III FOCAC Summit – Beijing 2018

FOCAC 2018: to what extent the benefits from the Sino-African cooperation are mutual?

Author: Lara Mendes


The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), created in 2000, is a South-South Cooperation (SSC) mechanism, which promotes the consolidation and deepening of Sino-African bilateral relations. During the 2018 Beijing FOCAC Summit, there was a common speech, which emphasized the mutual benefits between the partners and the ambition to build a shared and prosperous future, especially in a context of increasing interdependence.

China presents its development cooperation initiatives in Africa as being based on the non-interference principle. In this sense, the beneficiary countries’ sovereignty over their domestic policies is respected. However, the steadily rise of Chinese investments and loan concessions to Africa is carefully analyzed, from a critical perspective, by the African actors themselves. On the one hand, there is a perception among some African nations of China as a potential predatory lender, aiming to assure political influence in the continent and access to Africa’s natural resources. On the other hand, the country is seen by other African leaders as a “creator of opportunities”, being responsible, for example, for creating approximately 900.000 local jobs on the African continent and to invest on the sustainable development agenda.

Countries like South Africa perceive the Forum as an opportunity to consolidate an strategic Africa-China relationship and as a way for African countries to foster the benefits from Sino-African cooperation. In spite of the clear power asymmetry between China and African countries, FOCAC is considered a helpful platform to “help structuring a more symmetrical engagement with China”. Analysts such as Philani Mthembu and Bob Wekesa highlight the importance of developing an African strategy towards China.

On the II FOCAC, in Johannesburg (2015), the Political China-Africa agenda, expressed in “Ten Key Cooperation Plans” was launched. From the actors’ perspective, over the past three years, there has been progress in implementing the commitments made, with a series of Chinese-assisted infrastructure projects been completed, such as the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway and the Cote d’Ivoire’s Soubre hydropower plant.

During the III FOCAC, representatives from China and Africa reaffirmed solidarity and engagement to overcome development challenges. The Chinese government proposed a new Action Plan (2019-2021), including eight initiatives within which integration through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been highlighted. FOCAC’s multilateralism has been associated with the implementation of BRI’s projects. In this context, for the next few years an intensification of the continent’s regional integration and an acceleration of the BRI’s extension through Africa is expected.

The intensification and deepening of political exchanges have been contributing to the building and consolidation of trust between the actors. The arguments of partnership, horizontality and mutual benefits were particularly emphasized during the III FOCAC. However, to assure the implementation of these discursive commitments in practice African partners need to have voice, influence and power when the engagement with China.

Published in October 2018