Bhaso Ndzendze — Researcher in International Political Economy

Does a Smoother Silk Road Lie Ahead for Africa?

By: Dr David Monyae & Bhaso Ndzendze

11 Nov. 2017

For its part, Beijing has largely kept to its declared vision of a non- hegemonic stance, regardless of the growing number of detractors seeking to assert otherwise. Last month`s CPC National Congress, in which Xi Jinping was granted another five-year term as president, has gone a long way in confirming, in the very least, the multilateral ambitions China has for the East Asian region and the world – and by definition, for Africa.

What are the implications carried by the outcomes of the congress for the relationship between Africa and China? And how best can Africa seek to situate the continent`s interests in the comprehensive vision articulated by China in the seven-day congress? In his report to 2 238 CPC delegates from all over China, the president, who is also party general-secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission, spoke under the theme of `Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.`

In his three-and-a-half hour speech, in which he reportedly had to pause 72 times on account of applause, he unpacked the grand WHAT is clear after the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress is that it is no longer business as usual. For the past 15 to 20 years, there has been an ongoing narrative among foreign policy and inter- national political economy circles that China is poised and willing to project its increasingly growing power on to the global arena. For its part, Beijing has largely kept to its declared vision of a non- hegemonic stance, regardless of the growing number of detractors seeking to assert otherwise.

Last month`s CPC National Congress, in which Xi Jinping was granted another five-year term as president, has gone a long way in confirming, in the very least, the multilateral ambitions China has for the East Asian region and the world – and by definition, for Africa. What are the implications carried by the outcomes of the congress for the relationship between Africa and China? And how best can Africa seek to situate the continent`s interests in the comprehensive vision articulated by China in the seven-day congress? In his report to 2 238 CPC delegates from all over China, the president, who is also party general-secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission, spoke under the theme of `Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.` In his three-and-a-half hour speech, in which he reportedly had to pause 72 times on account of applause, he unpacked the grand vision for the next 15 years.

During and immediately after the congress, many messages of congratulation came from across the world (about 900 letters and messages from 164 countries), including from African leaders of political parties and government officials. South African President Jacob Zuma was among the well-wishers, and Zimbabwean finance minister Ignatius Chombo, on behalf of Zanu-PF, of which he is secretary, stated that `we are convinced that the decisions to be adopted at the 19th CPC National Congress will positively press forward world peace and economic development not only for the Chinese nation but for the world at large`. As China is Africa`s premier trading partner and number-one creditor, such careful observation and laudatory sentiments from the continent ought to have been expected.

For the congress has come at a time when China has entered into a substantial number of commercial, security and aid agreements with Africa – most notably through the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac). Particularly glaring is the promise of the One Belt, One Road initiative in which a number of African countries have got on board (and whose long-term commercial and economic implications South Africa, as regional and continental leader, ought to seriously put under intense study and strike a balance in consideration of its own continental aims). During Richard Nixon`s visit to Beijing in 1972, the Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, was asked about the impact of the French Revolution. Speaking of an event that took place nearly two centuries previously, vision for the next 15 years.

As China is Africa`s premier trading partner and number-one creditor, such careful observation and laudatory sentiments from the continent ought to have been expected. For the congress has come at a time when China has entered into a substantial number of commercial, security and aid agreements with Africa – most notably through the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac).

Particularly glaring is the promise of the One Belt, One Road initiative in which a number of African countries have got on board (and whose long-term commercial and economic implications South Africa, as regional and continental leader, ought to seriously put under intense study and strike a balance in consideration of its own continental aims). During Richard Nixon`s visit to Beijing in 1972, the Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, was asked about the impact of the French Revolution. Speaking of an event that took place nearly two centuries previously, vision for the next 15 years. During and immediately after the congress, many messages of congratulation came from across the world (about 900 letters and messages from 164 countries), including from African leaders of political parties and government officials.

South African President Jacob Zuma was among the well-wishers, and Zimbabwean finance minister Ignatius Chombo, on behalf of Zanu-PF, of which he is secretary, stated that `we are convinced that the decisions to be adopted at the 19th CPC National Congress will positively press forward world peace and economic development not only for the Chinese nation but for the world at large`.

