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Jan 01 0001
The Sustainable Development of Sino-African Cooperation: Actors, Gaps and Reforms
By ZHU Ming
The relations between Africa and China have experienced an extremely fast-growing period since the beginning of this century, and its speed is quite rare in history. As for the unique close political ties, it has been a 22 years long tradition by 2012 that Chinese Foreign Minister always makes his first official visits to Africa at the beginning of each year.[①] What’s more, the booming economic ties are even labeled by some observers as “Africa’s Silk Road”.[②] Already Africa's single biggest trading partner, China is set to become the continent's largest export destination in 2012 according to South Africa-based Standard Bank.[③]
What’s more, both countries proclaimed “the establishment of a new type of strategic partnership between China and Africa featuring political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchanges” at the Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2006.[④] The FOCAC (the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation) is held every three years since it was founded in 2000. Outside praises and criticisms of the FOCAC are intertwined. At every summit, Beijing issued its new Africa policy principles and a 3-year Action Plan in details. Being a multilateral policy platform, FOCAC together with Beijing’s existing bilateral relations with African nations, enrich Beijing’s Africa policy instruments and play a key coordinating role in China’s grand Africa policy.
To start this analysis, this author believes that two issues are essential to be observed here. The first is the needs and challenges of Africa. It is very often mentioned that China and Africa always face same or similar challenges, which have been the solid basis of mutual cooperation. The second is to what extent China and Africa can help each other under the framework of FOCAC. Through the analysis, the author points out the issue of Capacity Gap produced by insufficient actors.
The Rising Needs and Challenges in Africa
According to the 2011 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects, Africa’s urban population will soar from today’s 414 million to over 1.2 billion and in Asia the dramatic increase will be from 1.9 billion to 3.3 billion over the next four decades. India, China, Nigeria, the United States and Indonesia are estimated to have the largest increase in urban population, the UN report says. The estimated increase in urban population of Nigeria between 2012 and 2050 will be higher than that of the past 40 years.[⑤] And Over the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries are African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. Even allowing for the knock-on effect of the northern hemisphere’s slowdown, the IMF expects Africa to grow by 6% in 2011 and nearly 6% in 2012, about the same as Asia. [⑥]
Meanwhile, the tough challenges facing Africa are still there. The past East Africa and the ongoing Sahel drought have shown how weak and un-sustainable of these affected African states are when they face natural disasters. The aid system of the international community is also flawed in coping with such a crisis in time.[⑦] Besides food security, climate change, regional conflicts and many other challenges, all these traditional and non-traditional threats demand the solid efforts and measures of Africa and other nations including China. Due to the long history of good relations with China, Africa and China always work hand in hand to handle challenges. In 2008, when China suffered from the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province, many African countries lent a hand to China within their capacities. Such kind of mutual-assistance partnership is further enforced against the background of China’s fast developments.
An evaluation report about FOCAC is published by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) in 2008, which timely highlighted the roles of public opinion and its future trend, arguing that the successes of the Beijing Olympics and Beijing Para-Olympics have boosted China’s position in international politics in three aspects. The developing countries cherish a greater ‘great power expectation’ over China. The developed countries have increased ‘the great power demand’ over China as well. Notwithstanding, the ‘great power responsibility’ is growing even within China at elite and popular level per se. The 2010 Shanghai World Expo will strengthen and consolidate China’s international position further. The international community will accept the fact of a rising China to a larger extent. Thereby, the African countries would have higher expectations on China-Africa relations. The expectations will be reinforced once the commitments made at Beijing FOCAC Summit are delivered in time, or even ahead of time and over-fulfilled. [⑧]
China’s Challenges: Capacity Gap
This prediction has come true after 4 years, not to mention that the ongoing global financial crisis has de facto upgraded Beijing’s global position and African countries’ expectation towards China. China has become the No.2 economic power in the world in terms of GDP. “Made in China” is everywhere in the world. The number of Chinese businessmen, companies in Africa is rising. But more literatures focus on the political, economic sides of China-Africa relation, and are always targeted on government side, lobbying or asking them to do more and better. In other words, state as traditional actor has got quite a lot of outside attention, while the weakness of China’s non-state actors is largely neglected.
