China, Africa and Asia Advancing South-South Co-operation



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Shelton, Garth. China, Africa and Asia Advancing South-South Co-operation. En libro: Politics and Social Movements in an Hegemonic World: Lessons from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Boron, Atilio A.; Lechini, Gladys. CLACSO, Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina. Junio. 2005. pp: 347-383.
Acceso al texto completo: http://bibliotecavirtual.clacso.org.ar/ar/libros/sursur/politics/Shelton.rtf




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Garth Shelton*

China, Africa and South Africa Advancing

South-South Co-operation


Mr. President, our countries and peoples are united by a common resolve to build a better life for themselves...We are committed also to contribute what we can to ensure a more equitable international political and economic order which addresses the just aspirations of the billions of people who belong to the developing countries.

Thabo Mbeki addressing visiting PRC President Jiang Zemin (Thomasson, 2000)


China and South-South co-operation

China’s emphasis on South-South co-operation is seen as a key element in its efforts to oppose unilateral global dominance1. Through African economic co-operation, China hopes to build a stronger political relationship that will support Beijing’s diplomatic offensive against “hegemonism”2. This strategy is not entirely new, as Mao Zedong argued in favour of subverting the capitalist system by mobilising revolutionary forces in the Third World. However, Beijing’s new approach is designed to use economic and political co-operation as the means to strengthening and advancing the South’s political and economic agenda with a view to building a more just and equitable international order. A priority for China’s foreign policy is to mobilise African support in the international arena, especially at the United Nations. Beijing activates African support by arguing that China and Africa both belong to the developing world, and therefore have no disputes but only common strategic interests, with a shared view on major international issues. Beijing consistently argues that China and Africa should support each other in close co-operation on key global issues. Beijing continuously has to work hard to mobilise and maintain African support on key international issues (Guijin, 2001).

Beijing is seeking to: improve existing consultative mechanisms and make greater use of these channels of dialogue; strengthen contacts between governments; update and sign related bilateral agreements according to changes in the bilateral economic and trade situation so as to provide legal insurance for bilateral co-operation; and actively broaden the contact channel and gradually expand the scale of trade (Mbuende, 2001: 7). Beijing also favours the strengthening of China and Africa’s co-operation and consultation in international multilateral forums such as the World Trade Organization and Untied Nations Trade and Development Conference (UNCTAD), to co-ordinate positions and strengthen the negotiating position of developing countries as a group in formulating a multilateral economic and trade system and related rules. In this way, Beijing argues that China and Africa could jointly make an effort to establish a new, fair and reasonable international economic order. Over the past few years, China has sought to build social, political and economic ties with Africa. For example, at the G-77 Summit in Cuba (the so called “South Summit Meeting”), presided by president Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, the head of the Chinese delegation, Li Lanqing, advised developing countries to strengthen South-South co-operation in order to keep pace with the world’s scientific and technological development and thereby effectively cope with the challenges of the knowledge economy.

China’s emphasis on South-South co-operation has found broad support in Africa, and especially South Africa. One of the central elements of South African president Thabo Mbeki’s global foreign policy is to advance South-South co-operation as the key to unlocking a new political and economic international system within which developing countries have a better chance of accelerated economic development and eventual prosperity (Vale and Maseko, 2002; Mills, 1998; Lamy, 2001; Vaahtoranto, 2002). Part 1 of this paper discusses China’s African policy and interaction with Africa in the context of efforts to support and advance South-South co-operation. Part 2 examines the China-South Africa links since formal diplomatic recognition in 1998, and efforts by both governments to develop collaboration in a variety of fields, especially the synchronisation of policy with regard to the South-South agenda. Given the prioritisation of South-South co-operation in South Africa’s post-1999 foreign policy, relations with China have taken on a new significance, as Pretoria seeks to work with Beijing in restructuring the global political and economic agenda (Alden and Le Pere, 2003; Solomon, 2002).



China’s Africa policy

Official statements confirm that China attaches great importance to co-operation with the African Union (AU) and other regional organisations in Africa, while voicing support for their efforts for economic integration and the peaceful resolution of regional conflicts3. Beijing has sought to consolidate on-going dialogue and consultation with the AU, formally the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), as part of a programme to expand interaction with the African continent. In recent years, Sino-African trade and other areas of economic co-operation have shown significant progress. It is clear that the Chinese government attaches great importance to the development of trade and economic co-operation with Africa. The Chinese leadership often emphasizes that since 1956 China has provided assistance to African countries in a range of fields such as agriculture, fishery, food processing, textile and other light industries, energy, transportation, broadcasting and communication, water conservancy and power industry, machinery, public buildings and housing, culture, education, health, arts and the handicrafts industry4.

