Chinese tourists take pictures in Egypt in February 2019 (XINHUA)
Looking back at 2019, it was a fruitful year for Sino-African relations, but the highlight was the implementation of the Eight Major Initiatives announced at the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). In the year, the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation was held in Beijing in April and China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in October. African countries sent warm congratulations to China. The year also witnessed further progress in promoting China-Africa cooperation and new features in people-to-people exchanges.
The Eight Major Initiatives regarding China-Africa cooperation proposed at the FOCAC Beijing Summit in 2018 represents a commitment to increasing joint efforts in implementing quality development under the Belt and Road Initiative. It was a consensus reached by Chinese and African leaders attending the summit to focus cooperation on promoting industrial projects, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, health care, people-to-people exchanges and peace and security in the following three years and beyond. During the summit, intergovernmental memorandums of understanding to join the initiative were signed between China and 28 African countries, as well as the African Union, indicating the strong desire of African countries to take part. This was further evidenced by the participation of leaders of Egypt, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mozambique in the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in April 2019. Over the past year, progress was made as expected in implementing both the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eight Major Initiatives in particular.
In terms of industrial promotion, China has so far established 25 economic and trade cooperation zones and around 100 industrial parks in Africa, which has contributed to the continent's industrialization, job creation, and exports. According to statistics, more than 40,000 jobs have been created in the 25 economic and trade cooperation zones alone, with nearly a total of $1.1 billion taxes paid to the host countries. In terms of facilities connectivity, China and Africa have jointly formulated a plan for China-Africa infrastructure cooperation, and a number of key projects such as the construction of railways, highways, ports, power stations, and telecommunications facilities are underway. For example, on October 3, 2019, a final acceptance certificate was signed by the contracting Chinese company, the transport department of Angola and the Benguela Railway company for a repair and modernization project for the Benguela Railway, marking a major outcome of the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa and China-Africa cooperation. With a total length of 1,344 km, the railway runs through Angola from east to west. So far, nearly 4.3 million trips have been made and over 300,000 tons of cargo has been delivered by this railway. The railway has played an important role in driving economic development along the railway, allowing the flow of people and materials between coast and inland areas, and driving the construction of key railway lines in southern Africa.
In June 2019, the first China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo was held in Changsha, central China's Hunan Province. During the expo, 15 cooperation agreements worth nearly $300 million were officially signed, covering construction of agricultural cooperation zones and construction of factories in cooperation zones, as well as investments in automobile, medicine, textile, agricultural machinery, mining, and cross-border e-commerce. This will help promote China's investment in Africa and China-Africa cooperation in industrial capacity, and upgrade China-Africa cooperation zones. Another highlight during the expo, the China-Africa Dialogue on Infrastructure and Financing Cooperation, has directly promoted China-Africa infrastructure cooperation. Agreements on 13 cooperation projects were signed following the dialogue, including the second phase of Nigeria's Ibom Power Plant, the second phase of Ghana's rural power grid, Guinea's Amaria Hydropower Project and Uganda's ISHU Hospital. The contract value came to $2.6 billion.
In terms of air connectivity, Royal Air Maroc issued a communique in September 2019 saying that the company will open a direct flight between Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, and Beijing on January 16, 2020. In November 2019, a direct flight was opened connecting Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, to Cairo, Egypt.
A student of Alibaba's e-commerce undergraduate program bids farewell to his family and friends at the Kigali Airport, Rwanda, before departure for China on September 9, 2019 (XINHUA)
The year 2019 also witnessed China-Africa cooperation being transformed and upgraded. In addition to traditional areas of cooperation such as infrastructure, industrial parks and industrial capacity, the cooperation between the two sides has expanded into new areas such as the Internet economy, satellites, railways and free trade zones. In particular, cooperation in e-commerce, which is an important part of the Eight Major Initiatives regarding trade facilitation, experienced remarkable progress. The past year saw Transsion, a Chinese mobile phone manufacturer in Africa, joining hands with NetEase, a major Internet company in China, to launch mobile payment in Africa, and Meituan Dianping, a Chinese online food delivery company, entering the Nigerian market. With the launch of the online version of the China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo, African produce such as Kenya's flowers, Uganda's dried mangoes, and Ethiopia's coffee can get to China in as few as two days at the click of a mouse; African consumers can also easily order online from millions of Chinese products.
