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The Principles Governing China-Africa Relations

The Principles Governing China-Africa Relations

Bereket Gebru 09-06-18

The China-Africa Forum (FOCAC 2018) was held in Beijing this past week. Out of the forum came out huge numbers representing the debt Africa owes China (142 billion USD) and the flow of trade between the two partners. A lot of things grabbed the attention of various media. Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of the FOCAC Beijing forum. In his speech, he pointed out:

China values sincerity, friendship and equality in pursuing cooperation. The over 1.3 billion Chinese people have been with the over 1.2 billion African people in pursuing a shared future. We respect Africa, love Africa and support Africa. We follow a "five-no" approach in our relations with Africa: no interference in African countries' pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries' internal affairs; no imposition of our will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa. We hope this "five-no" approach could apply to other countries as they deal with matters regarding Africa. For China, we are always Africa's good friend, good partner and good brother. No one could undermine the great unity between the Chinese people and the African people.

Africans kept a good working relationship with China since the 20th century. Despite its fast rise to prominence, China is still a developing country just like the members of the continent of Africa. As is the case with almost all African countries, China is a victim of colonialism. India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai came up with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in 1954. These principles rose to popularity during the 1955 Bandung Conference – which paved the way for the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement. African states joined the non-aligned movement in a bipolar world with two superpowers at the extremes. The five principles still make a major pillar in China’s foreign policy. These five principles are:

  1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  2. Mutual non-aggression.
  3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
  4. Equality and cooperation for mutual benefit.
  5. Peaceful co-existence.

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It is easy to identify that these five principles are a major breakaway from colonial and present day Europe. Obviously colonial Europe never saw the merit of these five principles as it considered Africa and the rest of the world as its overseas territory waiting to be annexed. It saw itself as superior to the rest of mankind and thus validated genocidal acts against them. Present day Europe tries to alienate itself from the horrendous acts of its grandparents but still maintains a sense of superiority over the rest of the world in the economic, political and social realms. It bears the notion that its civilization is the most modern model for humanity and thus everyone should follow it willfully or forcefully. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi bluntly expressed this view in 2001 after a meeting on international cooperation against terrorism in New York with Russian President Vladimir Putin and then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder. His exact words were:

''We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect certainly does not exist in Islamic countries. The West is bound to Occidentalize and conquer new people. It has done it with the Communist world and part of the Islamic world, but unfortunately, a part of the Islamic world is 1,400 years behind. From this point of view, we must be conscious of the strength and force of our civilization.''   

Although some European leaders might not agree with the blunt remarks of the media and construction mogul of close ties with the mafia, they keep in mind that he has got a point – he just took it too far with his inconsiderate rant. It is actually this feeling they have of the superiority of European values that makes them bully the rest of the world into accepting them. Whether it is the neo-liberal policies that aim to advance the interests of the handful of rich people or the compound interests of their banks that push countries towards slavery, the Europeans are still trying to colonize the whole world, as their grandparents did, with a slightly different approach. Not adhering to these European ideals and promoting one’s own interests would bring the real face of the Europeans out as they would unilaterally or collectively use military force to obliterate states. They sometimes use their satellite states to do their dirty work. We have seen them do that to Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and others.

Although the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Israel are not European countries in location, it is Europeans in their mass exodus that obliterated indigenous populations and established them as independent states. A number of African countries have also been affected tremendously by these destructive migrations of the Europeans. I used the word European to refer to all these countries and groups.

A glance at history would show that respect for human rights cannot be a European value, in stark opposition to the mainstream European views expressed by Berlusconi. As I said earlier, generations of Europeans have been pillaging the world, killing millions through force or the illicit mischief they do these days. Therefore, considering respect for human rights as a European value is outrageous from the standpoint of the rest of the world.

In contrast, the five principles of peaceful coexistence that make up a strong pillar of Chinese foreign policy make a lot of room for equality and cooperation. This long tradition of solidarity between China and Africa saw China secure a permanent seat on the UN Security Council with support of 26 African states (34% of the General Assembly votes). Once China became economically strong, African states did not lose the support of China. They saw its success as a model for them to rid themselves of poverty and raise their relations to a higher standard.

Once China’s reform began, Premier Zhao Ziyang made an African tour during December 1982-January 1983, where the ‘Four Principles on Sino-African Economic and Technical Co-operation’ was announced, re-formulating solidarity aid to ‘mutual interest’ as the basis for economic co-operation. These four principles of economic and technical co-operation are:

Sincerity, friendship and equality.

- Mutual benefit, reciprocity and common prosperity.

- Mutual support and close coordination. It is about strengthening cooperation in the UN and other multilateral systems by supporting each other's just demand and reasonable propositions.  

- Learning from each other and seeking common development. It is about learning from and drawing upon each other's experience in governance and development, strengthening exchange and cooperation in education, science, culture and health. It includes exploration of the road of sustainable development.

As evident, the Chinese approach pays due respect for Africans. It considers them as equal partners in the quest for common development. Although the current levels of development dictate that trade is highly screwed in favor of China, there is room for more benefits to Africa as the two sides are working on the issue. Most importantly, African governments are in this relationship consciously and willfully. They have not been dragged into it.





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