In recent years, many African countries have begun to restructure their economies, while China has also initiated a period of economic reform and restructuring. In order to support economic development in China, Beijing is currently developing new forms of assistance that will include reducing aid to African countries. While China continues to provide intergovernmental aid to selected countries, Beijing has shifted its emphasis to provide official loans with government-subsidized interest rates and to develop co-partnership or joint ventures between companies from Africa and China. Through this process, Beijing hopes to stimulate African economies and thereby increase the demand for Chinese products. At the same time, it creates an opportunity for Chinese enterprises to establish a viable base in Africa.

Over the last ten years, Beijing has signed over thirty framework agreements on loans with more than twenty African countries. Some projects funded by these soft loans have achieved impressive successes, such as oil exploration in the Sudan, railway renovation in Botswana, agricultural development co-operation with Guinea, forest exploitation and timber processing in Equatorial Guinea, the Mulungushi Textile Mill, a joint venture in Zambia, and a cement factory in Zimbabwe. Beijing planners see Chinese and African economies as highly complementary to each other, arguing that China has the technology and managerial skills suitable for African countries, while Africa is endowed with rich natural resources. China has indicated its intention to continue providing economic aid to African countries within its “capacity to do so”. At the same time, they are increasingly determined to encourage companies from both sides to co-operate with each other directly through joint ventures and other arrangements. The long-term goal for Sino-African co-operation has been outlined by Beijing as commercial interaction with private enterprises from both sides becoming the main actors in economic co-operation, opening a new dimension for South-South interaction.

Official statistics indicate that trade between China and Africa has expanded significantly in recent years. China has sought to improve trade relations with all the 53 African countries, and has established eleven investment and trade centers on the continent. There has also been clear progress in Sino-African co-operation in the fields of culture, education and health. To date, China has signed government agreements on cultural co-operation with 42 African countries and 65 programmes for cultural exchanges. China has offered scholarships to 5,000 students from 51 African countries, with about 900 of them currently studying in China. Inter-college contacts have been established between 10 Chinese universities and 20 universities in 16 African countries. More than 400 Chinese professors and lecturers have been seconded to Africa, while 19 hospitals have been built in Africa with Chinese aid, and 15,000 Chinese medical personnel dispatched to 42 African countries, providing medical treatment to local people in remote towns and villages.

China consistently promotes positive relations with Africa by pointing out that when its seat in the UN was restored in 1971, among the 76 countries that voted in it favour, 26 were from Africa, accounting for more than one third of the total. Later, when expressing his appreciation, Chairman Mao Zedong said it was the African friends who carried China back to the UN5. More recently, China has stressed that on all issues involving African interests, China specifically takes into consideration the opinions of African countries and consistently appeals to the international community to work together for peace, stability and development in Africa. Beijing contends that under the current international situation, it is even more important for China and Africa to strengthen consultation and co-ordination on global affairs. It has been suggested that China and Africa should make joint efforts to take up the challenges resulting from globalization, to safeguard legitimate rights and interests of developing countries, and to strive for a just and fair new international political and economic order. In China’s view, the new international order would require acceptance of Beijing’s pre-eminence in Asia and a much more increased international role in international organisations.

China’s policy objective of strengthening and developing friendly co-operation with all developing countries, including and especially African countries, has long been an important component of China’s foreign policy. Members of the Chinese Foreign Ministry have suggested that the principles governing relations between China and African countries were originally proposed by the late Premier Zhou Enlai during his visit to Africa in 1960s, and continue to broadly serve as the foundation for Sino-African friendship. In the early 1980s, Chinese leaders proposed during their African visits the Four Principles on Economic and Technological Cooperation between China and African countries, namely: equality and mutual benefit, stressing on practical results, diversity in forms of interaction, and attainment of common progress.

Jiang Zemin’s visit to Africa

During his visit to six African countries in May 1996, PRC president Jiang Zemin outlined a “Five-Point Proposal” on developing a long-term and stable Sino-African relationship based on comprehensive co-operation and interaction (Peigeng, 1966: 5-13). The “Five Point Proposal” included: fostering “sincere friendship”; interaction based on equality, respect for sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs; common development on the basis of mutual benefit; the enhancement of consultation and co-operation in global affairs; and the long-term creation of a “more splendid world” (via a just and fair new economic and political international order) (Weisan, 1996: 5-7). Jiang’s new African policy laid the foundation for a strengthening and consolidation of Sino-African relations, which have subsequently been advanced through the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) with ministerial level meetings in Beijing during 2000 and Addis Ababa in 2003. In addition, Jiang’s 1996 visit to Africa provided the framework for the establishment of a new diplomatic relationship with the Republic of South Africa (Tingen, 2002: 7-9).

