The year 2023 marked the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the 10th year since Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Africa in 2013, his first foreign visit after taking office, during which he proposed the principles of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith for China’s Africa policy and the principle of upholding justice while pursuing shared interests. It also marked the opening chapter of China-Africa joint efforts towards modernisation following the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2022, where the concept of Chinese-style modernisation was put forward.
Throughout the year, African leaders made intensive visits to China, while President Xi himself visited South Africa and attended the 15th BRICS Summit. China strongly supported African countries’ bids to join the BRICS grouping and the AU’s membership of the G20. Mutual political trust between China and Africa and their coordination in international affairs reached new heights.
African countries actively participated in the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing and the third China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo (CAETE) in Changsha, Hunan Province, with China-Africa trade showing robust performance in the year. Events like the second Conference on Dialogue Between Chinese and African civilisations and the tourism promotion conference themed Here Is Africa profoundly enhanced mutual learning between Chinese and African civilisations and people-to-people linkages.
Greater trust and coordination
About 10 African heads of state and government, including those of Gabon, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Benin, visited China in 2023. In addition, Kenyan President William Ruto, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, President of the Republic of the Congo Denis Sassou Nguesso, Nigerian Vice President Kashim Shettima, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, and Mozambican Prime Minister Adriano Maleiane were among the world leaders attending the international events held in China, such as the third BRF in October 2023 and the 31st FISU Summer World University Games in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in August 2023.
In August 2023, President Xi visited South Africa and attended the 15th BRICS Summit. The event took place amid a complex international environment, with the Ukraine crisis having lasted for a year and a half, and Russian President Vladimir Putin facing an International Criminal Court arrest warrant. Not only did China firmly support South Africa in hosting the summit, but President Xi also joined hands with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa to co-chair the China-Africa Leaders’ Dialogue on 24 August 2023.
The dialogue was attended by Comorian President Azali Assoumani, rotating chairperson of the AU, Senegalese President Macky Sall, co-chair of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), leaders of Africa’s subregional organisations and representatives of the AU Commission, among others. This was the first collective face-to-face meeting of Chinese and African leaders after the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting was of great significance for promoting further development of China-Africa relations and building a China-Africa community with a shared future.
President Xi delivered at the meeting a keynote speech titled Joining Hands to Advance Modernisation and Create a Great Future for China and Africa. He emphasised that on the path to modernisation, China has all along been a firm supporter of Africa, and that China will work with Africa to enhance the synergy of development strategies and continue to support Africa in elevating its international standing.
He proposed three measures to strengthen practical cooperation between China and Africa and help Africa to integrate and modernise, namely the Initiative on Supporting Africa’s Industrialisation, the Plan for China Supporting Africa’s Agricultural Modernisation, and the Plan for China-Africa Cooperation on Talent Development. These will support Africa in realising industrialisation and economic diversification, transforming and upgrading its agricultural sector, and training its educational professionals, technical personnel, and government officials and technicians.
On their part, African leaders stated that China is an indispensable and important partner for Africa to achieve modernisation, and welcomed with appreciation the three measures proposed by President Xi. They expressed their full support to the BRI, the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and the Global Civilisation Initiative and their willingness to continue promoting the development of the FOCAC mechanism.
The dialogue adopted and issued a joint statement, which, along with the above-mentioned initiative and plans issued by China following the dialogue, outlined a new blueprint for solidarity and cooperation between China and Africa, injecting new impetus into the development of a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between China and Africa.
In the field of international cooperation, China has consistently supported expanding the representation and voice of developing countries, including African countries, in multilateral mechanisms.
In August 2023, the BRICS Summit held in South Africa achieved the first large-scale expansion in the history of the BRICS mechanism. Among the first countries invited to join the grouping were two important North African and Horn of Africa countries, Egypt and Ethiopia. This expansion is a clear indication that this cooperation mechanism, representing a large number of emerging market countries and developing countries, now includes more African voices.
