Common grounds for China-US cooperation in Africa

By Wang Hongyi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 13, 2014
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Given that trilateral cooperation between China, the United States and Africa is still at a low level, China and the U.S. are in urgent need for coordination on African affairs so as to avoid misunderstanding and frictions with regard to African affairs. This will be conducive not only to the stability in Africa, but also to the development of Sino-U.S. relations.

The low-level cooperation is evidenced by the following: trilateral cooperation is still limited mainly to coordination under multilateral frameworks; Cooperation is confined to the fields of medical services and training, and cooperation in peace and security is lacking; and cooperation projects are mainly joint training programs, or the U.S. provides funds or technical support for China-African projects.

But a series of high-profile events indicate that changes are indeed happening. Leaders from China and the U.S. recently paid visits to the continent. The U.S. is to host a U.S.-Africa summit meeting in August and China will host the sixth ministerial conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation next year. Their respective interaction with Africa shows the continent’s rising strategic value to China and the U.S. Under such a scenario, China and the U.S. need to strengthen coordination on African affairs.

As China and the U.S. speed up interaction with Africa, making rules for trilateral cooperation has become a core issue, and China should seek a major role in making such rules. China has always highlighted bilateral cooperation in its diplomacy and economic cooperation, and does not have much experience in multilateral cooperation. The U.S., however, is well-versed in multilateral cooperation and is the leading player in making international rules. On the core issue of setting the rules, China should try to seek a major role, and if this fails, China should then adopt loose and provisional agreements so that its freedom and the room for cooperation with Africa will not be squeezed.

In setting the rules, China should try to propose cooperation subjects that are beneficial to all sides, and the focus for trilateral cooperation should include infrastructure, inter-regional projects, security and peace.

But during this rule-setting, Africa must be respected and their interests must be safeguarded. As the disadvantaged party in the multilateral framework, African countries have their concerns. China should abide by the principle of giving a big role to African countries, and trilateral cooperation must be recognized by African countries which should be guaranteed of a full participation in the process.

As trilateral cooperation is still at the infancy, China and the U.S. should restart the consultation mechanism on the African affairs.

China and the U.S. already had five rounds of consultations before 2012, and the strategic consultations had achieved some practical results, but the three parties had not yet decided on specific cooperation fields or projects. The official consultation mechanism has been virtually paused since 2013. To open a new chapter for trilateral cooperation, China and the U.S. need to restart the mechanism as early as possible so as to make decisions on specific projects for trilateral cooperation.

Trilateral cooperation ought to start with the non-competitive sectors such as training and technology cooperation. Both China and the U.S. have organized various training activities in Africa, and have accumulated rich experience in agriculture and medical services. China has constructed 33 anti-malaria centers and more than 30 hospitals there and have trained more than 3,000 doctors for Africa. The U.S. devised a plan in 2011 to train 140,000 doctors for African countries. For African countries, medical and health services are not a sensitive issue, and China and the U.S. have big room for cooperation in this sector. They could use those anti-malaria centers and hospitals as the venues for medical training programs.

There are also favorable conditions for Sino-U.S. cooperation in the agro-training field. China has constructed 24 agricultural demonstration centers in Africa and the number will soon rise to 40. The demonstration centers, fully equipped, are suitable for organizing training and planting demonstration activities. Because China pays for operation costs for only three years, these centers will have a funding shortage afterwards. The United States Agency for International Development set up a fund for African agricultural development in 2011, and President Obama also promised in 2012 to increase agricultural investment in Africa. China and the U.S. can make use of the demonstration centers to jointly train agro-technicians for Africa.

From a long-term perspective, however, trilateral cooperation projects could be executed and managed by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which is a high-level, long-term decision-making mechanism for China-Africa cooperation. The forum has accepted the African Union and other African organizations as members and could play its multilateral functions.

First, the forum could help promote China-U.S. cooperation on peace and security issues. China and the U.S. have been maintaining coordination on African peace and security under the bilateral and United Nations framework, but such a level of cooperation could hardly meet the actual needs. The two countries could discuss and share African security information under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation so as to protect the safety of Chinese and American nationals in Africa, to jointly fight against pirates and promote military exchanges in Africa.

Second, the forum could help improve the African market and investment environment. The U.S., the biggest investor in Africa, has been attempting to improve the African market and investment environment, to promote the judicial, customs, taxation and financial integration among the African Union, and China is also trying to avoid institutional, judicial, policy and financial risks for its investment in Africa. The two countries have common grounds and could strengthen cooperation in the sectors.

And third, the committees of the forum could serve as platforms for China-U.S. cooperation on Africa affairs. When trilateral cooperation and exchanges gain speed, the committees could become permanent institutions to undertake daily liaison work among the three parties.

Wang Hongyi is an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies.

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