Free to Choose


Partners in Development

China and Africa embrace common development as they
cooperate with each other in diverse fields, including energy


CLOSER TIES: Chinese President Hu Jintao meets with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI during his Africa tour in April this year

A new milestone in the history of China-Africa relations will be created when African leaders gather in Beijing with their Chinese counterparts for the first summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and its Third Ministerial Conference in early November.

Africa is high on China’s diplomatic agenda this year. To date, four major events have thrust China-Africa relations into the media spotlight at home and abroad. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing kicked off a tour to Cape Verde, Senegal, Mali, Liberia, Nigeria and Libya on January 11. The Chinese Government released China’s African Policy, its first ever policy paper on Africa, on January 12. President Hu Jintao visited Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya April 24-29. Premier Wen Jiabao toured Egypt, Ghana, Republic of the Congo, Angola, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda through June 17-24.

The series of events speak of the great importance the Chinese Government and leaders attach to China-Africa relations. At the same time, they are indicative of the fact that China-Africa relations have moved into an era of rapid development characterized by cooperation, half a century after the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties.

With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, Africa lost its much-valued geopolitical status. As a result, the attention the West devotes to Africa has been constantly on the decline. The continent is being marginalized in the diplomatic strategies of major Western countries. However, China is as always committed to developing relations with Africa. While cementing their economic and trade ties that began to expand in the 1980s, China sees great value in fostering an across-the-board relationship with Africa by forging closer political, cultural and educational links.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, established in 2000, provides an institutionalized platform for enhancing bilateral exchanges and cooperation. China’s African Policy white paper and the suggestions raised by Hu on developing a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership during his Africa trip in April have not only clearly defined the nature of China-Africa relations but also charted the future course for the relations.

Renewed partnership

BUILDING A PARTNERSHIP: A Chinese man works on the Chinese-financed Merowe Dam in Sudan, the largest hydropower project in Africa

The new-type China-Africa strategic partnership features cooperation in the political, economic, cultural and security fields as well as in international affairs. In the political sphere, China and Africa have always been equal strategic partners that trust and support each other. China respects African countries’ right to choose the path of development independently.

It supports these countries’ efforts to seek renewal through strengthening unity. It also takes an active part in the international efforts to promote peace and development in Africa. African countries, for their part, support the one-China policy and are opposed to Western countries’ interference in China’s internal affairs in the name of “human rights.”

China has been ready to offer material and moral support to the African national liberation movement and their struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism since the 1950s and 1960s. In recent years, it has participated in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. To date, it has dispatched more than 3,000 peacekeepers on 12 UN missions in Africa. Today, over 850 Chinese service people are working on eight missions there.

In 1971, the People’s Republic of China was restored to its lawful seat in the UN thanks to the support of African countries. With their support, China has defeated 11 consecutive anti-China motions tabled by Western countries in UN human rights sessions and prevented 14 proposals raised on the General Committee before the annual UN General Assembly for Taiwan to “rejoin or participate in the UN” from getting on the formal agenda since 1990. They also helped China frustrate Taiwan authorities’ attempts to access international organizations that only sovereign states are entitled to join.

Economically, China and Africa are mutually complementary partners that benefit each other. Africa is a promising continent with rich natural and human resources and a huge market. However, having suffered from colonialism and regional conflicts, it is still mired in economic backwardness and lacks the funds, technology and experience for development. China has achieved a remarkable economic growth since the advent of economic reforms more than 20 years ago.

HEALTH MISSION: China has sent 16,000 medical personnel to 47 African countries since 1963

Despite the progress, it faces new problems such as a severe energy shortage and escalating competition in its domestic market. Given these factors, the Chinese Government encourages Chinese firms to invest in Africa in various fields such as trade, agriculture, infrastructure construction, mining and tourism while offering an increasing amount of assistance with no political strings attached.

To date, China has spent 44.4 billion yuan assisting African countries with over 800 projects, including textile factories, hydropower stations, stadiums, hospitals and schools. At present, trade between China and Africa is undergoing rapid growth. The bilateral trade volume rose from $12.11 million in the 1950s to $10.5 billion in 2000 and $29.4 billion in 2004. In recent years, in particular, China has increased imports from African countries and thus maintained a trade deficit with them, enabling these countries to earn a large amount of foreign exchange.

In an effort to facilitate the country’s access to African goods, China exempted the tariffs on 190 categories of goods from the 29 least developed African countries. Under this policy, these countries’ exports of such goods to China more than doubled last year. In 2005, Africa posted a trade surplus of $2.4 billion with China. In addition, China canceled 156 debts owed by 31 heavily indebted African countries totaling 10.5 billion yuan.

In recent years, Chinese firms have redoubled their efforts to penetrate the African market. To date, direct Chinese investment in Africa has reached $1.25 billion. Over 800 companies are currently operating in Africa, engaged in trade, manufacturing, natural resource exploitation, transportation, agriculture and agricultural processing. Chinese companies have helped create employment opportunities in African countries, increase their tax revenues, introduce practical technologies to these countries, enhance the competence of local workers and improve their productivity.