Frankly speaking, the non-state actors of Africa and China are still not strong enough to carry out effective mutual cooperation yet. It is still a not so short road to go. Meanwhile, the diversification of international and domestic actors and their related interests in Africa will form a certain level of pressure on the development of the Forum. Internationally, various countries are paying more and more attention to Africa. Not only traditional powers and newly rising powers have either strengthened or created platforms dealing with their relations with Africa, but also international organizations are increasingly taking notice of Africa. Worthy of greater concern is the increased interest of non-government actors like NGOs and transnational corporations. They usually focus on particular problems and have significant potential to initiate new international agendas. Thus, they can put more pressure on the behaviors of national actors and international organizations.[⑨]
But up to now, Beijing is still relatively weak in those sectors, despite the number of domestic non-state actors is booming. For instance, as for the number of think tanks, China is said to be No.1 in the world, but the number of top global ones is quite small. That is to say, “Capacity Gap” does exist. In the author's opinion, the Gaps analyzed here can be divided into three categories.
a) NGOs
From 19 to 20 July 2012, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ministers in charge of economic cooperation of the People's Republic of China and 50 African countries and the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, met in Beijing for the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).     In order to implement the outcomes of the conference and chart the future course of China-Africa cooperation in all fields in the next three years, the two sides jointly formulated and adopted with consensus this Action Plan. In terms of people-to-people exchanges, the Plan says that:
“The two sides noted the holding of the first and second China-Africa People's Forum and the important declarations issued and believed that the forum serves as an important platform for comprehensive exchanges and practical cooperation between people's organizations of China and Africa. The two sides agreed to institutionalize the forum to give fresh impetus to the China-Africa traditional friendship.” [⑩]
It is pointed out that as for the global influences of NGOs, “the Africans were watching, the Asians listening, the Latin Americans talking while the North Americans and Europeans were doing business.”[11] By 2011, China has 462 thousand officially recognized NGOs. But almost all of them have little experience or history in effective international cooperation with their foreign counterparts. [12]
That is no strange that although Beijing has sent one high-level NGO delegation to Nairobi in 2011 to host the first China-Africa People’s Forum,the conference is successful in having had a good beginning but too early to have a deeper enough cooperation yet. During that conference, African NGOs asked to get direct financial support from their Chinese counterparts, but Chinese NGOs also faced their own budget limits, and it was hard to meet the African demands at once.[13] Meanwhile, the Western NGOs have a longer and deeper cooperation with their African counterparts. African NGOs are relatively more likely to get fiscal support from Europe or America. For instance, the Netherlands, a medium-sized European state, has invested 40 million euros on DRC NGOs.[14] Both China and African should not only to promote direct exchanges between NGOs, relevant resources are also needed to facilitate such kind of grass-roots exchange process.
b) Media
Traditionally, the mark of a great power was its ability to prevail in war. But in an information age, success depends not just on whose army wins but also on whose story wins.[15] Although Beijing has invested huge resources on its public diplomacy and soft power section in order to improve its global image, the mainstream global media is still located in London, Paris, New York, not in Beijing or Shanghai. That is to say, the western media enjoys the un-challenged privilege to judge China – Africa relations from their perspectives and interests. Now fruitful cooperation between Beijing and Africa has been the HIGHLIHGT to each side, but it has also been the HOTSPOT of criticisms of contemporary Sino-African ties. [16] “This world is far from a balanced one. Some have megaphones, some only small microphones and some none.” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi says.[17]
The fast-growing Sino-African relationship has however not been without controversy, and China regularly finds itself the subject of allegations that it undermines human rights and governance in its dealings with African governments. [18]  Mr. Lu Shaye, Director-General of Department of African Affairs of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs points out that around 80% of international news resources is from the western media, which are naturally with some prejudices. [19]
It is pointed out that China has ventured into Africa as a friend. This has forced the West, aware of its crimes, to sit up because it knows that it could now "lose the continent". Demonizing China is now the main goal of Western propaganda. The West is promoting its own politico-economic system as the only one possible in the world. [20]
c) China’s construction companies in Africa
A bit different from the above two sectors, China is good at infrastructure. In the past, the Tanzania – Zambia railway served as the symbol of China-Africa friendship. Last year, the new AU headquarter building had become a new symbol.