The close ties at the government level have led more Chinese companies to Africa. The Alibaba Group, a company that leads the development of the digital economy and e-commerce in China, has been active in Africa in recent years. It has not only brought to Africa import and export e-commerce platforms, but is also actively building an e-commerce platform for world trade in Africa. In October 2018, the first Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) cooperation agreement was signed between Alibaba and the Rwandan Government. It was followed by the launch of Rwanda's first e-commerce undergraduate program at Alibaba Business School of Hangzhou Normal University in east China's Zhejiang Province. This is the first cross-border e-commerce undergraduate program that China's e-commerce industry provides to an African country. In November 2019, Alibaba founder Jack Ma came to Ethiopia and signed the second eWTP agreement with the Ethiopian Government. In addition to that, Alibaba will cooperate with Yiwu in Zhejiang, the world's capital of small commodities, and Ethiopia to build a multifunctional digital trading hub, or eHub, in an attempt to make Ethiopia a gateway for African commodity exports to the rest of the world.
On October 7, 2019, China and Mauritius signed a bilateral free trade agreement. It was the 17th free trade agreement signed by China with foreign countries or regions, and the first with an African country, which is a breakthrough regarding free trade between China and Africa. Not only will the deal facilitate trade and investment between China and Mauritius, but it also represents a new level of cooperation between China and Africa in general under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative by introducing a new mechanism of cooperation.
Chinese and Angolan work staff make preparations before departure at the Lobito Station of the Benguela Railway in Angola on August 2, 2019 (XINHUA)
In addition, China-Africa cooperation has also promoted Africa's progress in the field of high technology. In October 2019, Rwanda's Mara Group released two types of smartphones, making it the first manufacturer of smartphones made in Africa. In November 2019, the Nigerian Ministry of Transport claimed in a statement that the country has the opportunity to develop the ability to build railways independently, without relying on any external assistance in the next 10 years. To this end, they will work closely with the China Civil Engineering Construction Group regarding technology transfer, personnel training, and factory construction, and make sure the systematic transfer and localization of technology. In December 2019, the Ministry of Innovation and Technology of Ethiopia stated that the country will cooperate with China to launch its first satellite, a multi-spectral remote sensing satellite named ETRSS-1. The satellite will be launched in China and have its command and control center in Ethiopia at the Entoto space observatory facility on the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa. Designed, developed and manufactured jointly by Ethiopia and China, the satellite will be used to collect data on water, agriculture and climate change and is set to benefit Ethiopia's agriculture, forestry and environmental protection endeavors.
Technicians of the project Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African villages install a digital TV in a village in Kampala, Uganda (XINHUA)
People-to-people exchanges have been the foundation of enhanced friendship between the Chinese and African people. In this regard a new trend emerged in 2019 showing that exchange is no longer limited to traditional means, such as visiting delegations, performances and itinerant museum exhibitions, but is expanded to the exchange of ideas and joint research. The China-Africa Institute was established in Beijing on April 9, 2019. In his congratulatory letter, Chinese President Xi Jinping placed high hopes on the center to gather China and Africa's think tanks and promote mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese and African people, and to contribute to the development of China-Africa relations and the building of a community of shared future for humanity. At present, the institute has 18 China-African cooperative research projects in progress, with another 32 to be launched soon.
In May 2019, 350 Chinese tourists departed from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, and started an 11-day tour to Djibouti, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. This marked the initiation of a five-year tourism cooperation plan between Zhejiang and Africa, under which the province will send around 10,000 tourists to African countries as part of its effort to enhance exchanges and cooperation with Africa.
In October and November 2019, completion ceremonies of the project Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages were held in Nigeria and Cameroon, respectively. This enabled villagers in 1,000 villages in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, and 300 villages in Cameroon, to watch satellite TV programs at home, and also allowed children to access better education resources via watching remote educational TV programs. Carried out by a Chinese company named StarTimes, the project was one of the initiatives in promoting people-to-people exchange proposed at the Johannesburg Summit of the FOCAC in 2015, which aims to enable 10,000 villages in Africa to receive satellite TV programs.
Looking ahead, the year 2020 will mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the FOCAC, which will usher in a new stage of China-Africa cooperation. The focus in 2020 will be furthering the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eight Major Initiatives. More can be done to improve communication and optimize plans for cooperation. Based on what has been achieved in 2019, steady, smooth and solid progress is warranted in the years to come.
Source: CHINAFRICA VOL.12 January 2020