Jiang’s visit recast and refocused China’s African policy following a long and often contradictory political engagement with the continent6. The Bandung Conference, held in Indonesia in April 18-24, 1955, had marked the beginning of an international campaign, strongly supported by Beijing, for Afro-Asian solidarity. At the conference, contacts were made for the first time between PRC and African diplomats, leading to the establishment of a Chinese embassy in Egypt as the first on the African continent. The institutional embodiment of Bandung was the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO), in which China played a leading role. However, AAPSO failed to adequately translate words into action, thus frustrating the vast potential of Afro-Asian solidarity.

At a farewell banquet in Ghana on January 15, 1964, following a tour of ten African countries, Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai confirmed Beijing’s support for African struggles against imperialism, and set the stage for Africa as an ideological battleground with both Washington and Moscow. Zhou’s announcement followed Mao Zedong’s August 8, 1963 speech on colonialism and racism, which indicated the PRC’s desire to lead the developing world, and confirmed the breakdown of the Sino-Soviet relationship. Zhou also declared that Africa’s potential for revolution was “excellent”, effectively calling for a second, post-colonial struggle against the new ruling African bourgeoisie. However, domestic economic and social difficulties, as well as China’s own second revolution, the “Cultural revolution”, undermined the PRC’s efforts to implement foreign policy objectives in Africa. Preoccupied with reviving the Chinese economy under the post-Mao leadership of Deng Xiaoping, African policy shifted from support for Maoist inspired revolution to the search for new commercial engagements that would strengthen the PRC’s economy. Deng adopted a non-interference approach, encouraging African countries to find political and economic models of development to suit their own particular circumstances (Qinmei, 1998: 16-22; Fei, 1995: 4-5). During a conversation with UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuellar in August 1982, Deng confirmed that his central foreign policy objective was support for China’s “economic development”. In a major policy speech delivered on June 4, 1985, Deng laid the foundation for China’s post-Maoist foreign policy, largely unchanged to this day, by stressing that the PRC would “concentrate on economic development” in order to become a “modern, powerful socialist economy”. He stressed that “economic development is our (China’s) primary objective and everything else must be subordinated to it”. Deng’s domestic economic reforms and opening to the rest of the world effectively terminated the strong Maoist ideological content of China’s foreign policy, elevating instead the two objectives of promoting trade and investment, both regarded as essential for China’s future economic development. Jiang Zemin’s 1996 visit to Africa was intended to advance China’s “Africa first” foreign policy: he signed 23 economic and technical co-operative agreements with six African countries (China Internet Information Center, 2002a; 2002b). Moreover, he sought a new commercially based, rather than ideologically motivated, partnership with Africa through the confirmation of Africa’s economic rather than revolutionary potential.

Beijing’s approach towards Africa has been to jointly explore new ways to interact in an effort to expand economic and trade co-operation. Beijing is proposing that both sides make greater use of and further improve bilateral relations. At the same time, increased trade should lead to agreements relating to economy and trade, the encouragement and protection of investment, and the avoidance of dual taxation, being appropriately amended. Beijing has indicated that with the development of its economy and the increase in national strength, China will continue to offer economic and technological assistance to African countries, including further relaxing conditions for preferential loans. China also encourages its enterprises to carry out economic and trade co-operation in Africa, especially the setting up of projects that promise market benefits. China also encourages increased importation from Africa, and encourages its firms to participate in the economic development of African countries through contracting projects, technology and management co-operation.

Beijing has recognised that the quest for peace and development has been the main priority for the African continent, and that many countries have endeavored to rely on themselves to resolve African problems. China’s response to Africa’s plight has been the suggestion that Africa will be unable to achieve prosperity without stability, and that African countries need to develop in ways to suit their national conditions, work closely with each other, and mobilise international assistance and co-operation, for instance through collaboration with Beijing.



The Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC)

Jiang’s new African policy led to the “Beijing Declaration” and the “Programme for China-Africa Co-operation in Economic and Social Development” adopted following the October 2000 Sino-African ministerial-level conference in Beijing (South African Department of Foreign Affairs, 2000). The two documents outlined a proposed new relationship between China and Africa, based on Deng Xiaoping’s broad foreign policy framework and Jiang’s Sino-African vision, crafted during his 1996 visit. The central purpose of the Forum was to strengthen economic co-operation and to consolidate areas of common interest. The conference was seen by Beijing as a meeting of “natural allies” on the road to economic development and the long hoped-for restructuring of the global economic architecture. Jiang Zemin set the tone for future Sino-African relations by committing China to closer South-South co-operation and the creation of “an equitable and just new international political and economic order” (Edmonds, Chyungly and Mills, 2001). PRC Premier Zhu Rongji confirmed that economic interaction with Africa had taken centre stage and would define future relations. The specific plan included an expansion of trade, investment, joint projects and increased co-operation in the fields of agriculture, transportation, medical care, the exploitation of natural resources and banking.