On the cultural front, China and Africa should become equal partners that jointly promote the prosperity and progress of human civilization. China and Africa are both origins of human civilization, each boasting a brilliant cultural heritage. At its source, African culture has a lot in common with Chinese culture. For example, both value community spirit and the tradition of yielding personal benefits to the interests of the community. Given these common values, China and Africa are expected to further strengthen their cultural linkages with a view to building a harmonious world where different civilizations coexist in the spirit of tolerance and equality while learning from each other.

In a broader sense, cultural exchange is not limited to exchanging students and teachers and holding arts performances and exhibitions. Chinese medical teams and other flourishing programs such as China’s training of African workers and the exchange of experiences in pursuing development are also part of the China-Africa cultural exchange.

In the field of security, China and Africa should enhance exchanges and consultation, thus raising the awareness of collective security in the international community, promoting a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation and shaping an international environment favorable for common development. China also needs to strengthen cooperation with African countries in the nontraditional security field, such as preventing major infectious diseases including bird flu and addressing cross-border crimes so that they can jointly deal with the challenges posed by globalization. China is expected to devote more resources to UN-led peacekeeping operations, thereby playing a greater role in the resolution of international conflicts and disputes in Africa.

Africa is an important player in international affairs. China and Africa share a broad consensus on major international issues. They have traditionally cooperated with each other in this regard. Enhanced coordination on these matters serves the common interests of both sides. They are expected to step up collaboration to promote multilateralism and democracy in international relations and UN reform and work together for peace and harmony in the world.

A new type of strategic relationship between China, the largest developing country in the world, and Africa, a continent that has the greatest concentration of developing countries, not only serves the interests of the two sides but also helps promote South-South cooperation and the common prosperity of developing countries. In the context of the widening gap between the North and South and the looming terrorist threat, the common prosperity of developing countries and their sharing of the fruits of globalization have far-reaching implications for world peace and development.

Mutual benefit

Western media have of late paid special attention to the rapidly developing China-Africa relations, especially their cooperation in the energy field. They have made a big fuss about China grabbing Africa’s oil resources and pursuing neocolonialism in Africa. Whenever a Chinese leader visited Africa, they tended to label the visit “an energy journey,” or “an oil trip.”

As a large developing country with a huge population and a lack of resources, China certainly needs to import oil to meet the growing domestic needs. Since it became a net oil importer in 1993, China has intensified efforts to secure energy in the international market by forging mutually beneficial cooperation with many countries, including African countries. China has never denied this, nor is it necessary for it to do so.

In fact, unlike colonialists who plundered Africa for its resources by brutal means, China cooperates with African countries on the basis of their mutual demands and in line with the principle of mutual benefit. The cooperation does not target any third party, either. Take the oil exploration agreement reached when President Hu visited Nigeria in April for example. Nigeria granted licenses to China National Petroleum Corp. to prospect in four oil blocks in the country. Two of them are located in the oil-rich Niger Delta, whereas the other two lie in the harsh, unexplored Lake Chad Basin.

The Chinese company poses no threat to the interests of multinational companies in Nigeria. Instead, it will help Nigeria explore its virgin lands, while diversifying its foreign investment sources. More importantly, China made commitments to invest $4 billion in the construction of related infrastructure and $5 million in purchasing anti-malaria medicine, training Nigerian malaria and bird flu control personnel and conducting technical cooperation in this field.

At present, five major multinational companies dominate Nigerian oil production. Some Nigerian scholars have noted that Western countries are only interested in investing in strategically important oil resources rather than in developing Nigeria’s manufacturing industry. While exploiting oil resources, they do not take effective measures to protect the environment, resulting in widespread ecological degradation and worsening the living conditions of local residents. Worse still, the oil companies have long neglected the maintenance of oil pipelines. As a result, farmland polluted by oil leaked from the pipelines became infertile.

Apart from energy cooperation, Chinese companies cooperate with Nigeria in a variety of other areas such as agriculture, infrastructure construction, electricity and telecommunications. The Nigerian Government and China’s Guangdong Xinguang International Group signed an agreement worth $2 billion to improve Nigeria’s railways early this year. Nigeria earned $500 million from China from its non-oil exports last year.

With regard to China’s energy cooperation with Sudan, a hot-button issue in Western media, Chinese companies started to explore for energy resources in Sudan in the mid-1990s. By the end of 2003, their investment totaled $2.7 billion, with which they built 1,506 km of oil pipelines, a crude oil processing plant with a capacity of 2.5 million tons a year and several gas stations.

With the Chinese investment, Sudan turned itself from an oil importing country into an oil exporting country. More importantly, it established its own oil industry consisting of prospecting, exploitation, refining and transportation facilities and sales networks with China’s help. In addition, China spent over $20 million in building schools and hospitals for the country.

In contrast, Shell has been engaged in oil exploitation in Nigeria for over 50 years. Nigeria still exports crude oil and imports gasoline. Not owning any oil production and processing facilities, it remains a raw material exporting country.

