By J. Alexander Nuetah
Since 2000 when China held the first Ministerial conference to inaugurate the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Beijing has deepened its engagements with the continent and taken its relations to new heights. In 2006, Beijing hosted the first FOCAC Summit which brought together heads of state from countries across the African continent.
Following the Beijing Summit, China announced the China-Africa Development Fund (CADFund) in June 2007 with an initial capital of $5 billion. The intent of the CADFund was to strengthen bilateral trade, investment, and credit between China and African countries. At two subsequent forums held in 2010 and 2015, China further increased its Africa Development fund respectively to $30 and $60 billion, leading to further expansion in its engagement with the continent.
This has resulted into increased aid, bilateral credits, debt cancellation, and a boom in Sino-Africa trade and investment. For instance, trade volume between China and Africa has increased from about $10 billion in 2000 to over $170 billion in 2017 while the stock of China’s outward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa has risen from US$500 million to more than US$41 billion during the same period.
China has also strengthened its engagements with African countries in the areas of industrialization, modernization of agriculture, infrastructural development, human capital development, green development, poverty alleviation, public health, people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and peace and security.
Liberia has not missed out on the China-Africa bonanza. For instance, total trade between the two sides has grown from just about $161 million in 2000 to more than $2.13 billion in 2017, while the stock of FDI outflow to the country has risen from less than $6 million in 2003 to over $290 million in 2016. Liberia has also witnessed China’s massive involvement not just with its post-war human capital development but also development of its infrastructure.
Cardinal among China’s marks on infrastructure financed through Chinese grant include the University of Liberia’s new Fendall buildings that comprise of teaching, administrative and dormitory facilities for faculties and students, the Jackson F. Doe referral hospital in Tappita, Nimba County, the ongoing ministerial complex project, and the renovation and refurbishing of the Samuel K. Doe Sports complex in Paynesville.
On 25 July 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the meetings of BRICS nations in South Africa, announced that Beijing will host African countries at the FOCAC Summit in September under the theme, “China and Africa: Toward an Even Stronger Community with a Shared Future through Win-Win Cooperation”.
The Chinese leader further urged BRICS nations to strengthen cooperation with Africa, support its development and make BRICS-Africa cooperation a model for South-South cooperation; and encouraged them to actively carry out cooperation with African countries in such areas as poverty reduction, food security, innovation, infrastructure development and industrialization in a way compatible with their national conditions, and help African countries develop their economic structure, contribute to the implementation of Agenda 2063 of the African Union and thus enable Africa, an ancient continent, to gain strong vitality. Such call indicates Beijing’s desire to champion the cause of Africa’s development.
The Chinese have proven that a nation ravished by poverty can lift its people from such conditions if the state so prioritizes to do so; it has learned from its bitter experience of famine in the 1950s that a nation can attain food security if the appropriate attention is given to its agriculture; it has succeeded in transforming its economy from an underdeveloped one to not just the largest exporter in the world but also the world’s second largest economy. So, China knows what it takes to pull a nation out of a state of deprivation to sufficiency and so has asked BRICS peers to help rescue Africa.
So, as Africa goes to Beijing in September, prospects for the expansion of CADFund and the involvement of other BRICS member states are high; and expectations of African leaders are even higher. Beijing will not disappoint. It has expanded the CADFund at each succeeding Summit since its establishment, and it’s now engaged in an ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative” which is expected to feature high at the Summit, as it tries to link the initiative with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the AU 2063 Agenda, and the development strategies of individual African countries. China has also clearly drawn up its two-stage development plan covering the period 2020 through the middle of this century. President Xi has also reemphasized Beijing’s priorities for Africa’s development in his BRICS’s address.
But does Liberia, under this new government, have a clear vision of what its development priorities are, and the role China can play in contributing to the achievement of such goals? And, as Liberia prepares for the Summit, what is it expected to put on the table that fits not just into Beijing’s priorities but attracts its continued interest? In Beijing’s “win-win” engagement strategy, countries must know what their interests are and take it to the table. There is a common parlance that if you don’t know your destination, any road takes you there. But development in the eyes of Beijing does not tread that path.
To maximize your wins from Beijing’s “win-win” strategy, you must know what your priorities are and take them to the table. So, as Liberia goes to Beijing, it must have a clear idea of what its “pro-poor agenda” is, and how it can attract Beijing’s attention in the midst of competing agendas. Key areas of interest could be the role China could play in agricultural development to ensure food security; improvements in relevant infrastructure to spur economic growth; diversification of the economy to reduce reliance on the extractive sector and build its resilience, and an expansion of existing programs in human capital development. If these are parts of Liberia’s “pro-poor agenda”, China has shown great strength and could be of greater help.
About the Author:
J. Alexander Nuetah is an Assistant Professor at the University of Liberia.