China expected to announce massive economic deals at FOCAC 2021

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In just under three weeks, from 29-30 November to be exact, the entire African continent will converge on Dakar, Senekal, for the much-anticipated 8th edition of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

Hosted alternately in Beijing and major African capitals, the triennial high-level forum has become a never-to-miss event that attracts virtually all the African heads of state, bar Eswatini, which is unwelcomed due to its continued recognition of Taiwan. The first official FOCAC was held in Beijing in 2006 after two major ministerial conferences in Beijing in 2000 and Addis Ababa in 2003.

The theme for this year’s FOCAC has been revealed by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin as follows:  “Deepen China-Africa Partnership and Promote Sustainable Development to Build a China-Africa Community with a Shared Future in the New Era.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to lead a huge delegation that will interact with various African stakeholders. FOCAC is modelled along the lines of Japan’s Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). Since its inception, FOCAC has been a vehicle that provides an organising mechanism for Beijing’s foreign policy towards the continent.

Traditionally, FOCAC is known as a platform through which China lays out exciting policy announcements for the continent, coupled with massive financial commitments aimed at enhancing Africa’s collective economic growth.

Just the other day, host nation Senegal’s foreign minister Aissata Tall Sall together with the Chinese ambassador to Dakar, Xiao Han, outlined the expected outcomes of this year’s big FOCAC indaba.

Four crucial resolution

According to Minister Sall and Ambassador Han the forum is scheduled to adopt four crucial resolutions, or documents, which are listed as follows: (1) The Dakar Action Plan (2022-2024), (2) the 2035 Vision for China-Africa Cooperation, (3) the Sino-African Declaration on Climate Change and (4)the Declaration of the Eighth Ministerial Conference of FOCAC. Also likely to come under focussed discussion would be Africa’s place within the “Belt and Road Initiative”, underlining the continent’s importance to global trade.

In addition, speaking during a press conference in Beijing on 5 November, the Chinese foreign ministry said through spokesperson Wenbin that it expects FOCAC to “review and assess the follow-up implementation of the outcomes of the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit as well as the joint China-Africa response to COVID-19, and chart the course for China-Africa relations for the next three years and more to come”.

Wenbin added that he also expected FOCAC to “inject new impetus into the China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership”.

The Senegalese foreign office said that the forum will also appraise the results of China-African cooperation amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and further thrash out a way forward for the next three years and beyond.

Senegal’s foreign minister also announced that the seventh China-Africa Business Conference would take place side-by-side with FOCAC at the Diamniadio Exhibition Centre in Dakar and will also accommodate off-site participants via a video link.

In 2018, at the last FOCAC meeting in Beijing, President Xi hosted more than one thousand African representatives from over six hundred enterprises across Africa. Also among the African delegates were business hundreds of continental business groups and scores of research institutions.

A recent report by China-Africa Business Council on China’s private sector investment in Africa refers to the imminent summit In Dakar as “another milestone and a new starting point for China-Africa economic and trade cooperation” that will provide “a great opportunity for all African countries to attract foreign investment and expand their international influence”.

The report added: “Both Chinese and African enterprises should anticipate the opportunity to enjoy great mutual policy benefits.”

Over the last two decades, close economic relations have been built between China and Africa. These economic relations – according to the China-Africa Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University, boasted a total value of $192bn US dollars in 2019 and their value is anticipated to have sky-rocketed at this juncture. Also in 2019, according to the same report, the largest exporter to China from Africa was Angola. South Africa was in second place, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The three largest buyers of Chinese goods were listed as Nigeria, followed by South Africa and then Egypt.

Financial support

The office of President Xi believes that Chinese financial support over the last twenty years has proved crucial to African countries. “Loans from the government and state-owned banks have enabled the construction of major infrastructure projects across the continent, including highways, ports, airports and government buildings,” according to a report.

In May this year, Chinese finance minister Wang Yi was quoted as saying that over 85% of the eight major initiatives that were announced at the 2018 Beijing Summit had been successfully implemented, with designated funds disbursed or earmarked and many cooperation projects either launched or completed.

This year’s FOCAC takes place amid a catastrophic financial impact of Covid-19 on many continental economies and rising gloom. This has led to fears of debt defaults on the billions of dollars that China has lent to the continent over the last twenty years. The World Bank has estimated that Africa’s funding gap as of 2020 stood at $290bn US dollars.

China’s rapid rise to becoming a global super-power can surely stand Africa in good stead. The existing mutual regard and the political willingness on all sides bodes well for lasting cooperation between China and Africa, indicating quite clearly that FOCAC still has many years remaining in its lifespan.

Beijing is expected to bring a big cheque book to FOCAC 2021, and aid to the continent’s agriculture projects and the digital and tech assistance could dominate the offerings. Also highly likely to be China’s offer of assistance could be a huge number of vaccines Beijing signs off to Africa in an effort to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Over the years, FOCAC has been hailed as a win-win summit between China and Africa.