During the October 2000 meeting, two-way trade was emphasized as an area of future expansion and development. The Beijing programme called on Sino-African business leaders to “vigorously explore” all the “opportunities offered” by the respective markets. The establishment of a China-Africa Joint Business Council was proposed as a mechanism for the further promotion of trade. The renewed emphasis on trade followed Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng’s June 9, 2000 statement that Beijing would encourage Chinese companies to expand trade links with the African continent. Shi was encouraged by the record of growth in manufactured exports to Africa, especially in television sets, air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, textiles and light machinery. Beijing promised to promote investment in selected African countries through special funds for the establishment of joint ventures, facilitated through China and the African Development Bank (ADB) as well as the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank. In addition, the exploitation and effective utilisation of natural resources and energy sources on the African continent, long identified as extremely important for promoting continued growth of China’s economy, was singled out for renewed focus.

During the October 2000 conference, Zhang Qiyue, a representative of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a press conference that strengthening unity and co-operation with African countries constituted a major component of China’s foreign policy. As Beijing pointed out, promoting a multi-polar global system and establishing a new international political and economic order are key goals of the international community, and particularly the developing countries. According to Zhang, “With the goal of fostering equal consultation, furthering understanding, expanding consensus, strengthening friendship and promoting cooperation, China and Africa will jointly explore the establishment of a just and fair international political and economic order and strengthen Sino-African economic and trade cooperation under the new situation”7. Deputy Foreign minister Ji Peiding stressed that two documents passed at the conference, the “Beijing Declaration” and the “Sino-African Co-operation Guidelines for Economic and Social Development”, would serve as the framework for Sino-African relations in the new century.

An international conference on Sino-African ties was held as a follow-up to the Beijing meeting to address the issue of strengthening bilateral co-operation, especially economic and trade ties. In addition, China established a follow-up action committee to implement the decision made at the Beijing conference. Deputy minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Sun Guangxiang stressed that the Chinese government encouraged two-way trade between China and Africa and would introduce more policy initiatives intended to galvanize support for Sino-African trade within the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO). He confirmed that Beijing would also encourage Chinese companies to invest in Africa, with a view to significantly expanding China’s investment on the continent. Official Chinese documents outlined foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan’s description of the key elements of Sino-African relations. These elements included: mutually respecting and strictly observing the principles of sovereignty, independence and on-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and respecting the other side’s social system and development options; treating each other equally, adhering to the principle of mutual benefit, and conducting diversified forms of co-operation in economic and trade fields without any attached political conditions; trusting each other and handling bilateral affairs through consultation in the spirit of friendliness and sincerity; supporting each other, consulting and co-operating with each other closely in international and regional affairs and jointly safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of the developing countries8.

According to Jiaxuan, to further consolidate and develop Sino-African relations is in the national interest of both China and Africa. Jiaxuan emphasised Beijing’s determination to work hard and explore jointly with African countries to establish a new long-term, stable and mutually beneficial partnership within the framework of South-South co-operation, and to make the relationship an example of South-South co-operation.

In order to develop the new South-South partnership, Beijing proposed that both China and Africa could promote relations along the following lines:

- continue to strengthen top-level contacts and increasing communication and exchange between leaders so as to further consolidate the traditional Sino-African friendship;

- establish diverse forms of consultative and co-operative mechanisms, and expand dialogue and co-ordination in international affairs and bilateral issues so as to carry out more efficient co-operation in bilateral and multilateral realms and more efficiently safeguard the common interests of developing countries;

- energetically promote economic and trade co-operation to new levels; efforts should be concentrated on looking for new ways and fields for co-operation and encouraging enterprises of both sides to expand co-operation.

The Chinese government promised to adopt measures to guide and support domestic enterprises to enter into Africa and carry out mutually beneficial co-operation with their African counterparts, and to carry out omni-directional and multi-level contact. Besides the major channel of official contact, China will promote contracts between political parties and parliaments and between non-governmental groups of workers, youth and women, as well as cultural and education, health, news media, support and academic circles, and give full play to these organisations, thus forming an omni-directional setup for exchange at various levels9.

Following the Sino-African meeting in Beijing, Premier Zhu Rongji’s office suggested a number of guidelines for China-Africa relations. These included the expansion of bilateral trade; development of investment co-operation; improvement of China’s aid work in African countries; expansion of co-operation in various fields and working together to facilitate the settlement of the African debt issue.


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