Up to now, the Chinese assistance to Africa mainly flows to the “hardware” (infrastructure etc) section, which means that the Chinese enterprises have been the main actor of the Chinese assistance to Africa. China has also begun making its mark as an emerging donor. In January a new $200m African Union headquarters was commissioned in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Funded entirely by China, the opening ceremony was attended by Jia Qinling, Chairman of CPPCC, who told those in attendance that "the towering complex speaks volumes about our friendship to the African people, and testifies to our strong resolve to support African development."[21]
During the Chairman Mao era (1949-1976), all Chinese enterprises did not need to worry about economic issue, the whole Chinese economic system then was planned economy. Such a non-benefit driven feature of Chinese enterprises has matched quite well with the high politics profile of Chinese ODA to Africa. But since the 1980s, due to the reform and opening-up policy, more and more Chinese enterprises have transformed to be more and more independent economic units in market economy circumstance. That is to say, the economic face is rising while the political face is declining.
According to one JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization)’s comparative research, Japanese construction companies have suffered from its high-cost disadvantage compared to Chinese ones. The annual salary of Chinese engineer is just 14% of a Japanese engineer. [22] But such a kind of low cost advantage of China is gone now. Due to the fast economic growth of China, the domestic income level is also rising fast. In 2011, the annual per capita net income of rural households was 6,977 yuan, up by 17.9 percent, or a real increase of 11.4 percent over the previous year when the factors of price increase were deducted. [23]And China’s underdeveloped inland areas have also been on the fast track, which have offered more jobs to young peasant workers. All these make the charming of overseas work are not so in the interests of Chinese people, especially for them to work in a remote and risky continent like Africa.
Policy Recommendations
Regarding the above mentioned flaws, lessons and progress that China has made in the past decades, several practical reforms could be enacted in the following areas.
a) Think for Africa and BEYOND Africa (From ‘A’ to ‘A’)
Despite the high speed, the history of such a kind of all-dimensioned cooperation beginning from the 2000 FOCAC is relatively short. In order to outline a better future, we need to draw lessons and experience not only from the history of China-Africa relations, but also from other researches beyond China-Africa relations. For example, China has promised to play more positively in promoting the regional integration process of Africa. China could borrow lessons from China’s regional cooperation with its neighboring Asian countries. It is because such a kind of China’ s Asian regional cooperation is more and deeper than China’s regional cooperation with Africa. The reasons behind it need not to be emphasized.
China, facing the positive problem of being a capital surplus economy, is diverting more funds to assist the development of Asian infrastructure, and is involved in high-level talks with several countries to provide funds and loans for high-speed rails and related projects across the region. China and Thailand are set to agree on a plan to build high-speed rail lines that will pass from Southern China through Laos to Thailand, and then to the border of Malaysia. In 2010, the Thai Parliament approved the deal in a project likely to cost some US$27 billion. But some ASEAN countries are afraid that such projects might de facto divide ASEAN into two blocs, which are pro-Beijing ASEAN land bloc (including Laos, Thailand, etc.) and pro-Washington ASEAN sea bloc (including Singapore, Philippines, etc.). The possible internal split would surely be bad to the integration process of ASEAN in their eyes.[24]
Such a kind of un-intended double-edge effect of China’s foreign policy is emerging not only in Asia, but also in Africa. Some Africans are worried that Beijing’s favorable policies towards LDCs of Africa may enable them to depend more on Beijing instead of on cooperating with their neighbors to promote Africa’s regional integration.[25] That is to say, due to the larger scale and scope of China-Africa cooperation, the relevant research needs to be more comprehensive, multi-dimensional, far-sighted. Only after that, both Africa and China would be able to better manage these never-met-before circumstances.
b) Internal reforms of both sides are quite essential.
