FOCAC: Beyond the Numbers

December’s Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has been and gone, and the eagerly-awaited list of numbers has been released, digested, and analysed. China’s commitment of US$60 billion in financing for development across Africa is triple the amount pledged at the last summit three years ago, according to several mainstream media reports. Other calculations put this figure at closer to a 50%  increase in financial commitment. And, while it is this magic number that has since hogged the limelight, China’s important second policy toward Africa was released too.

Questions have been raised as to whether or not the US$60 billion is all new capital, or also includes existing, as-yet unfulfilled commitments. And in reality, few of the countries on the receiving end of preferential loans, aid, and investment are likely to hold China to details such as these, and almost certainly not while they are negotiating the terms of new (perhaps) more lucrative projects.

Investment of this extent has the potential to go a long way towards infrastructural and industrial development. But the pomp and ceremony in which the forum was wrapped – flavoured with China’s sickly sweet rhetoric around “friendship”, “trust” and “brotherhood” – has, to a large extent, overshadowed the complexities of implementing a financial commitment such as this – and later, evaluating its impact.

Beyond the numbers, there is a range of diverse issues surrounding (the future of) China and Africa’s relationship. Many of these issues and dynamics operate on a far smaller scale than is often implied by our references to “China-Africa”: two immense, far-from-homogenous swathes of land, or “geo-political imaginaries”, as Stellenbosch’s Dr Anthony called them. The implications of this relationship on culture (in all its shapes and forms), the environment, and international perceptions of China and its African partners are just a few of the talking points that deserve more time, engagement, and media coverage  – and they were among the talking points at the fore of two fascinating roundtable discussions on FOCAC that I attended in the run-up to the summit.

The first was a roundtable at Wits: Reporting FOCAC6 – A Turning Point for Africa-China Engagement, co-organised by the China Africa Reporting Project and the China Africa Project. A couple of weeks later, Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Chinese studies and the Chinese NGO Network for International Exchanges hosted another event, The FOCAC Johannesburg Summit and Beyond – this time in Cape Town, two days before FOCAC.

I’ve put together a collection of some of the most thought-provoking comments and topics of discussion at Wits’ roundtable, below.

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Professor Garth Shelton, Wits International Relations 


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Dr Ross Anthony, Centre for Chinese Studies, Stellenbosch University  

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tweet 6 54 countries, rather, by most counts.



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Dr Bob Wekesa, Wits Journalism

Louise Scholtz, WWF SA (above and below comments)

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tweet 12 Professor Herman Wasserman, University of Cape Town



tweet 13John Bailey, former SABC, eNCA, Beijing Bureau Chief



tweet 14Eric Olander, China Africa Project

Eric was central to the creation of a multimedia guide to reporting on and covering FOCAC 6 – with a wealth of resources for journalists to make use of in future China-Africa stories too.




chinatownA day of food-for-thought ended suitably, with authentic South Chinese cuisine in Cyrildene, home to the majority of Johannesburg’s Chinese population.







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