On 21 November 2023, as the host country of the 15th BRICS Summit, South Africa chaired a video summit on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the first BRICS video summit after the expansion. This meeting came at a crucial moment after the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on 7 October 2023, conveying a strong BRICS voice to the international community and providing an important platform for communication and coordination on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
In 2024, the African continent will host the third South Summit and the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement. China will continue to firmly support Africa in enhancing its representation and playing an important role in international affairs.
Booming trade and people-to-people ties
Africa, as an important participant of the BRI, has achieved fruitful results in the past decade since the launch of the initiative in 2013, with China-Africa economic ties becoming increasingly close, and the scale of trade continuously expanding. African countries actively participated in the third CAETE. According to the China-Africa Economic and Trade Relationship Report 2023 released on the opening day of the third CAETE, China-Africa trade of goods further increased to $282 billion in 2022, a year-on-year increase of 10.9 percent. Among them, China’s exports to Africa amounted to $164.49 billion, and imports from Africa were $117.51 billion. All of these three figures are historic highs.
So far, China has signed memoranda of understanding for cooperation on the BRI with 52 African countries. Over the past decade, 10,000 km of standard-gauge railways, 100,000 km of roads, 100 newly built or renovated ports, as well as numerous schools and hospitals, have been put into operation. These projects demonstrate President Xi’s statement in his keynote speech at the China-Africa Leaders’ Dialogue in August 2023 that China will walk side by side with Africa on the path to modernisation.
At the third BRF held in October 2023, President Xi announced eight major steps to support BRI cooperation, including promoting both signature projects and “small yet smart” livelihood programmes. The specific goals include carrying out 1,000 small-scale livelihood assistance projects, providing 100,000 training opportunities for partner countries by 2030, and increasing the number of joint laboratories built with other parties to 100 in the next five years. It can be expected that these tangible cooperation projects will provide a new impetus to drive economic recovery and improve people’s living standards in African countries in the post-pandemic era.
In terms of mutual learning between civilisations and people-to-people exchanges, activities such as the second Conference on Dialogue Between Chinese and African Civilisations and the tourism promotion conference themed Here is Africa promoted mutual understanding between the peoples of China and Africa.
The second Conference on Dialogue Between Chinese and African Civilisations was held by the China-Africa Institute in May 2023. With the theme of Chinese Modernisation and Africa’s Development Path, the event aims to strengthen exchange of modernisation and development paths in China and Africa and promote mutual learning between Chinese and African civilisations. Participants agreed that in order to address common challenges and move towards a better future, China and Africa not only require economic and technological strength, but also cultural and civilisational strength.
The conference was attended by around 100 African scholars from countries such as Cameroon, Kenya and Egypt as well as representatives from the AU, embassies of African countries in China, and Chinese experts, scholars, and media. The pictures of the live broadcast were viewed by more than 8,800 people.
In the two years after the eighth FOCAC Ministerial Conference held in Senegal in November 2021, China-Africa cooperation saw the establishment of 16 Luban Workshops in Africa. Partnerships were forged between 26 pairs of Chinese and African universities, and 12,600 young African talents were trained by China.
With the restoration of flights after the pandemic, African students have returned to Chinese campuses, and Chinese tourists have been received in African countries. Major African tourism countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Egypt have launched preferential policies regarding flights and visa facilitation to attract Chinese tourists.
In sum, the enthusiasm for people-to-people exchanges between China and Africa is increasing, and exchanges between Chinese and African universities, think tanks, media, youth, women and other parties are resuming and advancing. In 2024, China will host the ninth FOCAC meeting. Both China and Africa are confident as well as determined to make this meeting a grand event of solidarity, friendship and victory, setting a new milestone for the development of China-Africa relations.
The author, He Wenping, is a research fellow of Institute of West-Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and China-Africa Institute. African Times has published this article in partnership with ChinAfrica.