After FOCAC: Have China-Africa relations finally turned a corner, or was FOCAC V simply more of the same?

Matthew McDonald


Recently, African Heads of State and China met in Beijing for the fifth FOCAC
ministerial meeting, the latest in a twelve year process that has seen increasing
exchanges of capital, goods and services, scholarship and people between the
continent and China. The increasing value of this relationship is probably best
illustrated by the consecutively larger financial overtures China has made to Africa at
each respective event; in 2006 China promised US$5 billion in loans and assistance, in
2009, they doubled it to US$10billion, and in mid-July 2012, President Hu again
doubled China’s African stake with a promise of US$20 billion in loans and credit over
the next three years. Attendance was unlike the summit in 2006, though, less than a
quarter of leaders of the fifty registered FOCAC members actually pitched up, though
most states did send at least some sort of ministerial or diplomatic representation. This
turnout was more likely due to China’s last minute shifting of the conference from end
October to end July, than some sort of antagonism from the African side.
From the media response, you might imagine this was the single greatest thing that
occurred during those two days - and indeed, it’s a hefty (promise of) investment in the
relationship going forward, but it’s also nothing new. Africa is a long time recipient of
Chinese largesse, as the continent of foreign and commercial policy interest to China.
However, looking past the diplomatic pomp and pageantry, and setting aside the big
figure promises pasted across the headlines for a moment, the FOCAC V also signified
something both a little less expected, and that many in the China-Africa game have
been waiting for a while to see.

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