Categorized | Africa, China

How China can succeed in its ‘win-win’ cooperation with Africa


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China’s cooperation with Africa promises great benefits for the continent. But the Chinese government owes it to its people not to allow the fruits of the suffering of the Chinese to be monopolised by corrupt African elites. They must carry out thorough due diligence before they give the Chinese people’s money as loans to African regimes.

When I visited China in November 1958 as the guest of the Chinese Writers Union, China was just embarking on its huge programme of industrialisation.

Everywhere in the countryside, clay furnaces had been erected in which iron was being smelted. Workers’ groups, farmers’ groups as well as student bodies were roaming all over the land, each proudly proclaiming, through colourful slogans inscribed on flags and placards, that it was ready to contribute to China’s “Great Leap Forward”.

The furnaces must have looked laughable to cynics. For the West was manufacturing a cornucopia of goods in state-of-the-art factories, some of which were already using robots. How was China going to match the West in industrial production?

Those who laughed at China will be wishing today that they hadn’t done so. For out of those smoky furnaces has grown an industrial ethic that has succeeded in thrusting China to the forefront of world industrial production. China’s economy is now larger than those of Germany, Japan, Great Britain and France! Before a decade is out, even the USA will be pushed behind China. When that happens, China (already owed over $3 trillion by the USA) will be unsurpassed in industrial and financial clout in the world. The IMF has already recognised that fact and is adding China’s currency to the basket of currencies that constitute the means of world monetary exchange.

I have not been too surprised at the gigantic advances the Chinese have made, for the amiable Chinese Prime Minister of the time, Mr Zhou en-Lai, told us in a matter-of-fact manner that “we in China do not think in terms of decades or even centuries, but in terms of thousands of years.” In other words, the Chinese visualise what they want to become a thousand years hence, and set to work – very hard – to make that a reality.

Premier Zhou en-Lai visited Africa from 13 December 1963 to 5 February 1964. The ten countries he visited were the United Arab Republic (now Egypt), Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. He was accompanied by Vice-Premier Chen Yi. Together, the two men laid the foundation of the lasting friendship with African countries that eventually brought about the magnificent railway between Tanzania and Zambia. Known as Tanzam [Tazara or Uhuru”> Railway, the 1,150-mile railway took five years – 1970-75 – to build and cost what was then the colossal sum of $500 million.

This was a great sacrifice China made to Africa at the time. But China has reaped benefits from that sacrifice, for today, China’s trade with Africa totals $220 billion per year. This is greater than the trade between Africa and its traditional trading partners.

It was not surprising, then, that in his address to the China-Africa Co-operation Summit Conference that recently took place in Johannesburg, China’s President Xi Jinping was able to announce that China would make available “$60-billion of assistance and loans for Africa”.

Sixty billion dollars in one go! Anyone who has a head for figures can do the sums and conclude that this figures is huge in relation to the money the USA, Britain, France and other Western countries have given to Africa since decolonisation began in 1960.

According to President Xi Jinping, the $60-billion of funding would include $5-billion of zero-interest loans (and) $35-billion in preferential facility, export credit, and concessional loans.

Significantly, he also promised that China would provide 40,000 training opportunities to African countries.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) continued on Saturday 5 December 2015, when banking, business and political delegates from African countries and China gathered to talk about how to develop cooperative and egalitarian relationships for the future. This is in line with the theme of the forum, which was: “Africa-China Progressing Together: Win-Win Cooperation for Common Development ”.

The Forum’s conclusions were embodied in a “Johannesburg Declaration and Action Plan”, which outlines specific measures aimed at consolidating the growing mutual partnership between Africa and China.

Traditionally, the model for Chinese companies doing business in Africa has been on the basis of engineering, procurement, and construction, whereby a contractor designs a project, procures all the equipment and materials, and constructs and delivers the facility to the a client on a “turnkey” basis.

It is now envisaged that this should be changed to give way to a model whereby “the Chinese investor commits to working with a local partner and takes an equity stake in a joint venture.” This, of course, cannot be achieved by politicians, and the proposed discussions will be between businesspeople and financiers who know the problems that arise during the establishment of enterprises at first hand.

China’s enthusiasm for co-operation with Africa faces some dangers, of course. African countries have not generally undergone the type of disciplined social and economic development which China herself has experienced and which makes it possible for China to provide a positive direction to its economic and social development.

In many African countries, on the other hand, socio-economic development has been largely left to laissez-faire practitioners, with the result that socially backward elites have grown up who have cornered the means of production for self-aggrandisement purposes, instead of using it to benefit society.

The Chinese owe it to their people not to allow the fruits of the suffering of the Chinese people to be monopolised by such elites in African countries. They must carry out a thorough “due diligence” before they give the Chinese people’s money as loans to African regimes.

The Chinese must also take the initiative in proposing solutions to such problems as Ghana’s galamsey [criminal gold-mining”> in which Chinese miners team up with corrupt Ghanaians to devastate rivers and farms, in a ruthless attempt to harvest alluvial gold. The Government of Ghana, for instance, only pays lip service to ending galamsey.

But China possesses the social discipline and scientific methodology to eliminate a problem that threatens to harm the long-term relationship between China and Ghana.

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