Let's have more trade stops in African countries

By Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-04-07 07:28

Extending Belt and Road membership to more countries is not only right, it makes economic sense, too

More than three decades ago the world was amazed when China started transforming from an agrarian, self-contained and inward-looking country into a worldwide economic powerhouse. This achievement was the result of the role played by various national champions, China's leaders at the time.

Following the path they set of economic transformation and opening-up, President Xi Jinping in 2013 announced a plan to develop the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

China's Belt and Road Initiative now forms the centerpiece of the country's foreign policy. The initiative aspires to put Asia, Oceania, Europe and African nations on a new trajectory of higher growth and human development through infrastructure connectivity, augmented trade and investment. The initiative is nothing less than a Chinese call on the international community to cooperatively work toward a harmonious and inclusive world.

Let's have more trade stops in African countries

The initiative is ambitious, covering almost 65 percent of the world's inhabitants, nearly one-third of global GDP and almost a quarter of all the products and services transported worldwide. The One Belt, One Road (OBOR) concept has expanded immensely as a vision, creating a platform for China to deepen its economic transition, transfer its equipment and technology abroad and integrate into the global economy via investment.

The Belt and Road Initiative symbolizes a more proactive approach by Xi in meeting the anticipation of China's global obligations and leadership. It offers tremendous opportunities for international economic cooperation, especially for African nations.

Speaking of Africa, as the initiative advances, it is imperative that the African continent is incorporated into this grand vision to further cement historic bonds between the continent and China. For the African nations involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, this means that resources become available in addition to those under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). But, perhaps more significantly, it also means that the areas of cooperation being promoted under the initiative and FOCAC, such as industrialization and infrastructure, will receive even stronger political backing from China, which may help fast-track these projects.

Let's have more trade stops in African countries

However, Africa is not a major region along the OBOR route, so it may be hard for its economies to completely profit from the initiative. Extending membership to more African countries could help keep manufacturing jobs and investment in China and Africa, as well as addressing the thorny problem of industrial overcapacity in China. This could be crucial in determining how OBOR can complement Agenda 2063 to create the "Africa we want".

Economist Justin Yifu Lin asserts that the initiative will offer major opportunities for Chinese companies to expand their foreign markets and says the strategy will bolster African economies, strengthening China-Africa economic cooperation.

China attaches great importance to its relationship with Africa but, according to a recent report from World Wildlife Fund for Nature - China's Belt and Road Initiative and Its Implication for Africa - the OBOR document only gives details applying to European and Asian countries. Europe is mentioned 12 times, Asia and its subregions 30 times, Africa gets only six mentions.

Nonetheless, the Chinese viewpoint is that Africa is the last stop for the Belt and Road Initiative, which means that more African nations are yet to be included in it. Yun Sun, a nonresident fellow in the Africa Growth Initiative, says in her report, Inserting Africa into the One Belt One Road Strategy, that OBOR does not change the overall direction of China's Africa policy. However, looking at the geographical areas involved, out of the 67 nations, only three are in Africa.

In 2015, the meeting of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC), which has served as the supreme platform for China-Africa cooperation since 2000, upgraded China-Africa relations to a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership. The OBOR initiative was not incorporated, despite the initiative's aim of promoting connectivity with the African continent. However, considering the openness and flexibility of the initiative, incorporating Africa is a reasonable and desirable option. The lack of clear references to Africa in documents outlining the OBOR vision is a sign that inclusion of the continent was not foreseen and that details remain to be defined.

The reference incorporated in the FOCAC Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-18) is that the "African sides welcome the Chinese side's championing the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which includes the African continent, and that China and Africa will foster a mutually beneficial partnership." This is the only statement that Africa is considered part of the Maritime Silk Road.

Since 2013, China's state media has published numerous Belt and Road maps with varying indications of Africa's membership. However, the latest version, published by the Xinhua News Agency, shows that the route has reached East Africa - specifically Kenya. China has nominated Kenya as the African hub for the Belt and Road Initiative because of the country's economic geography, meaning that, with the violence between North and South Sudan far from over, an alternative route to export oil to China is needed.

Let's have more trade stops in African countries

Trade Law Centre data show that none of China's top 10 trading partners in Africa is a member. Even China's main trading and fellow BRICS partner South Africa is not a member.

South Africa's membership would make economic sense as it would expand the Belt and Road Initiative beyond its ancient route toward the south. It would also make economic sense to extend membership to Angola because it would further expand on the ancient route, venturing into the Atlantic.

Tanzania is another nation that would bring significant influence if membership were extended to it. This is due to the Tanzania-Zambia Railway, constructed by the Chinese in the 1970s, which has great historical significance for China-Africa cooperation and could offer a chance to connect landlocked nations like Zambia.

Despite being Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria has not been given priority. But the continent's largest economy has some significance because of Lekki port, due to be completed in 2018. This massive facility could function as a commerce hub, extending the OBOR further to the west of the continent.

Togo, on the other hand, could be the anchor point in West Africa if membership were extended to that nation as well. In an interview with Xinhua, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe said: "Where your heart is, your feet are not reluctant to go."

China's heart is always in Africa and Africa's heart is always in China as well, so membership of African countries in the Belt and Road Initiative will potentially offer a valuable opportunity for China and Africa to share development opportunities and further reinforce their relationship.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily European Weekly 04/07/2017 page12)

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