A visitor takes a photo with a Ugandan exhibitor at the First China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo on June 28, 2019 (XINHUA)
As all-weather partners and friends sharing woe and weal, China and Africa stood the test of time in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which ravaged the world for the most part of last year and is still rampaging across the globe.
According to reports from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the flow of foreign investment into Africa shrank by 15.5 percent in 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, China's direct investment in Africa reached $2.96 billion in 2020 despite the pandemic, according to data from China's Ministry of Commerce. The new investments were spread across 47 countries in the continent. Also, in 19 countries in Africa, investment increased by more than 10 percent, with investment in such sectors as technical services, transport, warehousing, postal services, repairs, health and social work and other service sectors increasing by more than 100 percent.
According to the Report on Chinese Investment in Africa: Market Power and the Role of the Private Sector released by the China-Africa Business Council, the stock of China's direct investment in Africa by 2020 should be no less than $56 billion.
New driving force
The holding of the Second China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo (CAETE) in central China's Hunan Province in September is another demonstration of the China-Africa partnership and its resilience even amidst the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic.
The impact of the pandemic, despite having left holes in several areas of China-Africa cooperation - especially in the bourgeoning field of people-to-people contacts spanning economic, cultural, and political fields - opened new vistas for conducting exchanges. The frontier of digital economy featuring e-commerce has blossomed under the constraints and challenges of the pandemic. Video conferences have ensured that no lacuna is left in the vigorous and boisterous exchanges between China and Africa. High-level meetings among top leaders of China and African countries have been held with fruitful outcomes, especially in the field of anti-pandemic fight. Providing a lifeline to economies devastated on account of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a strategic talking point and action plan in China-Africa cooperation in the era of the pandemic.
The CAETE in September would serve as a veritable mechanism to re-energize the economies of African countries and would rev up the key sector of agriculture as they explore opportunities in China's huge and expansive market. The opportunities in the African market, especially for Chinese investors, would again come to the spotlight at the expo, offering a tangible and practical window to redress the shortfall of investment and trade with Africa created by the COVID-19 pandemic. China's huge domestic market, with its vitality considerably reinforced by the "dual circulation" paradigm meant to strengthen and broaden it for engagement with the international market, will play a key role in Africa's vigorous export promotion initiatives. The expo would be an active gateway to invigorate Africa and China exchanges, and help ease the path to economic recovery, especially for Africa where economies were badly hit by the pandemic. China's determination to host the expo even amidst the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic speaks volumes of the partnership between Africa and China whose trajectories of mutual benefits and win-win outcomes cannot be vitiated by the unfortunate and unexpected interruptions caused by the virus outbreak. China-Africa cooperation has become a strong pillar to guarantee multilateralism and, when tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, has displayed vigor and adaptability in responding to the once-in-a-century non-traditional security disruptions of the international order.
Africa's economies are badly affected by the pandemic and can tap into the opportunities offered by the trade expo to recover and attain a steady momentum of growth.
Potential for closer ties
Already, the Belt and Road Initiative framework of international cooperation has provided the enabling environment for Africa's industrialization and modernization by filling in the gap of the deficits in strategic infrastructure - connectivity and network. As of January this year, Africa has the largest number of countries to have signed cooperation agreements with China under the Belt and Road Initiative compared to others regions of the world. Forty-six African countries have so far signed Belt and Road Initiative agreements.
The African Continental Free Trade Area, negotiated over the past six years, started at the beginning of 2021. It is both a market and an export processing zone and its dynamism and capability to meet expectations would partly depend on vigorous trade, commercial and broad economic exchanges with China. The political mutual trust that exists between African countries and China eliminates the ideological and political toxins that interfere and vitiate vigorous economic exchanges.
The CAETE comes before the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation to be held in Dakar, Senegal, which is expected to focus in part on the imperative of economic recovery and securing vital arteries of livelihood in the post-pandemic era. The expo would be a practical test run and assessment of the potential for recovery and prospects for stable and steady growth trajectories in the years ahead.
As the expo gets underway, Africa will have to rise to one of its most viable and unique opportunities to not only boast its post-pandemic recovery effort, but to chart a course to integrate into the global economic value chain by leveraging the huge Chinese market and the hunger of its investors for a secure market with the highest return on investment.
With an abundance of relatively cheap labor, technological adaptability, politically free of ideological toxins, and now with a viable market of more than 1.3 billion people with growing urbanization, Africa offers China a compelling investment destination and tantalizing market, playing to the complementarity of both sides.
The expo, though vital and existentially pivotal, is just a modest part of the huge opportunities that China and Africa mutually offer to each other.
The author is director of the Center for China Studies, Abuja, Nigeria
(Printed Edition Title: Shoring Up The Recovery Momentum)
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