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China-Africa relations after the 20th National Congress of the CCP

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Picture: REUTERS – President Cyril Ramaphosa and China’s President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. A partnership with China might pay dividends for South Africa, the writer says.

By B Dikela Majuqwana

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held its 20th National Congress from October 16 to 22, primarily to elect its Central Committee, Political Bureau, and related leadership structures to fashion the path into the future.

Further, the CCP also put General Secretary Xi Jinping in charge for a third five-year term since 2012. In addition to exercising its choice of leaders for the next five years, the CCP adopted new policies and set new strategies to lead it to the adoption of new programmes for the development of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) and the rest of the world.

It is needless to say that the CCP owes its origins to the Russian Revolution of 1917 that launched socialism as a world system capable of challenging and putting an end to centuries of genocidal capitalistic violence backed by an ideology of enslaving and exploitation of man by man.

It took the outstanding leadership of Mao Tse Tung to lead the CCP to victory against imperial Japan in 1949 and to announce to the world the setting up of the PRC with socialism as its mission. At the time PRC enjoyed the support of the leadership of the Soviet Union under the firm and decisive hand of the great revolutionary and communist leader Joseph Stalin, a man who exerted so much influence on Mao Tse Tung. As a result the Soviet Union did much to help consolidate the Chinese Revolution in its belief that socialism and workers power had to triumph as a world system and to defeat violent Western imperialist rule around the world.

As it happened peoples’ China managed to survive and to outlive the Soviet Union, to be able to advocate a philosophy of socialism with Chinese characteristics – an outlook that places the need to ensure the survival of the Chinese peoples’ state under the CCP above all else.

Among the policies adopted at the recent National Congress is one that rejects outright the idea of an independent Taiwan and does not rule out military action to reclaim the island state that was established by the rogue Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists at the dawn of the victory of the peoples’ revolution in China in 1949. This is a significant policy milestone as it shows that peoples’ China will henceforth maintain or even accelerate a build-up of military and technological capabilities to be able to face up to Taiwan’s allies to impose its will in the South East-Asian region.

An aspect of the recent National Congress of the CCP that should interest us is the extent to which it will lead to a reshaping of relations between the PRC and African countries. It is difficult today to envisage states that advocate for socialist revolution in foreign lands but still, we can imagine that China’s relations with other nations may lead to the same result if the effect is to radicalise economic changes within foreign nations. In Africa, peoples’ China enjoys close economic ties with a number of countries including South Africa, which leads in trade in almost all areas including imports and exports.

The PRC has adopted the strategy of building a ‘moderately prosperous country’. In this it can rely on leveraging at least three big institutional vehicles including the Forum for China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC), BRICS, and the Belt Road Initiative, an initiative very close to the heart of Xi Jinping. Through these, China will aim to achieve its economic objectives.

Already China is becoming a major force in Africa through foreign direct investments (FDI) and other trade relations. In addition to oversight relating to China’s internal developments, the new Central Committee of the CCP and its sub-structures will aim to use its power to occupy areas vacated by the crisis-ridden Western colonial countries now entangled in a struggle for power against the Russian Federation led by President Vladimir Putin.

Given the global climate challenge and struggle over control of natural resources, it can be argued that China’s technological advances are in many ways to the advantage of African countries. That said, the key question is whether African countries are capable of fashioning their own strategies to not simply trail China but to steal a lead in several areas given the natural resource endowments African countries enjoy.

There are 54 independent countries in Africa with a combined population of 1.4 billion people, not very far behind China. Curiously, South Africa has some 52 districts and Metros that too must respond to the challenge of rising up to take advantage of the global opportunity presented by China’s rise. By 2016, China’s leading investments in Africa were in manufacturing followed by construction and the rest. South Africa took the lion’s share of all this. Therefore, it is fair to ask if our country is happy to be a passive observer of China’s penetration of the African market.

The alternative is to take advantage of China’s dependence on South Africa to lay plans and to devise programmes to regionalise manufacturing in South Africa to turn the tables on them and to start exporting high-value added goods to their market. To do this might require us to enter into a partnership with them but to do so on our terms since we enjoy a competitive advantage in natural resources.

A partnership rather than competition might work better and allow for mutually beneficial relations. To succeed in this, one of the biggest weaknesses or deficiencies that South Africa must overcome is self-doubt owing to the prevalence or persistence of colonial relations and the dominance of the white colonial minority. Relations with China must help us overcome this colonial deficiency and not reinforce it. That means SA must learn something about effective management of the state and its enterprises along with mobilising from among the natives a truly entrepreneurial class.

This is one of the reasons why a partnership with peoples China might pay dividends instead of an all out trade competition. The new leadership of the CCP may be open to ideas within the context of their present strategies and related economic agenda. Fresh thinking backed by courageous action and engagement is required on our part if we are to reposition our country and people as a creative force to shape a better world.

Prof B Dikela Majuqwana is convener of the National Union of Scientists and Engineers (NUSE)

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.