Southern African News Features                                           SANF 11 No 01, Jan 2011
China, Africa relations poised for growth
by Kizito Sikuka

The head of an influential Chinese think tank has said that China and Africa should continue working together to reform and reconstruct world affairs, which are usually biased towards a few selected countries at the expense of the majority.

The President of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), recognized as one of the top ten international think tanks, Professor Yang Jiemian, said during a recent tour of Zimbabwe that some powerful nations continue to dominate the world and set the rule for others to follow.

He said the challenge for China and Africa is to address this old order system and ensure that all countries are equal under international law.

Sino-Africa relations, he said, are better placed to lead this campaign and become a model for other partnerships to emulate because they are based on mutual trust and respect.

"I am afraid that nowadays people are preoccupied by goods and not thoughts," Professor Yang said. "As think tanks for China and Africa we should cry out for attention for thoughts and reform and reshape the international system to be more equal and fair."

He said for the past 400 years the "west has dominated the world and set the tune for others to follow."

Zimbabwe’s former ambassador to China, Christopher Mutsvangwa concurred and said countries should be allowed to relate to each other on an equal footing.

He said the emergence of China as a superpower has created an opportunity for Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa to participate in world affairs.

"With the emergence of China as a partner, Africa is now able to enter into mutual agreements with other countries or continents where relations are based on equal terms," he said.

"Complaints on China-Africa relations are coming from London and not from Africa. So please, do not listen to them."

On strengthening China-Africa relations, Prof. Yang said this could be achieved by remodeling cooperation to focus more on regional projects rather than bilateral country projects. However, this policy shift should be done gradually to ensure that it is a success.

He said for now China seemed to be content with dealing with individual countries instead of regional economic communities mainly because it is still inexperienced. On the other hand the time is not yet ripe to change the policy.

"One of the major challenges for China is defining a more flexible policy for Africa," he said. "However, there is no doubt that China and Africa should expand their bilateral cooperation to focus more on the region."

He said a regional approach would not only promote integration in Africa but also boost relations and trade among member countries, adding that people must now "write, talk and present possible solutions to these challenges."

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Regional Integration and International Cooperation, T.T. Chifamba said this policy direction would fit well with Africa’s priorities which are geared towards regional and continental integration.

He said while the shift could pose some challenges since individual countries are at different levels of development, China and Africa may adopt a strategy that identifies priority projects in selected countries and turn them into bigger regional projects.

He cited the TAZARA railway line that was built by China in the 1970s as a good example of regional integration. The railway line was built to carry Zambian commodities to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam after Zambia closed its border with Southern Rhodesia before Zimbabwe’s independence.

This was an essential lifeline, built in record time of under three years and funded by soft loans, at a time when the northern development agencies refused to engage in this initiative.

"Africa recognizes China’s efforts to develop the continent," he said, adding more could be done to promote regional projects, particularly those located on the North-South Corridor between Durban and Dar es Salaam -- an initiative of three regional communities namely COMESA, EAC and SADC.

He said the recent Preferential Market Access granted to some African countries should also be broadened to include other countries to promote development and ensure that least developed countries move quickly to expand their economies.

China and Africa share cordial relations that date back to the later colonial period when China supported African countries in their pursuit for national independence and liberation.

To cope with the challenges of economic globalization the two established the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000 to chart the course of action for the development of China and Africa. The current three-year FOCAC Action Plan runs from 2010-2012.

The tour of Zimbabwe by the SIIS President and his five-member delegation was organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, and the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC).

SARDC is the host institution for the proposed China-Africa Think Tank for Southern Africa, part of an institute for policy and strategic studies on China-Africa relations in southern Africa, which is expected to provide a network for Chinese and African experts to explore possible areas of cooperation.

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