This year marked the 7th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting between China and African leaders. Initiated in 2000, FOCAC is a triennial meeting where both sides review and set targets for the relationship. The 2018 Beijing gathering is the third FOCAC meeting to be held at summit level; the previous two summits were held in Beijing (2006) and Johannesburg (2015). The other FOCAC meetings (2000, 2003, 2009, 2012) were held at ministerial level.
This FOCAC Summit took place amid alarm over a potential trade war between China and the US, who has retreated as a leading voice in multilateral platforms and issues like climate change. Yet China’s President, Xi Jinping, took the opportunity in his opening remarks at the Summit to raise concern over protectionism and rising unilateralism. China’s commitment to the multilateral system and globalisation was evident through the inclusion of the United Nations (UN) at FOCAC. The global body was even given a voice as UN Secretary General, António Guterres, was invited to address the gathering.
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Xi’s eight major cooperation areas
In his speech, Xi emphasised eight major cooperation areas for the next three years and beyond (there were 10 proposed cooperation areas at the last FOCAC meeting in 2015). They include the launching of:
- An industrial promotion initiative (Trade and investment; building and upgrading selected economic and trade cooperation zones in Africa; agriculture)
- An infrastructure connectivity initiative (Close cooperation with the African Union in this regard; China will support Chinese companies participating in African infrastructure development; China will support African countries in making better use of financing resources such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Development Bank, and the Silk Road Fund)
- A trade facilitation initiative (Including an increase of non-resource product imports from Africa; marketing activities for Chinese and African products; China’s support of Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area)
- A green development initiative (50 exchange and cooperation projects linked to climate change, ocean, desertification prevention and control, and wildlife protection)
- A capacity building initiative (To share China’s development practices; to support African social and economic development training; to set-up 10 Luban Workshops in Africa to provide vocational training for African youth; to provide Africans with 50,000 government scholarships and 50,000 training opportunities; giving 2,000 young Africans the opportunity to visit China for exchanges)
- A health care initiative (Involving the upgrade of 50 medical and health aid programs for Africa including flagship projects like the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters and China-Africa Friendship Hospitals; the training of medical specialists and the sending of medical teams that better meet Africa’s needs; the provision of more mobile medical services)
- A people-to-people exchange initiative (China will establish an Institute of African Studies; the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Plan will be upgraded; 50 joint cultural, sports and tourism events will be organized; a China-Africa media cooperation network will be established; more African culture centres will be opened in China and vice versa; African education institutes are welcome to host Confucius Institutes; tourism; China also welcomes Africa’s participation in Silk Road related exchanges)
- A peace and security initiative (Setting up of a China-Africa peace and security fund; China to continue providing military aid to the African Union; a China-Africa peace and security forum will be established for more exchanges in this area; 50 security assistance programs will be launched to advance China-Africa cooperation in the areas of law and order, UN peacekeeping missions, fighting piracy and combating terrorism; as well as under the Belt and Road Initiative)
Finally, to support these initiatives President Xi announced US$60 billion in new financing for Africa. This is the same amount that was pledged in 2015, although this time around US$10 billion is expected to come from private Chinese investments. (For more on the breakdown visit China’s FOCAC Financial Package for Africa 2018: Four Facts).
- South Africa’s term as the African co-chair (2012-2018) is coming to an end. The new African co-chair to work alongside China is Senegal
- China and African countries agreed to link China’s proposed trans-regional integration plan, the Belt and Road Initiative, with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the AU’s Agenda 2063 and African countries’ own development strategies
- The 7th FOCAC meeting appeared to have a large social media presence beyond the usual commentaries from global media and academics and analysts. Updates and live links to the Summit were regularly posted on Twitter by Chinese media organisations including @CGTNOfficial and @XHNews. Likewise, South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) posted the first public version of the 2018 Beijing FOCAC Declaration on its Twitter (@DIRCO_ZA) and Facebook accounts. There were also Twitter updates from the social media handles of African leaders including Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe
- Three new member countries were included in this summit: The Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, and Burkina Faso. These countries have since the last FOCAC severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established relations with China
- Media reports have also noted the African leaders who did not attend FOCAC (although some sent representatives)
- The next FOCAC will take place in 2021
Beyond FOCAC 2018: Direction for journalists
FOCAC serves as a useful framework for journalists to understand the emphasis – as set out by Chinese and African officials – of relations over the next three years. The eight areas of cooperation as mentioned by President Xi outlines important aspects of emphasis that can be monitored and given more nuance through ‘on the ground’ reporting.
It is also important to look beyond the formal meeting. For example several meetings and even agreements were made on the sidelines of FOCAC between China and various African countries (including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe). There are also themes that require further attention. For instance more consideration can be given to the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (i.e. the fusion of digital and physical technologies) that continues to lead global discussions. While FOCAC emphasises the continent’s industrialisation, Africa will increasingly need to innovate and understand its role in the midst of such a growing trend. Similarly there remains a clear gap in gender representation in such gatherings that requires more emphasis.