The 6th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was held in South Africa in early December. The meeting was eagerly awaited by journalists and analysts alike. One reason was that FOCAC Six in Johannesburg has been elevated from a ministerial meeting to a summit, which means that it was not just a congregation of ministers but a gathering of heads of state and government as well as representatives from about 50 African countries. The last time FOCAC was thus elevated was 2006, 48 African leaders showed up in Beijing and the whole world sat up and took notice. Another reason was China’s shrinking economy which affected Africa quite adversely.
Nevertheless, the Chinese president managed to make headlines with the announcement that China will provide Africa with $60bn of Chinese assistance of debt relief, aid and preferential loans. Analysts describe this as “unprecedented” and others frankly state they did “not expect to see this level of serious loan funding”.
Next to money, Xi Jinping was also proposing "five major pillars" (in politics, economics, in the cultural realm, in security and unity in international affairs) and announced 10 major plans to boost bilateral cooperation. These plans cover the areas of industrialization, agricultural modernization, infrastructure, financial services, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction, as well as public welfare, public health, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security.
More Cooperation in Culture, Education and Media
With regards to people-to-people exchanges, Xi noted that China and Africa should learn from each other in culture and should focus on boosting people-to-people exchanges between the youths, women, think tanks, media organizations and universities.
China will establish a number of local vocational education centers and competence-building colleges for Africa, train 200,000 technicians and provide the continent 40,000 training opportunities to China. It will also offer 2,000 educational opportunities with degrees or diplomas and 30,000 government scholarships to African students. Each year, China will sponsor visits by 200 African scholars and training trips by 500 young Africans to China, and train 1,000 media professionals for Africa. As part of the efforts to promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges between China and Africa, China promised to provide assistance in building five cultural centers for Africa.
New opportunities – and new dependencies
If all these promises materialize it will be interesting to see how these will affect Africa and the local stakeholders working and the cooperation with China in general; it will be interesting to see what strategy China is following. There are, for example, over 60 Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms on the African continent and only the future will tell how Chinese Cultural Centers may differ from Confucius Institutes or whether these cultural outposts may compete for local audiences.
With regards to media, China will not only provide training for 1,000 African media practitioners per year, but it will also set up satellite TV programs in 10,000 African villages and there are calls for more government dialogues on media cooperation as well as cooperation between media outlets (including content exchanges, joint reporting, and personnel training).
All these aspects highlight China’s commitment to Africa, but how this “new chapter for China-Africa relations” will actually unfold remains to be seen, as it seems clear that those promises will not only provide new opportunities but also new dependencies. Both media cooperation and collaboration in (higher) education can be very valuable. It is important, though, that local stakeholders in Africa know what they are letting themselves in for as they are coupling with the Chinese state.