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IN DEPTH: Ties between China and Africa remain Strong
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Ties between China and Africa remain Strong
By Morgan Brady

BT 201911 IN DEPTH 03Chinese-African relationships are nothing new. They date back to medieval times in the 14th and 15th centuries when the Moroccan scholar and traveller, Ibn Battuta, visited parts of China. This was one among many visits between the two regions, such as the visit by Sa´id of Magadishu in Somalia, and the visit by Ming dynasty to parts of Africa. China-Africa trade relationships can be traced back to 2000 BC and 200 AD. Historians knew of two different routes of trade: the Silk Road, and the Indian ocean trade.

Today, the relationships between Africa and China are flourishing in so many fronts. This is taking place in the political, economic, and the scientific spheres. China and African countries hold many things in common. They are both high-growing and emerging countries with a promising future, and they share the view of a world order that is multilateral, with little to no interference from foreign powers in their affairs.

Strategic alignment, and the three-point proposal by Mr Xi

BT 201911 IN DEPTH 04Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa hold talks in Pretoria, South Africa, July 24, 2018.

In 2018, in a meeting between the Chinese President Xi Jinping, and African leaders, such as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also former African co-chair of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC); Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, also rotating chair of the African Union; and Senegalese President Macky Sall, current African co-chair of the FOCAC; Mr Jinping presented a three-point proposal in front of the leaders. The first point focused on building a win-win cooperation scheme, so that people from all those countries can harness the benefits of such cooperation. Mr Jinping suggested that different strategic initiatives, programs, and projects should be aligned. By this he is referring to the alignment between the Belt and Road initiative, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the development strategies of African countries. Second, he suggested stronger cooperation in the African continent and respect for the will of African countries. In the third point, Mr Jinping urged countries to contribute more to the protection of international order and multilateralism. These are all the values that most African countries can agree on.

The three-point proposal by the Chinese president outlined a clear vision for cooperation on a large scale.

Economic cooperation

BT 201911 IN DEPTH 05It seems that China has more common grounds with African and Asian countries than it does with many western countries. This represents a solid foundation for cooperation on economic and international development.

This is embodied in numbers. At a time when US FDI flows to Africa seemed to be declining, Chinese FDI flows to Africa seemed to be growing steadily. Trade between the two parties has also been moving on a rising trend, despite the decline in 2016 and 2018. The volume of China’s exports to Africa in 2018 exceeded $100 bn, whereas the size of African exports to China was only slightly less at around $99 billion. An interesting remark here is the increasing volume of African exports to China and that collaboration is becoming more and more balanced - a sign of a healthy relationship.

BT 201911 IN DEPTH 06China is rich in capital and manufacturing power, whereas Africa is rich in natural resources, including minerals. There is a good demand for Chinese products, such as machinery, electronics, apparel, and high-tech products from Africa. In China, there is a demand for African products, such as crude oil, iron ore, cotton, diamond, and other natural resources and primary goods. China and African countries complement one another, as both can supply products at different ends of the supply chain.

Copperation on Agriculture and construction

BT 201911 IN DEPTH 11When it comes to Agriculture, China is increasingly involved in the African continent, given the benefits it can perceive from the cooperation. It has recently acquired 252,901 hectares of land, 41% of which are in Cameroon (this includes two giant rubber plantations), although the acquisition of land has slowed down in recent years.

BT 201911 IN DEPTH 08Moreover, in 2017, the gross annual revenues of Chinese companies' engineering and construction projects in Africa totalled US$51.19 billion. Although this revenue is a 0.5% decrease from 2016, it remains high when looking at the previous two decades. Africa presents valuable economic opportunities to China, and China offers a path towards regional integration, development, and growth for African countries.

A helping hand

BT 201911 IN DEPTH 12In terms of foreign aid, China is now the biggest donor to Africa. Previously the biggest donors were the countries which are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Clear numbers regarding China’s foreign aid to Africa have not been disclosed. However, it is believed that Africa receives the lion’s share of China’s foreign aid, which can be divided into eight categories: complete projects, goods and materials, technical cooperation, human resource development cooperation, medical teams sent abroad, emergency humanitarian aid, volunteer programs in foreign countries and debt relief. Support in conflict is also included. For example, last year China sent 163 peacekeepers to South Sudan on a mission that should last for one year.

The true extent of Chinese support to Africa in 2018 can be seen in the chart below.

BT 201911 IN DEPTH 10Joint research and scientific collaboration endeavors

BT 201911 IN DEPTH 13Scientific cooperation is also burgeoning with the presence of a number of key joint research institutions and initiatives. This includes the China-Africa Institute, the center of African Studies of Perking University, the African Studies Center of China Foreign Affairs University, and the Institute of African Studies Zhejiang Normal University.


BT 201911 IN DEPTH 02China’s cooperation model with Africa stands in contrast with the western model. A key difference is that the Chinese model respects the sovereignty of foreign states and does not interfere with their local affairs. It aims to reap more benefits for all parties involved. Historical ties, political alignment, shared values, the potential for high-level economic integration are all factors that make the links between China and Africa as resilient as ever. Should those two growth engines unit and achieve macro economies of scale, the outcome and surplus could be large, and the spillover effects to neighboring countries could be very positive.

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