The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit concluded in Johannesburg on Saturday amid an almost giddy atmosphere. All sides in this relationship seemingly walked away with more than what they anticipated.
Africa provided a welcome relief for President Xi Jinping’s embattled foreign policy that has struggled in recent weeks following the killing of a Chinese national at the hands of ISIS in Syria, the murder of three Chinese executives at the hotel siege in Mali and tensions with several of its Asian neighbors and the United States over disputed islands in the South China Sea. FOCAC, instead, allowed China the opportunity to position itself as a incontrovertible force for good.
In the run up to the December summit, a number of African states worried aloud about whether China would remain committed to the continent amid a slowing economy at home and an increasingly fragile economic environment across much of the continent. Furthermore, a number of countries, including Mozambique and Angola among others, are also beginning to show strains under the weight of billions of dollars in Chinese loans. They in turn hoped Beijing would use the FOCAC summit to provide some desperately needed financial relief.
On all counts, China delivered.
The high point of the summit came with Xi’s keynote address in which he unveiled an unprecedented $60 billion financial package that includes money for industrialization, infrastructure, poverty reduction and security among other areas. This was a significant increase over the $20 billion China committed at the previous FOCAC conference in 2012.
Not surprisingly, the African delegations were elated with the news. After all, China’s “no strings attached” engagement strategy is far more preferable for many of these governments compared to the more stringent conditional assistance offered by the West and the international institutions it leads.
Although the political elites who attended FOCAC were obviously pleased with the outcome, a number of civil society actors have expressed alarm over what wasn’t addressed at this year’s summit. The environment, wildlife conservation in particular, had been expected to play a much more prominent role than it did, receiving only a passing mention in the final communiqué. Other concerns related to corruption, illegal Chinese immigration and the growing prevalence of counterfeit Chinese goods were largely brushed aside (not surprisingly, of course).
On this week’s show, Eric & Cobus discuss FOCAC from two distinct perspectives — in the podcast above — with Lily Kuo, the Nairobi-based correspondent for the online business news site Quartz, and Walter Ruigu, managing director of China Africa Merchants Advisors Limited.