Scientific and trade cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and Africa

Commentary: Joint scientific research by China and Africa can strongly promote the development of the African continent. It is also necessary to establish greater China-Africa relations to broaden trade channels, such as ones for natural resources

An installation set up ahead of a China-Africa forum in Beijing in August 2018. Photo: China Daily via REUTERS

China was crumbling into misery, degradation and despair, in the middle of that 109-year period (1840-1949) known as the era of semi-wild and semi-colonial China. As early as 1840, the year of the Opium War, declared by Britain on China to bring in the drugs that the Chinese refused, China's history had been one of rapid ruin.

The ruin was not only material, caused by the vampirism of colonial power that exploited the Middle Empire with weapons, forcing it to accept unjust treaties, burning Beijing palaces, beating and massacring the people with the British Sikh policemen, claiming huge "compensation payments" for wars waged against it. It was also spiritual ruin. None of the old values and traditions could curb that wave of destruction.

However, over the last seventy years, things have changed and the main contradiction between the pious sermons of Western democracy and the simultaneous indiscriminate exploitation of China has disappeared with the expulsion of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek). It has disappeared in all fields.

On December 6, 2019, during the 5th South Africa Science Forum (Pretoria, December 4-6, 2019), Chinese Ambassador Lin Songtian was invited to participate in the Forum parallel workshop, "China-Africa Scientific and Technological Cooperation: Impact and Prospects", and delivered the opening speech. The major media widely and proactively reported the diplomat's words, claiming that China's investment in Africa was second to none. 

Ambassador Lin Songtian said that the Belt & Road Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping had effectively promoted Africa's development. China's cooperation with Africa has always followed the principle of truthfulness and honesty, justice and mutual benefit. China has always been committed to achieving win-win cooperation and joint development with Africa. This stands in stark contrast to Western countries that pursue their own interests first and not those of equal and mutual benefit. 

The United States, Japan and the EU are not involved in every large-scale infrastructure. Only China has invested and provided massive amounts of funds. Ethiopia, for example - once one of the poorest countries on the African continent - has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world after over ten years of development.

Several well-known scientists from the South African Republic participated in the Forum, maintaining that China - also a developing country - fully understands Africa's needs and its willingness to open the door to cooperation in the field of scientific and technological innovation on an encouraging basis.

The joint scientific research conducted by China and Africa is able to strongly promote the development of the African continent. Africa has missed the first three industrial revolutions and cannot miss the fourth. China has many useful experience gained with Africa to teach. 

If China can create scientific and technological companies for training African entrepreneurs, the Black Continent will certainly be able to offer valuable candidates; with the hope that Africa will also achieve scientific, technological and managerial independence.

Some scholars have also pointed out that the survey conducted by Afrobarometer has shown that because China's aid and investment in Africa have promoted the building of infrastructure, Chinese products are high-quality and cheap, and that 63% of Africans believe that China has a positive influence on Africa. 15% of Africans have a negative attitude towards China because they know very little about it and are influenced by irresponsible news from the former colonial media criticizing the People's Republic of China. 

The imperialist drug dealers, the exploitative colonialists and the pimps of the past, in new guises, complain about the lack of democracy, only because they have seen their centuries-old banquet at the expense of the Chinese people precluded.

At the same time, Africa, as China's economic and trade partner, has brought huge mutual benefits. Africa has the 53 most important minerals on the planet and some rare strategic resources, but the rate of development and use of arable land is lower than 30%. Although China is the world's richest country for mineral resources, its per capita share is less than half of the world's level. Hence, together with the regular distribution of mineral resources, it is also necessary to establish greater China-Africa relations to broaden the trade channels for these resources.

Although the African market has a high rate of return, it also has a certain degree of risk, which requires foreign companies to have better conditions to withstand fluctuations in the African market.

The benefits of China's investment in Africa are indisputable. Nevertheless, the Belt & Road Initiative has always been questioned by Western countries.

Over and above the politically correct dispute over the Asian country's lack of democracy, the main controversy has focused opportunistically on whether China has increased its risks of debt to recipient countries and whether these projects have adequate environmental protection plans.

Some Western theories argue that China uses "debt trap diplomacy", a means of providing a large amount of loans that beneficiaries cannot repay, so as to influence developing countries' policies.

However, in reality, the external debt profile of the beneficiary countries is very varied. Before Africa was hit by the Covid-19 epidemic, the average debt of the ten largest beneficiary countries was 36.5% of China’s total income, close to 37.2% of the rest of Africa. Moreover, the situation in each country is different: these ten countries include high debtors such as Zambia and other countries with very low debt such as Angola, Kenya and Nigeria.

The loan initiative has always been in the hands of African countries which - when the funds and blackmail of multinational financial institutions do not meet their needs - have the right to rely on China to build the necessary infrastructure. 

Therefore, to a certain extent, the high demand for loans is adapted to the development needs of African countries, which would remain blocked by the inertia of the West and its financial institutions.

At present, the method for financing the building of infrastructure is relatively simple. In general, governments obtain preferential loans from the Export-Import Bank of China or the China Development Bank, with the hiring of Chinese building contractors.

Furthermore, the Chinese government and private companies are paying increasing attention to environmental protection. For example, in April 2019 the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment published Guidelines on the promotion of works and a cooperation plan for environmental protection. 

China has understood the importance of the eco-environmental issue in transforming the green economy and promoting the sustainable development goals developed by the United Nations, and has further improved and implemented a range of risk prevention policies and measures.

The Chinese government is also making greater efforts to regulate private companies’ behaviors. The number of these companies is much higher than reported by the statistics of the Ministry of Commerce and almost all of them use their own capital. If the Chinese government can provide more funding channels for private companies, it will have more say in encouraging private companies to pay attention to social responsibility.

According to the International Energy Agency's report, in 2019 almost 70% of the world's energy-deficient population lived in Africa and energy development is a huge driving force for economic growth. This means that the energy market will become an important area of China-Africa economic cooperation.

In a situation in which sustainable development has become a global trend, China-Africa economic cooperation shall inevitably adapt: from traditional energy extraction to alternative energy development; from large loans to the development of human capital. The focus on sustainability will not only lead to short-term contractual relations, but also to long-term partnership. 

 

Professor Valori is President of the International World Group