A nation’s policy is based on its material capacity or hard power. But it is not a spontaneous process. Without the relevant domestic policy consensus or willingness, any good ideas would be still on paper instead of actions. Not to mention that, China’s own capabilities are still limited, that’s why Beijing still prefers to keep low profiles facing higher external demands including offering more aid abroad. Facing this financial crisis, more and more developed and developing countries are arguing via different channels that Beijing is able and should do more to fight against this crisis hand in hand with the international community. But Beijing still keeps a low profile and its reply is a bit conservative. [26] Before G20’s London Summit, Beijing repeatedly insists that what China should and could do first is to keep our house in order. [27]
Just as what the author has analyzed above, there are quite a lot of obstacles at present blocking Chinese and Africans to engage each other in a more relaxed way. Some Chinese businessmen in Africa always complain about the low efficiency of their African counterparts and governments. Africa needs to do something to facilitate inward investments (not only towards Chinese FDI surely). Some regulations of Beijing are also needed to be upgraded, such as the aid policy, immigration policy.
These kinds of reforms are mainly not in the charge of Foreign Ministry. But they have had negative impact on our diplomatic ties. The author believes that top-down reform approaches are needed to push such reforms step by step.
c) Two Scientific Approaches
The mutual development cooperation of China and Africa in the field of natural science (in the form of R&D) would help Africa with the production or even export of more technology-intensive products (“Made in Africa”). Or Africa would continue to worry or even complain about just being the resource supplier to China. For example, "Africa must not jump blindly from one type of neo-colonialism into Chinese-style neo-colonialism," cautioned Rene N'Guetta Kouassi, the head of the African Union's economic affairs department. [28]
The intellectual support in the field of social sciences from both Africa and China is quite essential to our policymakers, businessmen, etc.. David M. Lampton,a leading American scholar on Chinese studies argues that Chinese power has three faces. They are might, money and minds.[29] Looking back, we find fruitful examples indicating how important intellectual contributions could be, e.g. Adam Smith to the rise of Great Britain, Karl Marx to the founding of the Soviet Union. According to one recent worldwide research on think tanks, most top think tanks are located in developed countries and best ones are almost all in western countries. For instance, among the top thirty international development think tanks, all the top twenty-two are either from North America (America and Canada) or Europe (France, UK etc). Only the 23rd one is from China.[30] The existing underdevelopment situation of the academies of Africa and China are not ideal yet, unable to meet the needs from governments, companies, etc..
Conclusion: Win-Win or Weak-Weak Cooperation?
Jean Pierre Onvehoun Ezin is the African Union’s (AU) Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, one of the 10 Commissioners representing the 53 AU member states. Ezin once said that“Europe is the partner we know best and who knows us best, but we want a more effective cooperation.” [31] What he said is mostly true. One reason is that both China and Africa are still weak in terms of non-state actors, not to mention, very frequent and fruitful partnership and cooperation pushed by non-state actors. In fact, in today’s globalized world, bilateral relation is pushed not only by governments, but also by foundations, transnational companies (TNCs), think tanks, etc..
It has been a consensus that both China and Africa are trying to establish a new type of China-Africa Strategic Partnership. One core feature is a win-win cooperation. For instance, in Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's speech at 4th Ministerial Conference of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, “win-win progress” and “win-win cooperation” are mentioned more than once.[32] But we also have to admit that in quite a lot of areas, the actors of Africa and China are weak, that is say, the relevant cooperation has to be taken on the basis of weak-weak partnership. Such a condition surely produces the question of in-sufficient dynamic and un-sustainable development.
In conclusion, on the road to sustainable development of China-Africa relations, both sides are facing the challenge of capacity gap. Prof. David Shambaugh, who is Professor at the George Washington University and is recognized internationally as an authority on contemporary Chinese affairs, points out that despite fast growing, China’s influence is globally broad but not deep enough yet.[33] Both Africa and China need to do a lot more to cultivate more powerful non-state actors to increase the dynamics of our cooperation.

Source of documents

more details:

[①] China Business News, 6 January 2012, p.A6.
[②] Harry G. Broadman, Africa’s Silk Road:China and India’s New Economic Frontier, Washington, D.C.:World Bank, 2006.
[③] Lanre Akinola,“China to Become Africa's Biggest Export Market”,This is Africa,22 March 2012.
[④] Declaration of the Beijing Summit Of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, November 2006,
[⑤] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division: World Urbanization Prospects, the 2011 Revision. New York 2011.
[⑥] “Africa Rising”, The Economist,December 3– 9, 2011, p.15.
[⑦] More analysis are via ZHU Ming, “The Political Obstacles behind the East Africa Famine”, China Social Sciences Today, 4 August 2011, p.13.;ZHU Ming, “The ‘Governance Deficit’ of the East Africa famine”, Wenhui Daily, 19 August 2011, p.7.