Actions speak louder than words. What China has done in Africa has shown that it seeks mutual benefit in energy cooperation. It provides African countries with capital and technology that are indispensable to the exploitation of energy resources. At the same time, it helps these countries become real masters of their resources.

The author is Director of the Division of African Studies of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences


Population: 1.3 billion (2005)

Land Area: 9.6 million square km

GDP: $2.3 trillion (2005)

GDP Growth: 10.2 percent (2005)

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China (www.stats.gov.cn)

CHINA is situated in the eastern part of the Asian continent on the western coast of the Pacific. It is the largest country in Asia and the third largest in the world, next to Russia and Canada.

The Chinese territory is around 5,500 km from the middle of the Heilongjiang River north of Mohe, Heilongjiang Province, in the north to Zengmu Ansha of the Nansha Islands in the south, and stretches for some 5,000 km from the confluence of the Heilongjiang and Wusulijiang rivers in the east to the Pamirs Plateau in the west. The land boundary extends for 22,800 km.

China has vast adjacent seas, with its mainland facing the Bohai Sea (nearly 80,000 square km), the Yellow Sea (380,000 square km), the East China Sea (770,000 square km) and the South China Sea (3.5 million square km) to the east and south. The area of China’s territorial seas stands at 380,000 square km. China has under its jurisdiction 6,961 islands, each having an area of over 500 square meters, with 433 of them being inhabited. In line with the principle of “one country, two systems,” another 411 islands are now under the jurisdiction of Taiwan and the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions. The mainland coastline is 18,000 km and that of the islands 14,000 km, giving China a total coastline distance of 32,000 km, the eighth longest in the world.

China enjoys a prominent monsoon climate. It also sees various other types of climate due to its vast territory, complicated topography and great disparity in elevation.

THE FORUM ON CHINA-AFRICA COOPERATION (FOCAC) is a platform established by China and friendly African countries for collective consultation and dialogue as well as a cooperation mechanism between the developing countries. The First Ministerial Conference of FOCAC was held in Beijing October 10-12, 2000. The conference charted the direction for the development of a new, stable and long-term partnership featuring equality and mutual benefit between China and African countries, with the issuance of the Beijing Declaration of the FOCAC and the Program for China-Africa Cooperation in Economic and Social Development.

The Second Ministerial Conference of FOCAC was convened in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, December 15-16, 2003, with the theme of “Pragmatic and Action-Oriented Cooperation.” The FOCAC Addis Ababa Action Plan (2004-2006) adopted at the conference mapped out a program for China-Africa cooperation in the political, economic, trade, social development and other spheres from 2004 to 2006. The First China-Africa Business Conference was held in parallel with the Second FOCAC Ministerial Conference. Over 500 Chinese and African entrepreneurs attended the conference, signing 21 cooperation agreements worth $1 billion.


Population: 904. 8 million (2005)

Land Area: 30.3 million square km

GDP: $719.6 billion (2005 at constant

2000 market prices)

Real GDP Growth: 4.9 percent (2005)

Source: African Development Bank (www.afdb.org)

AFRICA is the second largest and second most populous continent in the world after Asia. The continent is surrounded by the Indian Ocean to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Suez Canal and Red Sea to the northeast. From the most northerly point, Ras ben Sakka in Tunisia, to the most southerly point, Cape Agulhas in South Africa, is a distance of approximately 8,000 km. From Cape Verde, the westernmost point, to Ras Hafun in Somalia, the most easterly projection, is a distance of approximately 7,500 km.

The coastline, 30,500 km long, is relatively flat and straight, with few bays and peninsulas. Africa has fewer islands than any other continent in the world. Except for Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, all African islands are small. The combined area of the islands is about 620,000 square km, accounting for less than 3 percent of the total area of Africa.

Africa straddles the equator and encompasses numerous variations in climate. Generally, however, temperatures are high; areas with an annual average temperature of 20 degrees Celsius or above account for 95 percent of the continent.

A Chronology of China-Africa Relations

May 1956 Egypt became the first African country to establish diplomatic relations with China. By the early 1960s, over 10 African countries, including Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Guinea, had established diplomatic relations with China.

December 1963-June 1965 Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made three visits to Africa, inspiring a large number of African countries to seek diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic. By the end of the 1970s, 44 of the 50 independent African countries had entered into diplomatic relations with China. Today, China enjoys diplomatic ties with 48 of the 53 African countries.

July 1976 The Tanzania-Zambia Railway opened to traffic. The 1,860-km railway built with Chinese assistance has been hailed as a monument of China-Africa friendship.

May 1996 Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Kenya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mali, Namibia and Zimbabwe. He proposed developing a China-Africa relationship toward the 21st century characterized by “long-term stability and all-around cooperation” when delivering a speech at the headquarters of the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa.

October 2000 The Forum for China-Africa Cooperation was created to expand cooperation and promote common development.

January 2006 The Chinese Government issued its China’s African Policy white paper, its first ever policy paper on strengthening across-the-board cooperation with Africa.

April 2006 Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya. Addressing the National Assembly in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, he put forward proposals on establishing “a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership.”