President Cyril Ramaphosa co-chairing the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) Summit’s Round Table discussions with President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, in the People’s Republic of China. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) concluded its seventh summit in Beijing on Tuesday, 4th September 2018. The vast majority of Africa’s fifty five countries sent their top leaders to the summit, with the exception of six countries, all of whom sent a delegation except King Mswati of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), the only African country to not accept and adopt the One-China-Policy.

At the Summit, leaders exchanged views on a number of regional and international issues, advancing consensus on key issues of strategic importance for both Africa and China. One of the key outcomes of the Summit from an economic perspective, was the announcement of $60 Billion in financial support to the African Continent, by President Xi Jinping of China .

The support will be provided in the form of government assistance as well as investment and financing by financial institutions and companies. China also announced that it will increase imports from Africa, especially for non-resources products, and will facilitate African financial institutions’ bond issuances in China.

It is important to note, that according to statistics by China Customs, the import and export value of China-Africa trade between January and December 2017, amounted to US$170 billion, up 14.1% year on year. Showing a deepening trade relationship between the African continent and China.

Another key outcome of the FOCAC Summit, was a greater commitment to build the China-Africa Comprehensive Strategic and Cooperative Partnership. As such, China committed to implement ten cooperation plans with Africa. This includes:

– China- Africa Industrialization Plan
– China -Africa Agricultural Modernization Plan
– China-Africa Infrastructure Plan
– China-Africa Financial Plan
– China-Africa Green Development Plan
– China-Africa Trade and Investment Facilitation Plan
– China- Africa Poverty Reduction Plan
– China Africa Public Health Plan
– China-Africa Cultural and People-to-People Plan
– China-Africa Peace and Security Plan

It is important to remember that FOCAC forms the central pillar in advancing China-Africa relations. It provides the foundation for building a long-term “win-win” China-Africa relationship, and is a unique diplomatic mechanism to promote dialogue between China and Africa, while simultaneously facilitating the development of a common political and economic agenda which is intended to advance constructive South-South co-operation.

This years deliberations have brought African and Chinese leaders closer to drafting a shared vision for policy coordination, expanded commercial interaction and common prosperity, with the China-Africa Comprehensive Strategic and Cooperative Partnership.

African leaders have welcomed China’s commitments to increase aid, trade and investment on the continent. They also noted that China’s relationship with Africa has significantly altered the continent’s traditional dependency on donors in the Global North. Through FOCAC, the African continent now has an alternative source of aid, trade and investment.

It is important to note that China operates in a different paradigm than the traditional developmental aid organisations. For them, aid, trade, and investment are seen as interconnected within a mutually-beneficial framework. It is therefore poignant to not only focus on aid exclusively and separately from other modes of development financing. It is essentially an “aid-business-trade model” that combines all three into one.

As such, it would be incorrect to measure, monitor and evaluate China’s aid objectives using the same set of definitions, standards and parameters established by traditional aid donors.

Another key area of criticism historically by the Media and think-tanks in the Global North, has been China’s approach to peace and security on the African continent. It is therefore significant that within the China-Africa Comprehensive Strategic and Cooperative Partnership, the necessity for an evolved “China-Africa Peace and Security Plan”has been highlighted and adopted.

While past FOCAC summits have adopted “China-Africa Peace and Security plans”, its evolution needs to take into consideration the role of the African Union and other regional bodies.

African Union and Peacekeeping

The African Union (AU) has a strategic role to play in ensuring engagement with Africa broadly, is in line with the continents strategic objectives, specifically in relation to peace and security, both regionally and domestically.

This would require a greater integration of the Agenda 2063, African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the Sustainable Development Goals( SDGs) into China’s foreign policy towards Africa.

By integrating these, China’s engagement with Africa, becomes one driven by Africa’s self-interest, as represented by the AU, and holds African countries accountable both bilaterally with China, and multilaterally with the AU, to the norms and standards agreed to by them in the African Union.

Utilizing the AU as an entry point with regards to peace and security, would strengthen the African Unions role in advancing peace on the African Continent, and mitigate attacks on China globally, as a country more interested in protecting its economic interests, rather than ensuring lasting peace on the continent.

This does not mitigate nor contradict China’s role in peacekeeping via the United Nations, in countries such as South Sudan, where their presence is critical for peacekeeping. It merely adds an additional layer of complexity and legitimacy to China’s military presence in Africa, outside of their role in the United Nations(UN).

The UN states that on average, China currently contributes more troops to peacekeeping missions than any other permanent member of the Security Council. Approximately 2500 Chinese peacekeepers were deployed in 2017 to missions in South Sudan, Mali, The Democratic Republic on Congo and other African countries.

In February 2018 China ended a 15-year peacekeeping mission in Liberia. The UN states that the Chinese peacekeepers were a major reason why Liberia was able to hold an election without major civil unrest.

Through integrating Agenda 2063, African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the Sustainable Development Goals( SDGs) into China’s foreign policy towards Africa, and working via the African Union (AU) on peace and security, more can be achieved in creating a more stable continent for both Africa’s development and protecting China’s economic interest.