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Opinion
A Precise Art
The Belt and Road Initiative looks to align with development strategies in African countries
By He Wenping | NO.38 SEPTEMBER 20, 2018

Passengers take a selfie at Nairobi Station of the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya on June 1(XINHUA)

The 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) wrapped up on September 4, producing a series of outcomes with far-reaching significance and impact. According to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, both China and Africa agreed to build an even stronger community with a shared future, with the major outcome that many African countries pledged to continue and expand their active support for and participation in the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping five years ago.

The summit saw the signing of memoranda of understanding (MoU) between China and 28 countries as well as the African Union (AU) Commission on jointly developing the Belt and Road Initiative. Thus, in addition to the nine countries which signed MoUs before the summit, 70 percent of all the 53 African nations that attended the summit have shown interest in cooperating with China on the initiative which aims to promote the common development of participating countries.

According to officials from China's National Development and Reform Commission, China will stay in close communication with other African countries to sign cooperation documents on Belt and Road projects. China will also endeavor to achieve effective results in policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds with related countries, bringing concrete benefits to African countries and their peoples.

Resonance from Africa

Since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed in 2013, many African countries—with their abundant resources, huge market potential and strong infrastructure construction demand—have been actively participating. They perceive the initiative as a historic opportunity and expect to seize it to achieve leapfrog development.

Djibouti is one African country which has shown a strong drive and passion for participating in the Belt and Road Initiative and has tried to embrace a brighter future by joining hands with China. Situated on the west bank of the Gulf of Aden in Northeast Africa, Djibouti is a small nation with a population of only 1 million. Through close cooperation with China, its infrastructure construction has witnessed a surge in recent years.

With investment from Chinese enterprises, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, linking Djibouti and the capital of Ethiopia, started operation at the beginning of the year. The Djibouti Port—built by the China Merchants Group—was completed and started operations last year. The largest free trade zone in Africa, which is jointly managed by Chinese enterprises and local entities, began construction in early July.

Such progress has won recognition from the people of Djibouti. During his visit to China last November, President Ismail Omar Guelleh noted that Westerners have been in Djibouti for more than 100 years, but his country is still very poor, while the Chinese arrived only three years ago and Djibouti has already seen great changes and developed much hope.

The expectation for development comes from the new impetus provided by the Belt and Road Initiative. Just as Chinese people have embraced the Chinese dream, African people also have their dream for development and poverty-reduction; interconnectivity and industrialization are the preconditions and path to making the African dream come true. To reach this end, African countries and the AU Commission have issued critical development documents, including the New Partnership for Africa's Development in 2001, the Accelerated Industrial Development for Africa in 2008 and the AU Agenda 2063 in 2013.

However, Africa's infrastructure is poorly developed due to insufficient financial resources, a shortage of equipment and lack of technical and management skills. Poor infrastructure has long been a barrier to the economic development of some African countries. Underdeveloped transportation facilities not only make regional and domestic trade costly, but also hamper foreign investment.

China, with advantages and global competitiveness in infrastructure construction, could contribute to African countries in this regard, since the major objective of the Belt and Road Initiative is to achieve infrastructure interconnectivity. To prepare for this, China has already put forward an outward-looking policy.

Alignment of strategies

At the opening ceremony of the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit, Xi proposed to build a China-Africa community with a shared future that pursues win-win cooperation and puts forward bilateral development strategies to better complement each other.

Before the summit, Xi made a speech at a symposium marking the fifth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative on August 27, in which he compared the future of the initiative to creating a meticulous painting. Xi said that in the past few years, the overall layout of the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative was completed, which can be interpreted as the freely drawn sketch of a painting. In the future, China and its partners should focus on key points to carefully craft a delicate, detailed painting.

Just as Xi pointed out, cooperation between China and its African partners under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative has now entered a new phase: the alignment of the China-proposed initiative with the AU Agenda 2063, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as the development programs of African countries.

On January 27, 2015, China and the AU signed an MoU to cooperate on major infrastructure networks and industrialization processes in Africa. Within the framework of the AU Agenda 2063, China would strengthen cooperation with African countries on the construction of roads, railways and regional aviation, along with overall industrialization, to accelerate continental integration. At present, Chinese enterprises have already started to carry out these commitments, engaging in infrastructure projects in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Nigeria and other countries, and docking Chinese and African developing strategies with concrete steps.

During this new phase of cooperation, China should also align the Belt and Road Initiative with the individual development strategies of each African country more precisely. Only in this way will China's advantages better integrate with each country's development priorities, while the joint construction of Belt and Road projects can further be consolidated and improved.

To reach this end, solid research should be conducted about each African country and sub-region. Knowledge should be gained about not only political and social conditions, but also about mid- or long-term national development priority strategies. Local authorities of Chinese provinces and cities should also take stock of their competitive industries for cooperation with those countries in demand.

For instance, Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius— the four countries Xi visited in July—have different characteristics in regards to location and development advantages.

Senegal is the West Africa gateway, South Africa, with the Cape of Good Hope, connects the Atlantic and Indian oceans,and Mauritius is the Pearl of the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa. As three important countries along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, they all expect to tap into more development potential in fishery, ship maintenance, port transportation, trade distribution and transshipment while cooperating with China under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Rwanda, a landlocked country that connects Central and East Africa, has achieved remarkable development results in recent decades under the leadership of President Paul Kagame. The country is striving to become the Internet and information center of the East African Community and is determined to be the Singapore of Africa. Therefore, Chinese e-commerce giants such as Alibaba Group might play a role in Rwanda during its Belt and Road construction.

The author is a senior researcher of the Charhar Institute and a researcher of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com

 

 

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