[⑧] LI Weijian, ZHANG zhongxiang, ZHANG Chun, ZHU Ming, Beijing Summit & the Third Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation—Appraisal and Prospects Number 2, Report of SIIS Project (Shanghai: SIIS, December 2008),pp.29-30.
[⑨] LI Weijian, ZHANG Zhongxiang, ZHANG Chun, ZHU Ming, “Toward a New Decade: Research on the Sustainable Development of FOCAC”, West Asia and Africa, Issue 9, 2010, pp.5-10.
[⑩] The Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2013-2015),
[11] Ann Marie Clark, Elisabeth Jay Friedman and Kathryn Hochstetler,“The Sovereign Limits of Global Civil Society: A Comparison of NGO Participation in UN World Conferences on the Environment, Human Rights and Women”in Rorden Wilkinson ed.,The Global Governance Reader, London and New York:Routledge, 2005, p.299.
[12] Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People's Republic of China, Statistical Communiqué, 21 June 2012,
[13] International Herald Leader (China), September 2011, p.7.
[14] Data is via Uitgaven NGO's werkzaam op Internationale Samenwerking in 2009 in Dem. Rep. of the Congo(accessed on 9 May 2011).
[15] Joseph S. Nye Jr.,“Power Shifts”,Time,9 May 2011,p.23.
[16] ZHU Ming, “A brief Analysis of ‘Chinese Aid Threat’– Challenges and Pressures facing China’s Diplomacy ”, in Shanghai Social Science Association(SSSA)ed., China’s Future: Questions and Challenges (Shanghai People Press, 2008), pp.75-87.; ZHU Ming, “The Perceptions of African scholars on China’s soft power in Africa and the FOCAC ”, Wenhui Daily, 4 December 2011, p.3.
[17] Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Answers Questions from Domestic and Overseas Journalists on China's Foreign Policy and External Relations (7th March 2012).
[18] Lanre Akinola,“China to Become Africa's Biggest Export Market”,This is Africa,22 March 2012.
[19] The speech delivered by Mr. Lu Shaye, Director-General of Department of African Aff-airs of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 9 May 2012,
[20] Andre Vltchek,“When will West ever Learn History Lesson”,China Daily,26 October 2011,p.9.
[21] Lanre Akinola, “China to Become Africa's Biggest Export Market”,This is Africa,22 March 2012.
[22] Nihon Keizai Shimbun , 5 April 2012, p.4. 
[23] National Bureau of Statistics of China, Statistical Communiqué of the People's Republic of China on the 2011 National Economic and Social Development, February 22, 2012.
[24] More relevant academic papers are available via MA Ying, “For Mutual Communication of Infrastructure and Cooperation between China and Southeast Asia — Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership”,Global Review,March/April 2011.;ZHOU Shixin, “The Cooperation of China and ASEAM in the Grand Mekong River Region”, Around Southeast Asia, Vol. 1, 2011。
[25] Interview with Zimbabwean scholars in Harare, Janruary 2011.
[26] ZHU Ming, “Politique Africaine de la Chine: Perspectives et Devenir Facteurs inédits et Incidences”,Les Temps Modernes,No.657, janvier-mars 2010,pp.203-204.
[27]  People Daily of China, April 1, 2009,p.3.
[28] “Africa Fears Neo-colonialism with China's Foray: Analysts”, AFP (Addis Ababa), 30 Sept 2009.
[29] David M. Lampton,Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money and Minds, University of California Press, 2008.
[30] James G. McGann, The Global GO-TO THINK TANKS REPORT 2011 - The Leading Public Policy Research Organizations In The World, Philadelphia, PA:University of Pennsylvania,19 January 2012.
[31] Debra Percival,“We Must Be in the Driving Seat of the Eight AU-EU Partnerships”,The Courier,Issue No. XIX , September/October 2010, pp.4-5.
[32] The speech is via “Building the New Type of China-Africa Strategic Partnership:Full text of Chinese premier's speech at 4th Ministerial Conference of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation”(November 8 ,2009),
[33] On 19th September 2011, Prof. David Shambaugh’s speech titled "China and Global Governance: Past & Future" in the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.