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FOCAC at 20: A solid, enduring partnership

President Xi Jinping at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation 2018. EPA

COMMENT | Ronaldo Kato | This year, the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) marks its 20th anniversary. As it turns 20, FOCAC’s role in shaping Sino-African relations cannot be overemphasized.

The forum is remarkable for many reasons. It shows China’s willingness to engage not just with individual African countries but with the continent as a whole. Secondly, it fits into the continent’s aspirations of unity, self-determination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity as outlined in the Agenda 2063.

At the 2018 summit in Beijing, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced another $60 billion in financing for Africa.

Xi said the funds would include $15 billion in aid, interest-free loans and concessional loans, a $20 billion credit line, a $10 billion special fund for China-Africa development, and a $5 billion special fund for imports from Africa.

New opportunities, threats for cooperation

2020 will probably be marked by the coronavirus pandemic. While the disease was slow to reach Africa, confirmed cases have been rising steadily on the continent, topping 4,500.

Long before some countries recorded cases, Beijing had donated medical supplies, test kits and shared valuable knowledge and information about the disease to help shore up individual countries’ defences.

Away from the government, Chinese businesses and individuals have sent badly needed medical supplies worth millions of dollars to African countries.

The first to be hit by the virus, China has sent medical supplies and human resource to dozens of countries in the world, even as its own resources have been badly strained by the virus.

Africa and china already enjoyed significant cooperation in the medical field. The coronavirus pandemic will likely increase that.

Debt and infrastructure development

African growth was already struggling but expected to make modest gains in 2020. That was before coronavirus struck, disrupting investment, tourism, oil and just about everything. Some analysts say the virus will knock off a whole percentage point on African growth hitherto projected at 3.4% in 2020.

China holds a lot of African debt. Beijing is the biggest bilateral lender to many African countries, who are now staring at economic devastation as a result of COVID-19.

FOCAC has been used in the past to negotiate financing for individual countries and to restructure debt for some. China and African countries should use the same channels to agree debt relief or renegotiate repayment terms or freeze some projects and loans altogether.

This would greatly reduce the possibility of default and allow African economies room to breathe, once the pandemic is over. It would also portray Beijing as a compassionate lender and to further bust all those debt-trap accusations by the United States.

Some leaders such as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Cyril Ramaphosa have already appealed to the international community to think of a debt relief program for African countries.

Agenda 2063

But life will continue after the pandemic. Agenda 2063 is Africa’s strategic framework that aims to deliver on Africa’s goal for inclusive and sustainable development and is a concrete manifestation of the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity pursued under Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.

Under Agenda 2063, Africa aims to become a major global player capable of rallying support around its own common agenda; and emerging development and investment opportunities in areas such as agri-business, infrastructure development, health and education as well as the value addition in African commodities.

Beijing has been a firm backer of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), the African Union’s landmark program meant to increase intra-African trade and investment.

Moreover, China by ramping up its peacekeeping missions on the continent is contributing to peace and security in Africa and to Africa’s vision as a peaceful, free land.

Beyond the pandemic, China and Africa will continue to stand together as partners and as a community sewn together by the framework of FOCAC.

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Ronald Kato is a senior Ugandan journalist at Africanews and a China-Africa Press Centre Fellow. He is interested in China-Africa relations and how China is covered in the news media.

 

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