China’s special bond with Africa
By Luo Jianbo, Professor and Director at the Institute for International Strategic Studies, Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC Translated by Xu Chengzhi
What is the characteristic of Chinese diplomacy? For a long time, China has always regarded developing countries, most of which are African countries, as the foundation of its foreign policy making. It has always focused on strengthening unity and cooperation with them, which reflects the distinctive features of China's diplomacy. In history, China firmly supports the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles of African countries. At present, it focuses on achieving mutual-beneficial common development with them, and highlights “the values of justice and interests” in conducting relationship with African countries. Chinese in fact has a special bond with African countries from the beginning of their relationship.
Starting from 1955
This year marks the 120th anniversary of Premier Zhou Enlai’s birth. When Premier Zhou Enlai embarked on the historical tour of the Asian-African world more than half a century ago, there were two important "steps":
In 1955, Premier Zhou Enlai led a delegation to attend the Asia-Africa Bandung Conference and put forward the famous policy of "seeking common ground while reserving differences" to encourage the Asian-African countries to reach a consensus in their anti-imperialist and anti-colonial efforts. At that meeting, he demonstrated to other Asian and African countries the firm determination of the new China to support the national liberation movement in the Third World. In 1956, China officially established diplomatic relations with Egypt, and Chinese diplomacy therefore expanded to the Middle East and African countries for the first time.
From December 1963 to February 1964, Zhou Enlai spent two and a half months visiting 13 countries in Asia and Africa and proposed the eight principles guiding China's foreign aid. China pledged to help third-world countries move towards a self-reliant and independent development path, and respect the sovereignty of recipient countries, without any conditions attached. A poor country provides assistance to other poor countries that are in desperate need of help, which is rare in the world.
The late Julius Kambarage Nyerere, founding father of the United Republic of Tanzania, once put forward well-known question: Where is the source of African power? During his lifetime, he visited China 13 times in various capacities and met with Chairman Mao on multiple occasions. He told his compatriots again and again that Africa is not only about achieving a broad alliance under Pan-Africanism, but also focusing on cooperation with the East. He has said more than once that China is trustworthy and it is indeed speaking for developing countries.
In the era of Nyerere, China provided assistance within its ability to support the national liberation of African countries. At that time, China’s largest project to aid Africa was the world-famous Tanzania-Zambia Railway. China has spent more than six years dispatching nearly 60,000 engineers and working with Tanzania to build a 1,860-kilometer-long Tanzania-Zambia railway. Sixty-five Chinese technicians and experts have sacrificed their lives for the project. During the times of African countries pursuing political independence, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway has enormous political and cultural significance. First, it has greatly inspired the national aspiration of Africa. It proves to the world that Africans can not only break the shackles with their own hands, but also build their country with their own hands. It played a critical role in boosting self-confidence of Africans. Second, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway has also highlighted the spirit of South-South cooperation between Asia and Africa. This spirit still plays an important role until today.
China-Africa Community of Shared Future
Some people may ask today that why China, which was so poor at that time, still decided to assist Africa in building the Tanzania-Zambia Railway. Chairman Mao once said: "The people who have won the revolutionary victory should assist the people who are fighting for liberation. This is our internationalist obligation." In Chairman Mao’s view, the Chinese Communists have an international obligation that, after realizing its political independence, China should also help others as much as it can. In his view, only when the oppressed people of the world were liberated would the liberation of China be more historical. As shown, the Chinese Communists have a strong internationalist spirit from the beginning.
In the eyes of Chairman Mao, China, by aiding others, actually helped itself. In the time when China was completely surrounded and contained by the United States, he said emotionally: "As long as there is an opportunity, the United States always launches attacks at us, therefore we need friends." "Who will support us? It’s none other than the national liberation movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America. They are the most important force supporting us." In Chairman Mao’s view, the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movement of the Third World has weakened and diverted the power of imperialism to a considerable extent. Through direct or indirect means, They strategically supported China’s anti-blockade and anti-containment efforts.
