The Watcher: 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation
Updated 21:43, 10-Sep-2018
Robert Lawrence Kuhn
I’m Robert Lawrence Kuhn and here’s what I’m watching: The 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation. 
It is one thing to assess and analyze China-Africa relations – it is quite another to actually be here and sense the vision and feel the energy. The summit mission was to elevate what is called China-Africa “comprehensive strategic partnership” into a new phase for a new era. 
What are the new ideas, new principles, new programs? What’s the meaning of all this newness? What’s the substance behind the rhetoric? In his keynote speech, President Xi Jinping presented new principles and new programs for this new era in China-Africa relations. 
The new principles intrigued me, Xi began by enumerating the “Five Nos” approach: No interference in African countries' pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries' internal affairs; no imposition of China's 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. 
Why did Xi begin with the “Five Nos” approach? Two reasons. 
First, he is differentiating how China deals with Africa from how the West does. Second, by affirming “No political self-interest,” he is acknowledging questions about China’s motives in Africa and he is responding confidently and forcefully. I do not recall a similar instance of China so directly addressing such challenges. 
As for new programs, Xi announced that China will launch eight major initiatives in the next three years: industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, health care, people to people exchanges, peace and security. For many of the eight new initiatives, Xi said that 50 projects will be established.  
China will provide 60 billion dollars of financing, including 15 billion dollars in outright grants. In addition, Chinese companies will invest no less than 10 billion dollars over the next three years. 
One could not help but observe that President Xi’s new thinking addresses African concerns, such as excessive debt and developing local industry. While China intensifies its long-term commitment to Africa, it is at the same time evaluating projects more carefully, especially with respect to financial viability, learning lessons of past projects, all to improve optimal win-win outcomes. 
Yet, it is not always apparent what makes win-win work, there are often indirect benefits, as infrastructure stimulates long-term economic growth where timeframes are measured in decades not in years. 
To those foreigners who criticize China for benefitting from its African investments, I say, “Of course China benefits. What’s wrong with that? How else could this critical mission stay the course?” 
And to those Chinese officials who are loath to mention China’s benefits or recognize project problems, I say, "Be transparent. Be confident in China’s mission to facilitate Africa’s transformation." I took note when President Xi stressed that “No one could hold back the Chinese people or the African people as we march toward rejuvenation.” 
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