Diplomacy Talk | China-Africa: Mutual gains, not one-sided aid

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What are the strengths of China in cooperating with Africa compared with Western countries? How has China-Africa cooperation benefited both peoples? Wu Peng, director-general of the Department of African Affairs at the Chinese foreign ministry, joins Diplomacy Talk to share his stories about the China-Africa friendship. He offers unique insights into the dynamic China-Africa bond, addressing various questions and concerns about this important relationship.

The following is a transcript of the interview.

Diplomacy Talk: At the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit at the end of last year, the U.S. announced that it would increase investment in Africa, and since the beginning of this year, more senior U.S. officials have paid visits to Africa. How do you view this?

Wu Peng: Supporting the development of Africa is the shared responsibility of the international community. We are glad to see that all of Africa's partners can increase their input in Africa, and we also welcome the diversification of Africa's partners. So, it's a good thing if countries, including the U.S., increase their investment in Africa, which the African people welcome. However, if you impose investments on the African people, then that is not good. You are simply doing things for your own interests.

Therefore, we welcome genuinely equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with Africa. We also believe that African countries and people have the wisdom and ability to choose partners who serve their interests. If it is truly beneficial to the African people, then I think it is good. Don't always talk about competition, winners, or losers. Just do some good things, and then you will become the winner without competition.

Diplomacy Talk: As a senior diplomat who once served as the Chinese ambassador to Sierra Leone and Kenya, you must have some personal feelings about the China-Africa friendship. Would you like to share them with us?

Wu Peng: I have been involved in a lot of work with Africa and traveled all over the continent. From my personal experience, I see the friendship between China and Africa dates back a long way.

I still remember that when then-State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Kenya in early 2022, Raychelle Omamo, his Kenyan counterpart, showed him an ancient coin during their talks. That coin was left on Kenya's Lamu Island when Chinese navigator Zheng He's fleet sailed to the western seas. As early as that period, more than 600 years ago, the Chinese and African people had already started friendly exchanges.

From my own experience, I've been to every continent. Yet, the friendship and affection between the Chinese and African people have touched me most since I became director general of the Department of African Affairs. For example, the Chinese embassy in Kenya funded the building of a school in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, in 2007. Most of the students were orphans or born to single parents.

Local Chinese enterprises have provided them with grain and edible oil supplies for a long time and helped repair and expand the school. Those Kenyan children are very grateful and have named the school "Beijing School."

Our embassy visits the school every year. The children say their dream is to go to university in Beijing, and for many, that dream is achievable. I hope that if they have the opportunity to study in China, they will study hard and return to Kenya to contribute to their country.

Since the establishment of the school, more than 2,400 of its students have completed high school, and more than 100 have finished university.

Another example is an underdeveloped village in a remote area of eastern Sierra Leone. At the request of friendly local people, our embassy in Sierra Leone decided to assist in building a small livestock farm in the village in 2018. On New Year's Day 2019, I drove for more than four hours to conduct field research at the farm. After half a year of construction, the farm began to take shape. Dozens of cattle and sheep were raised on a large grassland area, and cattle sheds and management rooms were built. The head farmer shook my hand with excitement and expressed gratitude for our help. Thus, the village has its own industry, and villagers can afford quality beef, mutton and dairy products. Through cooperation with us, they believe they will achieve the same development results as China.

Diplomacy Talk: This year marks the 10th anniversary of President Xi Jinping's proposal of the principles of "sincerity, real results, amity, and good faith" toward Africa. Mr. Wu, would you like to briefly explain what the principles mean?

Wu Peng: Every principle clarifies one aspect of the policy approach to Africa.

China treats African friends with "sincerity" because true friends are the most valuable. China has always regarded solidarity and cooperation with African countries as a foundation of its foreign policy. This will never change, even though China has achieved remarkable development with its international status increased. We firmly support African countries' just position in international and regional affairs. We safeguard developing countries' common interests and firmly support African countries in solving their regional problems independently.

Some people think China is no longer a developing country. This idea lacks a sense of history and is completely one-sided and untenable.

