China needs to develop detailed Africa strategy

By Xue Li Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/14 23:08:40

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

Not long ago, I took a 10-day trip to Africa with the aim of finding out about the real situation of China-Africa cooperation against the background of the "One Belt and One Road" (B&R) initiative. The three countries I visited were Egypt, Ethiopia and Tanzania. All three are major players in the China-Africa industrial capacity cooperation, but only Egypt is on the B&R route. After visiting Chinese embassies, Chinese-funded enterprises, investment projects and parks, local government agencies and think tanks in the three countries, I came up with several thoughts with regard to China-Africa cooperation.

First, I was impressed by the in-depth and broad economic cooperation between China and Africa. The three countries I visited each have more than 20,000 Chinese workers engaged in areas including manufacturing, services, medicine, planting and mining, as well as in areas of infrastructure such as railways, highways, bridges, airports, ports, factories, telecommunication networks, housing and municipal facilities. There are quite a number of Chinese State-owned and private enterprises operating in Africa, which has become one of the fastest-growing markets for many private enterprises and even the key overseas investment destination for some Chinese firms. For instance, Huawei Technologies Co now holds the leading market share in Africa, having overtaken its Western rivals.

In-depth China-Africa economic cooperation is also seen in many other African countries. From an economic point of view, China has much closer ties with African countries than with many Asian countries along the B&R route.

Second, I saw the importance of bilateral relations. China attaches great importance to relations with Africa. Chinese foreign ministers have visited Africa during their first foreign trips each year over the past two decades, which is a unique tradition among big countries. Meanwhile, African countries also pay great attention to relations with China. The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, the ruling political party in Ethiopia, learned from and combined China's experience with their reform policies, in areas such as governance, anti-corruption, promoting industrialization, building development zones and agricultural reforms. Tanzania is eager to deepen its economic cooperation with China, and President John Magufuli has called for China's participation in the construction of Tanzania's central railway line linking its major cities. One of the priorities of Egypt's policy of "turning to the East" is to strengthen economic cooperation with China. At present, all these countries are concerned about whether the B&R includes them and what their roles in it will be.

Third, considering China's comparative advantages, Africa's market size, resources, desire for development and the relatively stable political situation in most African countries, there is still great potential for China-Africa cooperation. However, there are challenges. These countries need investment in a wide range of areas, but they generally lack the ability to pay. They are also eager to enhance economic cooperation with China and to reduce their trade deficit, but they don't have many products for exports. Moreover, there is disagreement between areas or projects some African countries hope to prioritize and those in which China is willing to participate. For instance, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway is an electrified railway line, but the supporting dam and power supply facilities were not completed on time. While China is paying a lot of attention to the revamping of the Tanzania Zambia Railway (TAZARA), the Tanzanian government cares more about the central railway line and has become dissatisfied with China's inactive participation in the project.

Finally, the prospects for cooperation remain promising. After summarizing information from all parties, we came to the conclusion that despite the existence of many challenges, there are few difficulties that cannot be overcome. The key is that both sides have the wish to conduct successful cooperation and are willing to find solutions acceptable to each other through further communication.

In fact, solutions to some of the problems have already been found. For example, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway is using diesel locomotives for the time being. As for TAZARA, the Chinese side has offered several options for further consultations.

In short, African countries hope to promote their own development with the help of China. With close relations with these countries, China also attaches importance to Africa's market, population, resources and good political relations, which may have more development potential compared with some countries along the B&R route. Since the B&R mainly focuses on the Eurasian regions, especially China's neighboring countries, China needs a more specific "Africa strategy" to balance the situation.

The author is director of the Department of International Strategy at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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