From January-June last year, China’s total import and export volume with Africa was US$101.86 billion, up 2.9% year on year, exceeding the overall growth rate of foreign trade in the same period by 4.9 percentage points – according to statistics from the General Administration of Customs of China.
With the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging nations across the globe, a number of difficulties have been registered. However, Africa is still up to a number of aspirations – a good example of which is the African Continental Free Trade Area which states are looking forward to implement. On the other side, China looks to completely win the war against poverty this year.
In this article, The Africa-China Review Magazine sat down with Wang Jiaxin, the China’s Economic and Commercial Counselor in Rwanda to discuss the state of the relations between China and Africa.
Q: This year, China looks to win the war against poverty. First, China has lifted about 800 million people out of poverty since 1979. How is this being done, and what can African learn from China?
I think it is a very big question. Since 1979 China began to adopt the reform and opening up policy and we focused on economic development and poverty eradication.
There are many reasons for the success registered against poverty. First we have a very consolidated and decisive ruling party, so China is united and can mobilize resources to make its strategies and plans realised.
Next, on our journey, we took progressive approaches. We made one experiment after another. For instance for the opening up policy, we started in Shenzhen, before taking it to the whole country.
In this way, when we see that a strategy has been successful regionally, we take it to the national level. But if something goes wrong, you can pause and modify the strategy.
Another reason for the success against poverty is the Chinese culture, and the resilience of the Chinese people. You know the Chinese are workaholic. Also, a consistent aspiration for prosperity is part of the Chinese culture.
Q:Today, we have many African students studying in China than in the past years. What has changed?
Since 2000, China launched the FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Corporation). In its implementation agenda, there was a wide range of activities. We realised that health and education are very important.
Health and education are the top priorities and that is why China for the past 20 years began to offer more scholarships and carry out training courses, sending African students to China to study.
So we are hoping that by this, we can improve the education of the African students and enhance the human resource capacity. People are the biggest asset for a country. But people are not just numbers – but the quality. So, how can we improve the quality? Through education.
Q:Talking about the FOCAC, when is the next summit and what may be the topics for discussion?
According to the rules of the FOCAC, the next summit will be held next year.
So far I don’t have the details of what topics will be discussed because I think everything is under discussion and preparation.
But I am very confident that China’s support to African countries will be consistent in consideration of the complementarity between the two parties, and the traditional friendship.
There is also necessity for China and Africa to work hand in hand in the era of globalization and in face of the danger of the unilateralism and protectionism. So, I am sure more pragmatic and concrete measures will be included in the 2021 FOCAC agenda. I think there will be new initiatives and new agendas produced.
I think there will be discussions on how to improve the resilience of countries in regard to COVID-19.
Technology is also an important topic. We are living in the era of the 4th industrial revolution with things like block-chain and AI (artificial intelligence).
Q:What do you say about the trade deficit Africa has with China? What causes? And is something being done on China’s part to balance the deficit?
I did some research and found out that for the first ten years after 2000, Africa enjoyed a trade surplus with China, and for the last ten years, Africa started to go into deficit.
For instance, 2018 the total trade volume between China and Africa was around 204 billion US Dollars and in 2019 the trade volume increased by 2.2 percent to 208 billion USD.
Last year, China’s imports from Africa were 98 billion USD. China’s exports to Africa were 113 billion, so China is still enjoying the surplus.
China exports more to Africa than Africa exports to China. I think the reason is China is still the world factory, we are the leading manufacturer in the world; and Africa’s manufacturing industry generally speaking is not well developed – though it is improving.
Sometimes when you import it’s not a loss; it satisfies your needs because locally you cannot get those goods.
There are activities to improve Africa’s manufacturing industry. For instance last year, China invested about 2.8 billion USD in Africa.
Also China is concerned about the trade imbalance. The Chinese government and Chinese companies – state owned and private are also keen to look for new places where they can establish new production bases.
If you go to Ethiopia or Kenya, even Rwanda you can find Chinese investments like production factories.
And also in order to cope with the trade imbalance, China has done a lot of other things, for instance right now, 33 African countries enjoy zero custom duties on 97 percent of the goods when they export to China.
And also since two years ago, China launched the world import expo and we invited African countries to establish their country pavilions and exhibit their goods. They also negotiate and sell their goods to the Chinese consumers and establish partnerships with the Chinese importers. We give free booths to African exhibitors.
Q: President Xi pledged 2 billion USD support to fight COVID-19. Tell us about this and what it entails
The Chinese president announced 2 billion USD financing to support the combat against COVID-19, and for economic and social development in the COVID-19 hit countries.
So it means part of it will be medical contribution: medical supplies, hospitals, medical teams; and part of it will be for economic activities – assisting those badly hit countries to cushion the adverse impact of COVI-19.
Q:The Belt and Road Initiative, what is its benefit to Africa?
The BRI is covers many countries in Asia, South America, Europe and part of Africa. It is trying to achieve interconnection of all these regions. So it will facilitate trade in all those areas and will improve investment. It will also assist with infrastructure and policy unification.
I think African countries will greatly benefit from this initiative, for example, economic development, social enhancement, technology, culture. In Africa we are still encountering three challenges: human resources, infrastructure, and capital; and the BRI came to give all of this.
Mr. Wang Jiaxin is the Economic counselor and an experienced Diplomat at the Peoples’ Republic of China Embassy in Rwanda.