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Scholar explores ways to deepen China-Africa ties

MAO LI | 2018-09-14 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


Professor Liu Hongwu is director of the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University. Liu received his master’s degree in world history from Yunnan University in 1990 and went to the University of Lagos, Nigeria, for further study. He has been devoted to African studies for more than two decades, during which time he visited over 20 African countries. His research interests touch upon African issues, China-Africa relations and world history. His major works include A Centenary History of Nigeria Since Its Foundation, African Culture and Contemporary Development. He co-edited African Art Research. Photo: FILE


China and African countries, despite their geographical distance, have formed a partnership due to common historical encounters and struggles. As a regular event to boost their relationship, the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was held recently. A CSST reporter took this occasion to interview professor Liu Hongwu and talk about the experience to be drawn from China-Africa ties. Also, Liu provides an insight into future cooperation.


CSST: The relationship between China and Africa presents an essential example of South-South cooperation. What makes it so distinct in terms of the Chinese diplomatic situation and the history of international relations?


Liu Hongwu: Stability, continuity and explorative attitude are three features of China-Africa ties. It is commonplace for foreign relations to have ups and downs in the changing political architecture, but the ties between China and Africa have endured time and maintained momentum in their growth. The rare thing is, of all major countries, only China has made a toolkit of concepts and measures to promote cooperation with Africa over decades. Also, China-Africa relations have become emblematic. The FOCAC was launched in 2000 and has been held every three years. The regular summit adjusts strategic planning and major policies, cementing the relationship at a higher level.
Mutual trust is the main reason that China-Africa ties are so distinct. Enhanced relations have great strategic implication for the two sides and advance according to expectations. History shows that in the process of deepening their partnership China and African countries have continued to achieve development goals.


CSST: The recent FOCAC Beijing Summit will become a landmark event in the history of China-Africa communication. It kicked off on Sept. 3 under the theme “China and Africa: Toward an even stronger community with a shared future through mutually beneficial cooperation.”  What’s your take on the theme?


Liu Hongwu: The FOCAC is a Chinese diplomatic innovation to boost collective dialogue between China and Africa and seek common development. Future interdependence can be understood in several respects. The two sides have close economic ties. A lack of capital, undeveloped infrastructure and insufficient expertise stifle Africa’s development, but these problems can be addressed through South-South cooperation with China. Their growing trade has greatly increased Africa’s exports and foreign exchange earnings. To date, China has invested a total of $110 billion in Africa.

Also, China has helped Africa build major infrastructure projects. And in terms of education, China has trained a great pool of talent for Africa, as China has become a major destination for African students to further their study.

China dependably supports African countries as they deal with their issues independently, and meanwhile China helps maintain peace and security within the continent. At present, there are more than 2,000 Chinese peacekeepers in five African areas where the UN has peacekeeping missions. China has deployed more peacekeepers to Africa than any other UN permanent member, which is crucial for countering terrorism and guarding safety within Africa.

In short, the two sides have considered each other’s development as their own opportunities and strived for common prosperity through cooperation. The bilateral relations are becoming more balanced and interactive. In this context, China and Africa find it necessary to build a closer partnership with a shared future.


CSST: It is agreed that the China-Africa community with a shared future is emblematic. Why is that?


Liu Hongwu: The impacts of such a vision will go beyond the scope of bilateral relations and reach into the whole world. It provides an example so that all countries may acknowledge that China’s initiative of a community with a shared future for mankind is an attainable practice.
China-Africa ties have abandoned zero-sum thinking, sphere of influence thinking and Cold War mentality. China and African countries respect each other, pursue fairness and justice and seek mutually beneficial success through cooperation, forming a new model of bilateral relations. It is worth mentioning that such cooperation is inclusive and open to other countries. If the two sides can expand the fruits of such cooperation and turn Africa into a new global market, more countries will be willing to develop partnerships with Africa. In this way, the Chinese and African people are not just dual beneficiaries. People across the world can embrace the development dividend of Africa. This is the very essence of cooperation.


CSST: China and Africa have developed many fruitful mechanisms and practices for cooperation. How do you understand the relationship between the “Belt and Road” (B&R) initiative and China-Africa cooperation?


Liu Hongwu: I think they complement and support each other. The FOCAC has been a successful event for the past 18 years that can serve as a pilot test for implementing the B&R. It supplies plenty of experience for promoting the initiative in Africa and paves the way for implementation in future destinations.

At the same time, the B&R drives the development of the FOCAC and pushes China-Africa cooperation to a higher level, thereby creating broader room for African countries to work with the outside world.

We should note that the recent BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, echoes the FOCAC Beijing summit, because they both highlight China’s strategic partnership with Africa and involve emerging countries in this stage of China-Africa cooperation. Therefore, several forms of multilateral cooperation proposed by China can be integrated into a global platform for South-South cooperation. With trade protectionism rising in some countries, such a platform provides an opportunity to shape new patterns of international relations and plays a prominent and strategic role in building a community with a shared future for mankind.


CSST: Currently, the peoples of China and African countries are not familiar enough with each other. How to facilitate cultural exchange between the two sides?


Liu Hongwu: I proposed a “pond theory” to interpret the communication between China and African nations. If we consider political trust as a pond and compare trade to fish, then cultural exchange is water. When the pond is completed, fish need water to grow. However, people always ignore the value of water, because it is shapeless and cheap. Cultural exchange between China and Africa is not as mature as political trust and economic cooperation. It will become the backbone of further China-Africa relations.

We need to abandon the stereotyped impression of Africa under the Western narrative and choose instead to rediscover African culture and wisdom out of respect and appreciation. For example, Africa has accumulated ample experience in conflict resolution. South Africa’s achievements in resolving apartheid peacefully are evident. The genocide in Rwanda shocked the world, but the country promoted national reconciliation and development, becoming a rising regime in African affairs. In addition, the optimistic character of the African people, their affection for the natural environment and their diverse culture and arts are all worth learning. Chinese scholars must research Africa through onsite investigation, and more Chinese students should go to Africa for education, so that knowledge and talent are available for China-Africa cultural exchange. Meanwhile, Africa needs to deepen its understanding of China.


CSST: Apart from studies on countries and regions, what intelligent contributions can Chinese and African scholars make for promoting the ties between the two sides?


Liu Hongwu: China-Africa ties have ushered in a new historical stage, requiring scholars to summarize knowledge and theory by drawing on how China and African countries strengthen cooperation in practice. First, it is important to comb and digitize all the projects, constructions and platforms that the two sides have launched in various fields over past decades. In this way, a database of China-Africa cooperation cases can be established.

Also, the evolution of cooperation between China and African countries contains rich knowledge innovation, based on which scholars can develop systematic knowledge. In addition, academia should double down on the interpretation and global dissemination of the thought embedded in China-Africa cooperation.

China and African countries should uphold mutual respect and create a new form of civilization based on their respective histories, cultures and requirements for rejuvenation. While safeguarding their own values and traditions, China and African countries should seek a new approach to human development. No doubt, such efforts will benefit not only China and Africa, but also the whole world.


(edited by MA YUHONG)