China has always been a developing country, not only economically but also politically. That is to say, we always stand with other developing countries in politics, emotion, and policy.

"Real results" in cooperation with Africa refer to China's commitments, which have always been and will be fully implemented. China always pursues real results, unlike some countries that only pay lip service.

China has fulfilled each of its commitments. If you travel to Africa, you will see airports, ports, roads, factories, schools, and hospitals. All those facilities are tangible examples of China-Africa cooperation. Therefore, the words "real results" describe China's solid cooperation with Africa, which is exemplary in the world.

The word "amity" is self-explanatory. China-Africa relations have their roots in their people who share a natural sense of closeness. The development of China-Africa relations is for the people, and by the people of both sides. Moreover, the benefits of development are shared by both peoples.

Some think the China-Africa relationship is unbalanced and Africa is close to China only because China has given it a lot of material support. I don't think this is the case. In fact, China's relations and pragmatic cooperation with all countries are based on mutual respect, mutual benefit, and win-win results.

For example, while China has given Africa some assistance within its capacity, it also enjoys significant economic interests in Africa. In the engineering contracting market of African countries, Chinese enterprises have been widely welcomed by African people because of the good quality, high efficiency and fair prices provided. Therefore, many contracts for the construction of municipal public facilities and infrastructure have been given to Chinese enterprises. Because of this, Chinese enterprises have developed and expanded, thus boosting trade between the two sides. Last year, trade between the two sides increased to more than $280 billion, despite unfavourable conditions caused by the pandemic.

Regarding "good faith," both China and Africa are in the process of rapid development, and their mutual understanding needs to keep pace with the times. China deals with new situations, problems, and challenges in China-African relations in good faith. I remember when President Xi talked during his meeting with an African leader about possible differences between the two sides in mining cooperation, he compared the differences to the fight betweenthe teeth and the tongue. As long as we are in the spirit of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation, we can resolve any problem.

Diplomacy Talk: Mr. Wu, you just said that China-Africa cooperation is two-way and mutually beneficial. Now there is a view on the internet that China-Africa cooperation refers only to China's assistance to Africa. What you said just now refutes that view.

Wu Peng: China's cooperation with Africa extends far beyond aid. On the contrary, an outdated colonial mindset regards Africa as a land of alms and charity. We have always believed that Africa is a land of development and a continent with enormous economic potential. We are willing to do business with African people and treat them based on sincerity and equality, rather than giving charity.

Diplomacy Talk: How do you see the achievements of China-Africa cooperation over the past 10 years? How would you rate it out of 100?

Wu Peng: First, political mutual trust has consolidated. In 2013, after Xi Jinping assumed the presidency, he chose Africa as part of his maiden journey abroad. On this visit, he put forward the principles of China's Africa policy – sincerity, real results, amity and good faith, and pursuing the greater good and shared interests. President Xi's proposal of building a closer China-Africa community with a shared future is also an important proposition.

African leaders highly appreciate China's development path and achievements and admired China's development model and concept. I've particularly felt this recently. Many African leaders, as well as African people, have been thinking about the following question. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, China and Africa had roughly equal GDP per capita, and many African countries had higher GDP per capita than China. Therefore, why, just in 40 to 50 years, has Africa's development slowed while China has become the world's second-largest economy? This desire between the two sides to learn from each other is a strong foundation for our political relations. In addition, China and Africa have also supported and cooperated closely with each other in international affairs. We have received strong support from African countries in our struggle to safeguard China's sovereignty, national security and the right to development. On the road to implementing the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and the Global Civilization Initiative, we jointly adhere to true multilateralism. These three initiatives, proposed by President Xi Jinping in response to the current international landscape, are significant global undertakings. They have garnered support from numerous African nations.

