China and Africa Gearing Up for Summit in South Africa
By admin September 25, 2015

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President Zuma of South Africa and President Xi Jinping of China

President Zuma of South Africa and President Xi Jinping of China
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President Zuma of South Africa met with President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing on September 4, 2015, in advance of South Africa’s hosting of the 6th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in December, 2015. The official occasion was the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War.

South Africa and China have been cooperating in a bilateral manner more frequently, including on balancing trade, nuclear energy and U.N. diplomacy. Following the Year of South Africa in China in 2014, China has been engaged in the Year of China in South Africa. This series of cultural events is meant to increase understanding through people-to-people exchanges. However, the core of the relationship lies in trade, which has grown from USD $11 billion in 2008 to USD $24 billion in 2013.

The choice of South Africa as the host of the 2015 meeting has special significance. Also designated as chair of the African Union, South Africa may be able to garner support for a collective African reaction to Chinese offerings. President Zuma has stated, according to Dr. Chris Alden, that “China-Africa trade relations need to move beyond ‘unsustainability’ in their current form to one in which a diversity of finished and unfinished African exports penetrate the Chinese market.” If Zuma is able to engage in this type of direct dialogue, the relationship may be pushed forward, forcing China to relinquish some control. It remains to be seen whether local labor tensions in South Africa, some of which have to do with Chinese activities in the region, will affect the FOCAC meetings.

December’s FOCAC meeting will be the first since President Xi Jinping came into office in 2013. In previous FOCAC meetings, China has offered Africa billions of dollars in financing and debt relief, and this year’s meeting is likely to provide more of the same. However, this meeting may signal a move away from a singular focus on China’s part on natural resource extraction, toward infrastructure, particularly high-speed rail, highways, and airports. Further emphasis may be placed on agriculture, industrialization, job training and technology transfer in manufacturing, and security.  Well-known for its non-interference policy, China has nonetheless “adjusted” its response in certain parts of Africa, particularly South Sudan, where it contributed troops to a U.N. peacekeeping mission earlier this year.

FOCAC is by no means the only type of engagement China has with Africa. Other initiatives have included the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the BRICS New Development Bank, and the Africa Growing Together Fund. Trade between China and Africa is estimated to be as high as USD $230 billion in 2015, reflecting the ever-strengthening bonds between the two.

Xi Jinping’s renewed focus on Africa certainly means the FOCAC meetings will provide a surfeit of benefits to African participants. What remains to be seen is whether Africa can become more of an equal partner, rather than solely a recipient of China’s largesse. With South Africa at the helm, the odds are good at least some headway will be made.

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