South African President Jacob Zuma shook things up in 2012 when he labeled Chinese commercial engagement in Africa “unsustainable” while addressing the opening plenary of the 2012 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing. Seated directly next to then-president of China Hu Jintao, Zuma publically bemoaned what is seen by many as an unequal trading relationship in which African countries export valuable natural resources to China without corresponding benefits in terms of job creation or economic development on the continent.
Recent evidence suggests that criticism like Zuma’s is encouraging policy change. The new administration of Xi Jinping has de-emphasized Chinese investment in Africa’s oil and gas sectors and prioritized infrastructural development, which resonates with many African policymakers struggling to identify ways to finance the construction of badly needed roads, ports, bridges and railways.
In a new brief for the Foresight Africa series, Africa Growth Initiative Nonresident Fellow Yun Sun discusses this possible re-tooling in China-Africa relations and previews how these dynamics will shape the coming 6th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, scheduled for 2015 in South Africa.
While the 2015 FOCAC will undoubtedly draw much attention, Sun harbors doubts about whether Chinese approaches in the region will really differ from those criticized by Zuma. She recommends, though, that African governments and forum participants seize the opportunity and actively seek to frame the summit’s agenda around key priorities for the region, including job creation, food security, and agricultural transformation, among others.
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Read Foresight Africa 2015, which details the top priorities for Africa in the coming year, to learn more about this year’s FOCAC as well as other critical issues for the region.
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China was the single largest infrastructure financier in 11 African countries between 2009 and 2012.