Second, China-Africa cooperation has boosted our bilateral relations. China has been Africa's largest trading partner for 14 years in a row, and 98% of China's imported products from 21 least-developed African countries enjoy zero tariffs. This has greatly promoted bilateral economic and trade ties. China-Africa trade reached $282 billion in 2022, up 11.1% year on year. Kenya started exporting avocados to China last year and the tropical fruit quickly won popularity among Chinese consumers. China is expected to become the largest market for Kenyan avocados this year. Of course, COVID-19 has affected China-Africa trade over the past three years. Since the adjustment of China's COVID response policy, personnel exchanges between the two sides have resumed rapidly.

In terms of poverty reduction, we have actively responded to African countries' needs and shared China's experience. Some poverty reduction model villages have been established in African countries. We have also initiated a project called "100 Companies in 1,000 Villages," which enables 100 Chinese enterprises to establish links with 1,000 African villages. The project is mainly designed to encourage Chinese enterprises in Africa to fulfill their social responsibilities.

There are more than 100 Chinese companies in about 44 countries doing social welfare work in this area, involving approximately 350 cases. Our cooperation in the field of peace and security started late, so we need to work harder to make up for weak points in this area.

All in all, China-Africa cooperation is flourishing and has yielded fruitful results. The achievements of cooperation are seen all over the two lands, as there are also African investments in China.

For example, a South African company held a considerable proportion of investment in WeChat in its early stage, one of the most used apps in China, and it still does today.

As for rating China-Africa cooperation, it is not up to me as it is a question for the Chinese and African people to answer. To achieve a satisfactory score for the people, as the head of the Department of African Affairs, I, together with my colleagues, will join hands with all other parties to ensure that China-Africa cooperation delivers tangible benefits to both peoples.

Of course, as a Chinese diplomat, I need to serve China's overall development, which is the starting point of all my work and will never change.

Diplomacy Talk: Thanks to you and your colleagues for your hard work in promoting China-Africa cooperation. Now, more African avocados can enter the Chinese market and our people can enjoy quality avocados at a good price. What are the strengths of China in cooperating with Africa compared with Western countries represented by the U.S.?

Wu Peng: We always believe that Africa should be a big stage for international cooperation rather than an arena for rivalry between major countries. China-Africa cooperation is based solely on the needs of both sides and does not seek spheres of influence or geopolitical competition.

I think the people of the world will have their say on whether China-Africa cooperation is positive. In terms of cooperation projects, since the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, China has built or upgraded more than 10,000 kilometers of railways in Africa. Part of them rely on loans, but more of them are financed by international institutions, including the World Bank and the African Development Bank, and of course, most of them are financed by the fiscal expenditure of African countries themselves. They do this out of trust in China, and our enterprises have the strength and ability to work with them on the projects.

It's undeniable that we have also offered aid to Africa. However, the proportion of aid is relatively small. We have helped build nearly 100,000 kilometers of roads. I remember we've also helped construct nearly 1,000 bridges, roughly 100 ports, more than 80 large-scale power facilities, around 100 hospitals and clinics, and a lot of schools. We have helped build many stadiums in Africa, and the benefits are obvious. People in many African countries like football. Whenever they go to the stadium for football games or social activities, they would know that it's a stadium built with Chinese assistance.

We have also done a lot for agriculture in Africa, and we have been long cooperating on agricultural technology. This helps Africa achieve its food security, especially in the current situation.

With the completion of the African Continental Free Trade Area, I think the African market will become all the more important to China. There is a long list of good examples. So, it means little to compare ourselves with others. It is better for us to get down to something conducive to the development of both sides in Africa.

Diplomacy Talk: China is the largest developing country in the world, and Africa is home to the largest number of developing countries. How do you envision the future of China-Africa cooperation?

Wu Peng: Indeed, some predict that the continent's population will double by 2050, and perhaps even earlier; it now has a population of 1.4 billion people and a GDP of more than $4 trillion.

I am optimistic about its prospect. We believe that Africa is promising, and we are willing to do business with Africa and grow together with Africa.

From a larger perspective, the collective rise of developing countries is an irreversible trend of the times.

China and African nations share a common identity in their status as developing countries. We must safeguard the common interests of developing countries, which inevitably requires us to make the international order fairer and more equitable. This constitutes the essential part of our relations with African brothers. Thank you.

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