Premier Li Keqiang meets Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who chairs the African Union Commission, at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa on May 5. Li Tao / Xinhua
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang meets workers from China Communication Construction Company at the Addis Ababa-Adama toll road on May 5. Zacharias Abubeker / AFP
Premier calls for closer collaboration and a broadening in the China-Africa project
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang invoked an Ethiopian proverb to underline the importance of unity between countries. "When spiders' webs unite, they can tie up a lion," Li said, speaking at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa.
Investment will continue to be the main growth driver for China in Africa, but the country will adopt a more pragmatic approach to achieve sustainable growth through closer cooperation with the continent's leaders, Li said on May 5.
Africa provides a silver lining to the dark clouds hanging over the global economy, and collaboration between the continent and China will pay handsome dividends to Chinese companies, he said.
Sino-African ties have grown steadily, and bilateral trade was worth $210 billion last year, said Li, on the first leg of an eight-day four-nation trip to Africa.
Africa has already begun to benefit from being a cohesive unit, with average growth of more than 5 percent and emerging as one of the fastest growing regions in the world, he said.
It is also an important emerging market and represents a collective economy worth $2 trillion, he said.
The continent's 54 countries have an important role to play in democratizing international relations, he said.
"Our Africa policy is a clear reflection of our commitment to deepen and grow Sino-Africa relations."
To achieve this, he said, China will press for progress in six areas: industrial cooperation, financial cooperation, poverty reduction, ecological protection, people-to-people exchanges; and peace and security issues.
China will also look to expand its credit lines to Africa and has earmarked additional aid of $10 billion, he said, adding that, a "beautiful China" will seek to advance hand in hand with a "green Africa".
Li called for an increase in annual bilateral trade to $400 billion by 2020 and indicated that China's cumulative direct investment in Africa would touch $100 billion about then.
China should become more involved in Africa's industrialization and help it develop labor-intensive industries such as textiles and light manufacturing, including the making of home appliances.
China is ready to work more closely with Africa in building roads, railways, telecommunications and electricity infrastructure aimed at bringing greater regional integration, he said.
At the same time, Chinese companies are also being encouraged to form joint ventures with their African counterparts to improve Africa's regional aviation.
Li spoke of a vision in which all African capitals would be linked with a high-speed rail network to boost pan-African communications and growth.
China has developed the best technology in this area, and is ready to work unreservedly with Africa to make its dreams come true, he said.
"Pragmatic cooperation cannot happen in the absence of financial support. China has decided to increase credit lines to Africa by $10 billion and will boost the China-Africa Development Fund by $2 billion."
The new $10 billion credit line will be on top of $20 billion already offered.
China will provide Africa with $10 million in free aid for wildlife preservation and promote joint research in protecting biological diversity, preventing desertification and promoting modern agriculture, he said.
"Protecting the environment is our shared responsibility. We will step up collaboration on ecological and environmental conservation."
The continent is full of vitality, he said, and the ever-expanding scale of investment has brought benefits to both people.
The past and the present proved that Africa benefits from China's growth, and that the world will become better if China and Africa develop together, he said.
Elham Mahmoud Ibrahim, commissioner for infrastructure and energy of the African Union Commission, says Li sent a positive and convincing message to Africa, and that the continent expects the "upgraded relationship" with China to improve its economy.
"I can see the chance that we can collaborate in the future in all areas of infrastructure as mentioned in Li's speech many times, and I think this is the real intention of China coming to invest in Africa. Many issues he talked about involved significant added value to build our capacity as well as to prepare a new generation to maintain and sustain our long-term development."
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn says China's financial aid to Africa through grants and loans has contributed enormously to bridging the infrastructure gap that has long hampered the continent's development.
"The highways, railways, dams, telephone and electricity networks, seaports and airports as well as other related infrastructure that China has helped build in many countries is clearly having a tangible impact on accelerating economic growth in our continent."
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who chairs the African Union Commission, says the AU considers China's collaboration with Africa to be a model partnership based on mutual respect and aimed at producing tangible results in areas of common interest.
Africa welcomes the economic investment that the Chinese government and private sector are making in Africa and hopes this will increase in the coming year, she says.
Li's trip to Africa follows one by President Xi Jinping last year.
He Wenping, director of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says: "Infrastructure has been a strong area for Chinese companies in Africa, and now Li is calling for Chinese companies to go into higher-end areas such as high-speed rail and aviation."
Kuruvilla Mathews, professor of international relations, at Addis Ababa University, has called Li's address "engaging and inspiring".
"The premier identified six key areas including poverty reduction and financial cooperation, which provides a comprehensive insight into China-Africa relations. It also shows that China is adjusting its engagements in Africa to more areas beyond the traditional infrastructure and energy industries.
"I am glad that he mentioned ecological protection, which is very important for Africa's sustainable development and has been somewhat neglected before."
David Shinn, adjunct professor at George Washington University and former ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, also welcomed Li's remarks on environmental issues.
"China has paid increasing attention in recent years to steps that can bolster the environment at home and in Africa. Li's remarks signal a significant increase in the efforts that China will devote to environmental challenges.
"Before leaving China, Li mentioned the 'growing pains' that China is experiencing in Africa. He is correct in addressing this issue.
The more engaged China is in Africa and as more Chinese live and work in Africa, an estimated 1 to 2 million, the more misunderstanding there will be until each side gets to know each other better."
Harry Verhoeven, convener of the Oxford University China-Africa Network, says Li's call for ecological development comes at an opportune time. "Chinese companies must adopt more rigorous practices that do much more to protect the local environment and to benefit local communities."
The importance of security and peace stands out, he says. "Chinese diplomats have already taken encouraging steps to get more involved in trying to find a political solution for the civil war (in Sudan), but the engagement needs to be scaled up and I would like to see Premier Li Keqiang speak out in powerful terms about South Sudan."
Bultie Kiffilo, a researcher with the Diplomacy School of Ethiopia, says Li's speech conveyed significant messages for future bilateral engagements.
"We appreciate China's diplomatic commitment of non-interference, even as it extends full support to humanitarian campaigns, especially in war or conflict zones like South Sudan."
China's effort to foster peace in the region is a good example of south-south cooperation, and something that is likely to grow, he says.
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(China Daily Africa Weekly 05/09/2014 page1)