Rabat – China’s annual Two Sessions meeting of top-level legislature and political officials began on March 4. Over 5,000 members of the Chinese political landscape have been meeting and discussing strategies for the new year, at home as well as abroad.
The Two Sessions meetings, akin to annual board meetings, will be running March 4-11. At the core of the meetings, so far, were discussions of moving away from high-speed growth, opting for high-quality growth instead; expanding domestic demand, while also supporting international exports; driving modernization through innovation and technology; all while encouraging high-quality green production.
But what does this mean for Africa? China’s presence on the continent, in the last two decades, has given business-owners and governments a viable alternative to the often-exploitative and lopsided business practices traditionally used by Western powers.
What can Africa expect as China changes gear?
For Africa, the event is a significant indicator for understanding the future cooperation between the two bodies. Africa has already seen a lot of Chinese investment, particularly in the field of infrastructural development. While COVID-19 still haunts the planet, cooperation and trade between the two bodies have been picking up since 2020.
Policies discussed at the Two Sessions will be central at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) set to take place in Dakar, Senegal, later this year.
Both within the private and public sector, China has done much to establish its presence on the continent. Most notably, this can be seen in the technological sector, both within infrastructural development, as well within the scope of personal electronics. One observer noted that “‘Made in China’ technology now serves as the backbone of network infrastructure in several African countries, unbeknownst to millions of users.”
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South China Morning Post highlighted China’s comprehensive plan to upgrade its manufacturing capabilities by 2025, hoping to become an advanced manufacturing powerhouse.
The plan’s focus on agricultural machinery, equipment used in shipbuilding, aviation, high-speed rail, and industrial applications of China’s new navigation satellite system points at the significance the country gives to infrastructure. The next 10 years could see new applications of future-proofed technology across the African continent, as China continues its play as a major provider of transportation systems and communication networks.
The reason behind China’s presence in Africa is that the US has “not come with an alternative,” says Eric Olander, the man behind The China Africa Project. “[Washington is] not saying, don’t use Huawei, here’s a billion dollars for you to go and buy an Alcatel or Ericsson or Cisco network.”
As for consumer electronics, part of China’s strategy is to reduce the ever-rising production costs. This will be achieved by bringing down reliance on foreign technologies and increasing domestic manufacture of phone chips, processors, and other hi-tech components. Chinese mobile phones from Tecno, Itel, and Infinix are already leading the African phone market, but as China reduces costs of domestic production, the price gap between Chinese and non-Chinese phones could grow even larger.
Similarly, Chinese technology companies are likely to increase their presence in the African tech sector with the expansion of 5G services provided by companies like Huawei and ZTE.
While China will likely continue to intensify its efforts to restructure outstanding loans in select African countries, it will also be making it more difficult for governments to take them out. The country’s lowered GDP goals for 2021 come as a means to reduce risk-taking by Beijing, while also curtailing the government’s spending.
The Africa Report explained in January that just as “Chinese policy banks and other lenders reportedly restructured loans in Angola and Zambia,” the same process is likely to extend to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti later in the year.
Wang Yi, an adviser to the State and Minister of Foreign Affairs, also touched on China’s battle against COVID-19, and the country’s vaccine distribution pipeline in Africa.
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China has begun supplying COVID-19 vaccines to 35 African countries, provided nearly 120 lots of emergency supplies to the continent, while also sending teams of doctors and experts to 15 African countries to help them fight the pandemic, Wang noted at a Two Sessions press conference on March 7.
Wang said that the FOCAC summit set to take place in Senegal would provide new opportunities to help Africa overcome COVID-19 and improve its healthcare capacity.
China will also use FOCAC to support Africa’s industrialization, integration, and participation in economic globalization, while peace and stability on the continent, Wang added.
“China and Africa are good friends” with an intertwined future, the spokesperson concluded.