During Richard Nixon`s visit to Beijing in 1972, the Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, was asked about the impact of the French Revolution. Speaking of an event that took place nearly two centuries previously, Zhou famously commented that it was `too early to say`; if the Chinese have a long-range view of history, then they have an equally long view of the future. Looking at the report by President Xi, China is bent on becoming an even bigger player on the international arena; indeed, the president has staked his legacy on this. Achieving this requires fledging friendships across the international arena; and in this Africa is indispensable.

Indeed while not mentioned by name, President Xi might as well have had the more than 50 states which compose the African continent, which was the subject Zhou famously commented that it was `too early to say`; if the Chinese have a long-range view of history, then they have an equally long view of the future. Looking at the report by President Xi, China is bent on becoming an even bigger player on the international arena; indeed, the president has staked his legacy on this. Achieving this requires fledging friendships across the international arena; and in this Africa is indispensable. Indeed while not mentioned by name, President Xi might as well have had the more than 50 states which compose the African continent, which was the subject CHINA WILL WORK TO STRENGTHEN SOLIDARITY AND CO-OPERATION of his international visit after coming into office in 2012: `China will, guided by the principle of upholding justice while pursuing shared interests and the principle of sincerity, real results, affinity, and good faith, work to strengthen solidarity and co-operation with other developing countries`.

The question of bringing these pledges into fruition is one ultimately of African agency on the world stage. In terms of ensuring that the developmental potential of China`s grand plans are meaningful for Africa, it is incumbent upon the continent itself to take advantage of and build upon what China has to offer, and not just in terms of material proposals, but also the monumental shift that China is bringing about to the global arena. With this shift comes the long- awaited prospect of a multilateral world in which Africa is offered `alternatives` and can make of them what it wills, on the basis of African national interest. After all, Africa is no longer interested in revitalising the pre-1989-esque tug-of-war politics.

Neither Beijing nor Washington is entirely good or bad; rather, aspects of their visions are to be weighed, and Africa ought to situate and adapt and negotiate the visions which best fit into the long-arch aims of the continent. It then bears reiteration that African agency is the matter at issue: how best can Africa act collectively to extract actual and sustainable gains from the opportunity offered by China, both as a developmental partner and as a diversifying force on the international stage? Africa should seek to piggyback on neither, but should rather seek to take its rightful place in this context of multilateralism, and increasingly democratising global institutions.

Africa is too significant and has too immense a position to be a mere recipient of offers from either side at this juncture. And moreover, the congress has offered Africa the unique opportunity to penetrate and obtain from China itself what vision China is operating under, and consequently has the opportunity to also put forward a measured response to such a vision, especially going into the next Focac meeting in Beijing in 2018.

After all, Africa is no longer interested in revitalising the pre-1989-esque tug-of-war politics. Neither Beijing nor Washington is entirely good or bad; rather, aspects of their visions are to be weighed, and Africa ought to situate and adapt and negotiate the visions which best fit into the long-arch aims of the continent. It then bears reiteration that African agency is the matter at issue: how best can Africa act collectively to extract actual and sustainable gains from the opportunity offered by China, both as a developmental partner and as a diversifying force on the international stage? Africa should seek to piggyback on neither, but should rather seek to take its rightful place in this context of multilateralism, and increasingly democratising global institutions.

At the moment African states, despite the existence of multiple regional and continental fora, act too bilaterally and there is a lack of co-ordination in third party appraisal among the states – the grand effect being one of cascaded sets of interests rather than a single and unified voice, with the advantages that come with that. Africa`s posture in dealing with Beijing ought to be one that is deeply informed about China – its workings, its visions, both immediate and long-term – and the congress has afforded Africa substantial means through which to realise such goals, as China has articulated its orientation and publicised it for Africa to make the most of.

A principal article of faith in international relations is that change is wedded on to the global system. Indeed, it is no longer business as usual. Africa`s plans for itself and its future cannot remain unaffected by the express aims articulated in the congress, and to that end Africa will need to re-look at a number of strategies, including Agenda 2063, which remains only aspirational at this point, and go beyond the strictures imposed by it, and in the end funnel out a clearer and updated set of goals, and (equally crucial) the means through which it will achieve those goals. Through painstaking analyses of the congress and much reading between the lines, Africa has a substantial vantage point from which to actuate its own visions – both immediate and long-term.

Monyae is a political analyst and co-director at the University of Johannesburg Confucius Institute, and Ndzendze is research assistant at the same institute.

Originally published in The Sunday Independent

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