Historically, Africa has provided China with enormous diplomatic assistance. There are three incidents that the Chinese will always keep in mind. First, African friends have voted China into the United Nations. At that time, many Asian and African countries regarded the restoration of China’s legitimate seat in the United Nations as their own, and regarded China’s diplomatic victory as their own victory. Second, after the Beijing political turmoil in 1989, diplomatic support from Africa provided valuable. At that time, the first foreign head of state who visited China despite tremendous pressure from the West was from Africa. The first head of government also came from Africa, and so was the first foreign minister. In response, since 1991, the first overseas visit by Chinese foreign ministers at the beginning of each year has always been African countries, without any exception, for the past 28 years. Third, African countries have steadfastly sided with China on the Taiwan issue and human rights issue.
More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Greek philosopher and physicist Archimedes once said: Give me a fulcrum, I shall move the world. For China, African countries are an important force for China's diplomacy and a strategic "fulcrum" for China to conduct relations with the outside world. In the 1960s and 1970s, China needed Africa's help to break the blockade and sanctions imposed by the United States and the Soviet Union. Today, the support of African countries is necessary to counterbalance the deterrence and containment efforts against of the rise of China by certain Western powers. China promises to always adhere to the path of peaceful development, but it must also be prepared to deal with the complicated external situation; China promises to not form alliance, but also needs to have friends and their assistance; China says it will never seek to establish its own sphere of influence, but there must also be a strategic maneuver room. Africa is of great significance to China in conducting external world relations and promoting its global influence.
What does China mean for African countries in the 21st century? In the past, China was an important ally of African countries to achieve political independence. Today it is an important partner for their pursuit of national development and national rejuvenation, and an important boost for promoting Africa's international status. With the deepening partnership with China, many African countries have gradually established an unprecedented new self-confidence and new spirit, and began to pursue their own development with a more independent and more positive look, starting to integrate into the world in a more independent and more favorable way.
One of the major themes of world history development since the 20th century is that China and African countries have broken the Western colonial system and achieved national independence and liberation through self-reliance, unity and cooperation. They’re pursuing an all-round development and national rejuvenation, which in itself helps promote the international system to become fairer. China and Africa, the two continents, and the two civilizations have a historical significance since the first day of their interaction.
The original aspiration of the Chinese diplomacy
Today, some developing countries are asking whether a fast-growing China is still a member of them and is it still standing with them?
This issue involves China's own identity. What is China’s identity? The international community likes to call China an emerging power. In fact, this concept only expresses the growth of an economic volume and does not have a deeper historical connotation. China prefers to call itself a "big developing country."
In the eyes of the Chinese, "developing countries" are not just a purely economic concept in itself. It has not only economic attributes, but also rich historical, political and cultural attributes. In China's diplomatic thinking, the concept of contemporary "developing countries" is largely the continuation and development of the "third world". The South-South cooperation of contemporary developing countries is also the natural continuation of Asian-African Bandung Conference, Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77. Although the Third World countries have already achieved political independence and the international situation has undergone great changes, developing countries still face the task of achieving economic development and national modernization, and they face similar political and diplomatic needs in international affairs. Therefore, in the eyes of the Chinese, the concept of "developing countries" carries both a historical memory, a realistic need, and an emotional identity, and thus has a special sense of belonging, affinity, and identity.
What is the original aspiration of Chinese diplomacy? China's diplomacy naturally serves China's own development and rejuvenation, and at the same time, we must make contributions to the world as much as we can. The important aspect is to pay attention to the interests of the majority of countries, the majority of ethnic groups, and the majority of people. They are numerous developing countries. China has repeatedly stressed that it will always stand with developing countries and, as always, strengthening cooperation with developing countries will remain an important aspect of China's diplomacy. China’s diplomatic ideas and policies toward developing countries are the most representative of the original aspiration of China’s diplomacy.
Such a mission has given China's diplomacy a special African sentiment. In the eyes of the Chinese, Africa is the "land of hope" rather than the "desperate continent." In the eyes of the Chinese, Africa has had a splendid civilization in history and will have a major impact on world development in the future. In the eyes of the Chinese, Africa is not only a recipient of the international aid. It is fully capable and confident to realize its development and revival of Africa by relying on its own strength. What Africa needs is not aid. They need equality, respect and sincere cooperation. At a time when Western countries successively left Africa after the Cold War, China in contrast emphasized more on Africa, thus continuously advancing China-Africa cooperation to a new historical height.
