Beijing Summit Reveals Why China Is Attractive To Africa

Chinese President Xi Jinping. A new roadmap from the FOCAC Summit that gets under way in Beijing from September 3-4, 2018 will inevitably move China’s relation with all 55 African states to a whole new level of development. Image: PABALLO THEKISO/AFP

--The narrative of ‘Africa Rising’ — the rapid economic growth in Africa since 2000 — is inextricably tied to the rise of China and the formation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) 18 years ago. A new roadmap from the FOCAC Summit that gets under way in Beijing from September 3-4, 2018 will inevitably move China’s relation with all 55 African states to a whole new level of development.

In large measures, the 2018 Summit, themed: "China and Africa: Toward an Even Stronger Community with a Shared Future through Win-Win Cooperation", will take stock of the 10-point plan that President Xi Jinping unveiled during the 2015 FOCAC Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.


Ahead of the summit, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spelt out the four-point agenda for the 2018 Summit, hoisted as “a new historic monument” in Sino-Africa relations.

On top of Wang’s list is “building a strong community of a shared future” between China and Africa. This agenda seeks to repudiate the doomsday “Clash of Civilization” and the “Thucydides Trap” scenarios, which see war between the old power (America) and the rising power (China) as inevitable. Instead, it highlights ‘peaceful development’ as a safe pathway to a shared prosperity for humanity.

The second agenda is writing a new Chapter for the alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative with Africa’s development. The Chinese dream meets the African dream in Agenda 2063, the continent’s development blueprint. African countries are part of over 60 countries worldwide benefiting from Beijing’s 1.2 trillion-dollar initiative. Projects completed under the initiative include the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway (June 2017), the Djibouti-Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) Railway (January 2018) and the 186.5 kilometers Abuja-Kaduna (Nigeria) rail line (July 2018).


The third agenda is setting a new path for China-Africa Cooperation towards a higher level. Since 2009, China has become Africa’s leading trading partner. In the 2015-2018 interlude, Beijing has spent $35 million on export credit and preferential loans to support trade with Africa. The value of China-Africa trade hit the US$16.5 billion mark in January 2018. At the sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), President Xi pledged $60 billion to support China-Africa cooperation initiatives, increasing lending to at least $20 billion a year. Beijing is likely to put $100 billion more on the table for 2018-2021.

Agenda four is playing the melody that connects the people of China and Africa as close as a family. As part of bolstering its soft power capacity, China has prioritised people-to-people diplomacy, providing scholarships and opening more than 80 Confucius Institutes in 41 African countries.


The 2018 FOCAC summit unfolds as Sino-Africa relations enter uncharted waters, confronting old and new challenges. The post-Beijing roadmap must address three intractable challenges. First is political uncertainty arising from post-election impasses, conflict, terrorism and trans-national crime such as piracy, trafficking in drugs, humans, arms and contraband, now everywhere rolling back gains made in development.

Over the last three years, Beijing has expanded its peace and security footprint in Africa to underpin peaceful development. In 2015-2018, China committed $60 million to support the AU peace and security agenda. In January 2016, it established a military base in Djibouti primarily to bolster the Chinese navy's efforts to prevent piracy on high seas, support military logistics for Chinese troops in the Gulf of Aden, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in Africa. Its health diplomacy in fighting Ebola in West Africa and malaria is saving lives. China has also focused on building the capacities of African countries to tackle environmental challenges, including combating poaching and wildlife trafficking.


The second is corruption. China has tamed corruption at home. The big question is whether it can slay the beast abroad. The summit provides a forum for China and Africa to share lessons learnt in the fighting corruption. Since 2012, Xi has waged a crusade against corruption. On its part, African Union Summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, in July 2018 prioritised “Winning the fight against corruption” as a sustainable path to Africa’s transformation earlier on defined by the 2003 AU Convention on preventing and combating corruption.

Finally, the Beijing summit unfolds against the backdrop of Africa’s spiraling debt to China. Ironically, recent forays by America’s Donald Trump and Britain’s Theresa May into Africa reveal a wary West belatedly playing a catch-up game driven more by the fear that “Africa is sinking deeper and deeper into Beijing’s carefully laid debt trap” than genuine need to promote Africa’s development.


For Africa, China’s is a worthy partner in its efforts to break the age-old “poverty trap” based on centuries of underdevelopment. An underdeveloped and impoverished Africa remains “a scar on the conscience of the world” — to borrow Tony Blair’s infamous characterisation of Africa.

Inversely, a developed Africa can repay its debts and pull its people out of poverty as China has done over the last four decades. After all, America is the most indebted country in the world with its total debt standing at $17.8 trillion as of 2018! America owes approximately 47 percent of its $12.8 trillion public debt to China, Japan, Ireland, and Brazil.

Post-2018 Sino-Africa relations must focus on boosting production through industrialization to enable Africa pay its debts.

Prof Kagwanja is former adviser to the Government of Kenya and Currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute.