China and Africa should become equal partners that jointly promote the prosperity and progress of human civilization on the cultural front. The two are origins of human civilization, boasting brilliant cultural heritages. At its source, African culture has a lot in common with Chinese culture. For example, both value community spirit and the tradition of yielding personal benefits to the interests of the community.
Given these common values, China and Africa are expected to further strengthen their cultural linkages with a view to building a harmonious world where different civilizations coexist in the spirit of tolerance and equality while learning from each other.
In a broader sense, cultural exchange is not limited to exchanging students and teachers and holding arts performances and exhibitions. Chinese medical teams and other flourishing programs such as China’s training of African workers and the exchange of experiences in pursuing development are also part of the China-Africa cultural exchange.
In the field of security, China and Africa should enhance exchanges and consultation, thus raising the awareness of collective security in the international community, promoting a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation and shaping an international environment favorable for common development. China also needs to strengthen cooperation with African countries in the nontraditional security field, such as preventing major infectious diseases including bird flu and addressing cross-border crimes so that they can jointly deal with the challenges posed by globalization. China is expected to devote more resources to UN-led peacekeeping operations, thereby playing a greater role in the resolution of international conflicts and disputes in Africa.
Africa is an important player in international affairs. China and Africa share a broad consensus on major international issues. They have traditionally cooperated with each other in this regard. Enhanced coordination on these matters serves the common interests of both sides. They are expected to step up collaboration to promote multilateralism and democracy in international relations and UN reform and work together for peace and harmony in the world.
A new type of strategic relationship between China, the largest developing country in the world, and Africa, a continent that has the greatest concentration of developing countries, not only serves the interests of the two sides but also helps promote South-South cooperation and the common prosperity of developing countries. In the context of the widening gap between the South and North and the looming terrorist threat, the common prosperity of developing countries and their sharing of the fruits of globalization have far-reaching implications for world peace and development.
Western media have of late paid special attention to the rapidly developing China-Africa relations, especially their cooperation in the energy field. They have made a big fuss about China grabbing Africa’s oil resources and pursuing neocolonialism in Africa. Whenever a Chinese leader visited Africa, they tended to label the visit “an energy journey,” or “an oil trip.”
As a large developing country with a huge population and a lack of resources, China certainly needs to import oil to meet the growing domestic needs. Since it became a net oil importer in 1993, China has intensified efforts to secure energy in the international market by forging mutually beneficial cooperation with many countries, including African countries. China has never denied this, nor is it necessary for it to do so.
In fact, unlike colonialists who plundered Africa for its resources by brutal means, China cooperates with African countries on the basis of their mutual demands and in line with the principle of mutual benefit. The cooperation does not target any third party, either. Take the oil exploration agreement reached when President Hu visited Nigeria in April for example. Nigeria granted licenses to China National Petroleum Corp. to prospect in four oil blocks in the country. Two of them are located in the oil-rich Niger Delta, whereas the other two lie in harsh, unexplored Lake Chad Basin.
The Chinese company poses no threat to the interests of multinational companies in Nigeria. Instead, it will help Nigeria explore its virgin lands, while diversifying its foreign investment sources. More importantly, China made commitments to invest $4 billion in the construction of related infrastructure and $5 million in purchasing anti-malaria medicine, training Nigerian malaria and bird flu control personnel and conducting technical cooperation in this field.
At present, five major multinational companies dominate Nigerian oil production. Some Nigerian scholars have noted that Western countries are only interested in investing in strategically important oil resources rather than in developing Nigeria’s manufacturing industry. While exploiting oil resources, they do not take effective measures to protect the environment, resulting in widespread ecological degradation and worsening the living conditions of local residents. Worse still, the oil companies have long neglected the maintenance of oil pipelines. As a result, much farmland is polluted by oil leaked from the pipelines hence becoming infertile.
Apart from energy cooperation, Chinese companies cooperate with Nigeria in a variety of other areas such as agriculture, infrastructure construction, electricity and telecommunications. The Nigerian Government and China’s Guangdong Xinguang International Group signed an agreement worth $2 billion to improve Nigeria’s railways early this year. Nigeria earned $500 million from China with its non-oil exports last year.
Now let’s look at China’s energy cooperation with Sudan, a hot-button issue in Western media. Chinese companies started to explore for energy resources in Sudan in the mid-1990s. By the end of 2003, their investment totaled $2.7 billion, with which they built 1,506 km of oil pipelines, a crude oil processing plant with a capacity of 2.5 million tons a year and several gas stations.
With the Chinese investment, Sudan turned itself from an oil importing country into an oil exporting country. More importantly, it established its own oil industry consisting of prospecting, exploitation, refining and transportation facilities and sales networks with China’s help. In addition, China spent over $20 million in building schools and hospitals for the country.
In contrast, Shell has been engaged in oil exploitation in Nigeria for over 50 years. Nigeria still exports crude oil and imports gasoline. Not owning any oil production and processing facilities, it remains a raw material exporting country.
Action speaks louder than words. What China has done in Africa has shown that it seeks mutual benefit in energy cooperation. It provides African countries with capital and technology that are indispensable to the exploitation of energy resources. At the same time, it helps these countries become real masters of their resources.
By He Wenping
Director, Division of African Studies of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The article was published in Beijing Review, Vol.49, No.44, pp.14-17, Nov.2, 2006