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Taking stock of FOCAC achievements amid the COVID-19 pandemic

By Stephen Ndegwa
Sunday, December 13th, 2020
14th Senior Officials Meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC)
In summary

During the 14th Senior Officials Meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Deng Li shared some thoughts on the great strides the strategic and comprehensive partnership has taken since the historic FOCAC Beijing Summit held in September, 2018.

“Thanks to joint efforts from both sides over the past two years, important progress has been made in the follow-up actions of the Summit,” noted Li.

Contrary to what the pessimists would have liked to see as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, relations between China and Africa have become even closer and stronger. When China faced its worst, she received invaluable support from African partners. When the pandemic broke out in Africa, China was among the first to help, sending medical supplies for all FOCAC members.

China has also fully honored its commitment under the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative by signing debt suspension agreements with 12 African countries and waiving interest on loans due to mature by the end of 2020 for 15 African countries. In the meantime, China will start the construction of the Africa CDC headquarters this year, which is ahead of schedule.

Let us give a blow by blow account of the FOCAC status as it stands. One is the frequent high-level interaction. Since the Beijing Summit, 29 Chinese party or state leaders have visited Africa and 17 African leaders have reciprocated these visits or meetings. In response to the pandemic, the two sides convened the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 which was attended by President Xi and 14 African leaders; President Xi also had phone calls with seven of his African counterparts.

Second is the fruitful practical cooperation, starting with implementation of the eight major initiatives. Over 70 percent of the US $ 60 billion of financing support pledged by China at the Beijing Summit has been either delivered or appropriated. The construction of major projects, including the Maputo-Katembe Bridge in Mozambique, phase I of the Nairobi-Malaba railway in Kenya, and the 10th of Ramadan City railway project in Egypt, is either completed or well underway, giving a strong boost to local economic and social development. In the first ten months of this year, China-Africa trade reached US$150 billion; China is on track to becoming Africa's largest trading partner for the 12th year running.

In addition, a number of important events such as the Coordinators' Meeting on the Implementation of the Follow-up Actions of the FOCAC Beijing Summit, the first China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo, and the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Agriculture concluded successfully.

The third major achievement is the flourishing cultural and people-to-people exchanges. These include the inauguration of the China-Africa Institute and opening of four more Confucius Institutes and 11 Confucius Classrooms. Thirty-five cultural institutions from ten African countries have joined the Silk Road International League of Theaters, the International Alliance of Museums, the Network of Arts Festivals and the International Library Alliance.

Altogether, 34 African countries have received Approved Destination Status for outbound Chinese tour groups. Last year, residents on the Chinese mainland made over 606,000 visits to Africa, and the number of sister-cities increased by 11 pairs, bringing the total number to 150.

As the international landscape undergoes unprecedented transformation due to COVID-19, the two partners need to stand even more firmly together. Li proposed a three-pronged approach to promote the relationship.

First is through forging a strategic common understanding and stick to the goal of building a community with a shared future. This calls for greater international consensus and cooperation to advance economic and social development in the context of epidemic control, strengthen global economic governance, and jointly build a community with a shared future for mankind. His proposals reflect the common aspirations of the developing world and echo the long-held views and beliefs of African countries.

Second is deepening practical cooperation and building a China-Africa community of win-win development. At the recently concluded Fifth Plenum of the 19th CPC Central Committee, China adopted recommendations for its 14th Five-Year Plan and long-range goals for 2035, and decided to foster a new development paradigm with domestic circulation as the mainstay and domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other and to build a new system of open economy of higher standards. These initiatives present more opportunities for Africa's development.

In recent years, African countries have worked together to launch the African Continental Free Trade Area and advance the first ten-year plan of Agenda 2063, which has further unleashed the development potential of Africa.

Third is strengthening joint epidemic response and work toward a China-Africa community of health for all. This includes implementing the outcomes of the Extraordinary Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19, enhancing cooperation on epidemic response and economic reopening, ensuring good progress in the construction of the Africa CDC headquarters, and contributing to international cooperation against the pandemic. The next FOCAC meeting will be held in Senegal next year.

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