The future impact of China’s long-term strategy to partner with developing African nations continues to be ignored by many international observers and indeed some Africans who have grown fatigued after years of false promising from both governments and private corporations. Yet China has already put vast quantities of investment on the line and has done so with an intense rapidity. In addition to the investment funds pledged at this summer’s BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, President Xi Jinping just pledged $60 billion in new investment into Africa during this month’s Beijing Summit on China-Africa Cooperation.
While the loans appear generous and in monetary terms they very much are, China also realises that as the 21st century progresses China and the nations of Africa will require a symbiotic win-win relationship. This is the case because the developing economies of Africa constitute vast potential markets for Chinese goods while modernised African agricultural practices and new manufacturing bases can in future years provide China with both foodstuffs and finished goods as the China transitions from a developing economy to one that supports what President Xi calls a moderately prosperous society.
China’s long term goal is to transform the manifold economies of Africa into harmonious entities cooperating with one another within the frame work of the One Belt–One Road initiative. In this sense, while the African Union was officially formed under its present guise in 1999 upon the signing of the Sirte Declaration and while the overarching concept of Pan-Africanism long predates the Sirte Declaration, One Belt–One Road realistically gives African peoples and nations the most realistic opportunity to pursue cross-border cooperation while investment from the Chinese superpower helps to transform Africa’s economies by modernising production capacity and export productivity, all the while raising living standards and thus helping African economies transform from net recipients of aid to what is potentially one of the world’s largest consumer bases.
During his recent meetings with African leaders, Xi once again held a private session with South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa who recently hosted the BRICS summit where the China’s President affirmed Beijing’s commitment to a long term Sino-African partnership. While China’s commitments to Africa are objectively positive moves for the world’s most economically neglected and underdeveloped economy, beyond specific initiatives and cash injections, China’s African partnership initiatives represent a clear break from a colonial past that continues to stifle African development.
But while foreign powers transacting with Africa have a reputation for exploiting Africa’s natural resources and literally poisoning much of the land in the process, China has a very different model in this respect as well. China’s modern industrial revolution of the Deng Xiaoping era brought with it the kind of pollution witnessed during the industrial development of Britain, France, Germany, the United States and Japan. Because of this, China has worked earnestly to solve these problems and in the process has become the global leader in green energy in spite of being ‘late to the game’.
Today, entire cities in China are powered by the most effective solar panel technology the world has known. Satellite images over these solar panel sites demonstrate the physical magnitude of the sustainable energy technology throughout China’s territory.
For Africa, the potential of having major urban centres become energy self-sufficient while doing so on an environmental friendly and long-term sustainable basis represents a truly revolutionary leap forward. This can also help to deliver consistent energy supplies to the remotest parts of the continent all the while saving money on having to lay electricity cables as small communities can potentially generate 100% of their energy needs using Chinese solar technology.
The other benefit of industrialising on a green model is that Africa’s own fossil fuel resources can now be reserved for the lucrative export market and as such can bring in added revenue to African states with oil and gas reserves.
Taken in totality, Africa is now set to benefit from China’s own experiences with pollution control and as such, modern green Chinese technologies designed to avert pollution over Chinese skies can help Africa to become more energy efficient and industrialise its economies without having to experience the increased pollution levels that have accompanied every previous industrial revolution.
What Africa needs more than anything is sustainable development. Put simply, this means that Africa needs to be given the modern tools to help African nations and peoples to generate their own wealth for decades and centuries to come without being reliant on a corrupt cash cycle whereby western loans and “aid” are simply a method of making the rich African elites richer while the condition of the poor remains largely the same. Africa also needs to cultivate new avenues to trade its existing goods while at the same time, African consumers need access to foreign finished goods to elevate their standard of living. Overall, African nations need to reduce their poverty rate and as a country that has great experience in reducing poverty among millions of people in a short period of time, China is able and willing to impart its own knowledge based on experience to its African partners.
Apartheid South Africa was in many ways the last vestige of an imperialist western civilisation that promoted the superiority of western culture and western people above those from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Within the hierarchy of Apartheid society, those of European background were on top while those of an indigenous African background were at the bottom. Today, while racism still exists throughout the west, society has moved on from the formal Apartheid that pre-1994 South Africa both explicitly defined and enforced to its logical extreme.
However, when it comes to western foreign policy, Apartheid is still very much alive. In the western foreign policy narrative, western nations are held up as paragons of virtue, Asian nations are either seen as vicious rivals or backward and in need of enlightenment, Latin America is seen as a place where those who Europeanise are superior in terms of development to those with indigenous characteristics, while Africa is seen as a place to exploit, deride and then ignore.
China has broken this cycle of foreign policy Apartheid by embracing the win-win format which stresses equality, respect, pragmatism in the purist of egalitarianism and material wealth create for the benefit of all. This is the reason why China is now the most important foreign partner of most African nations. China has broken the cycle of foreign policy Apartheid and millions of Africans are becoming more and more aware of this.