and African foreign ministers would hold political consultations during the UN General Assembly on a regular basis. At the fourth ministerial conference, the two sides decided to launch a cultural forum to strengthen cooperation between cultural sectors. A number of specialized forums, covering fields such as law, industry, agriculture, investment, education and media, have also been established within the FOCAC framework.

New challenges

The FOCAC was founded in October 2000, following dramatic changes in the international system. The collapse of the bipolar world structure, dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union, left African countries little room to maneuver. Economic globalization further aggravated their marginalization. At that time, China badly needed a new model for cooperation with Africa, given its increasing integration into the international community. Against this backdrop, the FOCAC gave new impetus to the traditional ties between China and Africa.

A decade after its founding, the FOCAC, which currently consists of China and 49 African nations, must now confront new challenges. After the global financial crisis forced countries to adjust their domestic and foreign policies, China is facing competition from both traditional and emerging powers while advancing its ties with Africa.

The FOCAC prompted the EU to convene a long-overdue summit with Africa in 2007. U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to create a U.S.-Africa partnership of "mutual responsibility and mutual respect" and Japan has also increased its assistance to Africa.

India, South Korea and Turkey have held summits with Africa as well. These emerging economies are emulating the FOCAC in an attempt to create platforms for cooperation with African countries.

In this context, Africa is expecting more from China. It hopes China will increase investment and technology transfers, while helping to enhance the added value of African products. It also hopes China will play a greater role in African peace and security and expects the Chinese Government to supervise Chinese companies in Africa so that they can contribute more to African society.

Moreover, moral obligations are giving way to economic interests as the driving force behind China-Africa relations. As more participants join the FOCAC, the forum faces the challenge of balancing their diverse interests.

In recent years, Western countries have acknowledged China's presence in Africa. Instead of condemning its "neo-colonialism," they have begun seeking cooperation with China.

China, however, remains prudent about cooperation with Western countries in Africa. Unwilling to join the Western aid system, it insists that its African assistance fall within the framework of South-South cooperation.

African countries are also cautious about China's collaboration with Western donors. They are worried that, once these countries join forces, they may be unable to choose partners and models of cooperation.

The SIIS' recent report states there is a need for China to engage with other parties, including the United States and the EU, through the FOCAC. It could collaborate with the West on specific projects aimed at promoting African economic development. The report also said that such joint projects will alleviate the concerns of African countries.

The emerging challenges underscore the importance of the FOCAC's pursuit of sustainable development. It should adhere to the model of China-Africa cooperation characterized by equality and mutual benefit and should work to promote balanced development of political, economic, cultural and social relations between China and Africa.

Moreover, the FOCAC should continue to explore new areas of cooperation to address Africa's pressing problems, ranging from climate change to unemployment. It should help establish more economic cooperation zones in African countries to assist with industrialization.

In addition, the FOCAC should give its priority to institutional development. It should consider ways of incorporating regional and sub-regional organizations in Africa, as well as African civil societies, while improving its subsidiary agencies and follow-up mechanisms.

The author is a research fellow with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies

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