How to understand China-Africa relations? Sun Hong

CGTN – 10:47, 09-Mar-2019

Editor’s note: Sun Hong is an associate research fellow at the Institute of African Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. The article reflects the author’s views, and not necessarily those of CGTN. In 1963, during his first visit to Africa, then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai announced the eight guiding principles for Chinese aid to Africa, sowing the seed of friendship and laying a solid policy foundation for bilateral relations. The past five decades have seen the China-Africa partnership transformed into a leading example of win-win cooperation, with tangible results felt by both peoples. To better understand the current landscape of China-Africa relations, we may see it from the following four aspects. 

Mutual trust and support Since the 1960s, China, though still a poor country, has tightened its belt and provided large economic and military aid to back African countries’ national liberation movements. And, with the latter’s firm support, China regained its legitimate seat in the United Nations (UN) in the 1970s.  China and Africa respect each other’s core interests. For example, China’s non-interference of other country’s internal affairs has been highly praised. The one-China principle is universally acknowledged. Three countries on the continent have renewed diplomatic relations with China during the past three years. Since 2000, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has been the overarching framework for China-Africa cooperation. The year 2015 witnessed the establishment of a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership. The 2018 FOCAC summit saw the two parties’ commitment to build a China-Africa community of shared future, lifting the political mutual trust to a new level.

Closer economic ties Economic cooperation has always been a highlight. With a population of 1.2 billion, Africa has the potential to be one of the world’s largest consumer markets. However, the lack of basic infrastructure, skilled labor and investment limits its efforts to achieve sustained development. That’s where China could and does make a difference.

Guinea Bissau’s President Jose Mario Vaz (2nd R) talks during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, September 5, 2018. /VCG Photo The complementarity of the China-Africa economic structure made it possible for China to transfer some of its quality industrial capacity to the continent and help the latter build its own industrial system. Since 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has injected new impetus into it by encouraging Chinese investors to build industrial parks and opening up labor-intensive manufacturing factories. The results are quite satisfying for both sides. In 2018, China-Africa trade reached 204 billion U.S. dollars, a 19-fold increase from 2000. Almost half of the infrastructure projects on the continent are undertaken by Chinese contractors. More than 3,000 Chinese enterprises are operating in Africa. In the meantime, millions of job opportunities have been offered for African youth, three times greater than the number of jobs Americans have created. Two-thirds of these jobs include occupational training. Flagship programs of the BRI, like the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, have created 30,000 jobs for local people.

Increasing security commitment Security is still a major concern for Africa, especially in areas like the Sahel region and countries like Somalia and Nigeria, falling prey to terrorist attacks for more than a decade. The existing international cooperation with main players like France and the U.S proves to be insufficient. As a rising major country, China has been making its contribution by engaging with African partners.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) speaks during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation – Round Table Conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, September 4, 2018. /VCG Photo For example, China has provided a significant amount of aid during the fight against the Ebola epidemic from 2014 to 2016 in West Africa. And around 2,000 Chinese blue helmets are deployed in five mission areas in Africa under the framework of UN peacekeeping operations. On the bilateral level, China supports African solutions to African problems and security forces capacity-building by providing training courses to military and policemen, both in China and Africa.

Upholding international multilateral system The current international system was meticulously designed, sturdily built and maintained during the past 70 years. Multilateralism as its core plays an essential role in achieving African sustainable development, either in the past or now. The unexpectedly rising populism and unilateralism in some developed countries have driven them to concentrate more on their domestic affairs. However, the chronic challenges facing the continent require more external input. There are growing concerns that without adequate external support, not only will Africa suffer, but the rest of the world will bear sour consequences. It is against this backdrop that China and Africa have reiterated their determination to uphold the current multilateral system, especially on free and fair trade principles. With the 54 African countries and China joining hands, it makes the multilateral system less vulnerable. In the meantime, the common prosperity of China and Africa also provides a huge opportunity for the world, whose future resides in a rising Africa. As an old African saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together. The past 50 years witnessed deepening cooperation between China and Africa. The current situation demands that the two maintain the momentum and to show the world that international cooperation is the best way to protect and develop their interests. (If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at


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