The values of justice and interests in Chinese diplomacy
In 2013, President Xi Jinping put forward the guidelines of developing Africa relations featuring “sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith”. He points out, in treating African friends, we stress the importance of "sincerity". True friends are the most valuable. In conducting cooperation with Africa, we stress the importance of "real results". In strengthening China-Africa friendship, we stress the importance of "affinity". In resolving problems that may crop up in cooperation, we stress the importance of "good faith". Subsequently, he proposed and comprehensively expounded the “correct view of justice and interests” in dealing with developing countries. President Xi notes, we should follow the right concept of morality and interests, attaching importance to both morality and interests. This means we should act in good faith, value friendship, champion justice and uphold morality.
In recent years, China and Africa have used the "Belt and Road" as a link to continuously push China-Africa cooperation to a new level. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, the Nairobi-Mombasa Railway, the Benguela Railway, the Nigerian Abuja-Kadula Railway and the Lagos-Ibadan Railway have been opened or under construction. The expansion of projects in Kenyan port of Lamu, Nigeria's Lekki Deepwater Port and the port Dar es Salaam has been steadily advancing. Zambia's China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, Egypt's Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, Nigeria's Lekki Free Trade Zone, and Ethiopia's Eastern Industrial Park are developing rapidly. The outcomes of China-Africa cooperation is now being fully manifested.
Today's Ethiopia witnesses the benefit of China-Africa cooperation. Its first expressway, the first urban light rail, the first electrified railway, the first wind power plant, the first modern industrial park, and the first modern vocational school, all are invested and built, or assisted by the Chinese side. Thanks to cooperation with China, Ethiopia's economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world since 2004. Some Westerners have accused China of engaging in "new colonialism" in Africa. Ethiopia has not much resources, but the Chinese are using their own means to achieve mutual benefit and common development with Ethiopia.
In order to support Africa's poverty alleviation and development, China has promoted the construction and development of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum mechanism, and under this framework, it has continuously introduced new ideas and new measures for cooperation with Africa. In the past three years, China has provided more than 60 billion U.S. dollars to African countries and supported China and Africa to carry out the top ten cooperation plans. China has also initiated the establishment of the AIIB, the BRICS New Development Bank, the Silk Road Fund, the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund, and the China-United Nations Peace and Development Fund. These new development initiatives can largely benefit Africa's development. In 2017, the Xiamen Bricks Summit opened a “BRICS+” cooperation model and actively used the BRICS organization to drive more developing countries to achieve development. China has also actively promoted major international organizations such as the United Nations and the G20 to pay more attention to and support Africa's development. For example, the 2016 Hangzhou G20 Summit not only invited a number of African countries to participate, but also proposed support for industrial cooperation initiatives in Africa and LDCs.
At present, many African countries face three major development bottlenecks namely, inadequate infrastructure, lack of professional and skilled personnel, and funding shortage. Therefore, China-Africa cooperation needs to focus on promoting connectivity in Africa, China-Africa industrial capacity cooperation, and human resource development in Africa. The reason why China has been able to achieve rapid economic development in the past 40 years is partly due to the massive investment in infrastructure construction. China also benefits from the large-scale undertaking of global industrial transfer. It also has something to do with its emphasis on education and professional training. With the transformation and upgrading of China's economic structure, China's enormous amount of capital, industry and technology are going out. Africa needs to seize this new wave of global industrial transfer in a timely manner and participate fully in the construction of the “Belt and Road Initiative” to promote the modernization and industrialization of the African continent.
In particular, China and Africa need to focus on the exchange of experience in governance and promote the capacity building of African countries. At present, African countries are "looking eastward". They are not only optimistic about China's increasing outbound investment and foreign assistance, but also hope to learn from China's development and governance experience. The experience of governance here is not only specific economic and social development experience, but also more of a choice of national development path. The latter is also of great significance to developing countries. China's development model represents essentially a successful exploration and independent realization of modernization by a developing country. It proves to the world that developing countries can independently explore the path suitable for their own development. For a long time, developing countries had to, either learn the Western model or study the Soviet model. Now the relative success of China and East Asian countries has indeed shown them a new path to achieve growth. There is one more example for African countries when they look at how to development their own nations.