This year marks the 40th anniversary year of China's reform and opening-up. It is a year that will also see Chinese and African leaders gather together for the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) this coming September. The theme of this year's forum - China-Africa Relations over the Course of Reform and Opening-up - is highly relevant as China and Africa have a shared desire to explore development paths independently and to build a closer community for a shared future.
President Xi Jinping noted at the Boao Forum for Asia last April that "over the last four decades, the Chinese people have embraced the world with open arms and made active contributions to global affairs." Let me say that the last 40 years has not only seen China achieving common progress with the rest of the world, but also witnessed China and Africa forging ahead side by side, shoulder to shoulder.
Over the past four decades, the political relations between China and Africa have grown from strength to strength on the basis of strong strategic trust. Enjoying a long history of profound friendship, China and Africa have lent each other a helping hand whenever needed and worked steadily to elevate our relationship. At the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit in 2015, we announced a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership between China and Africa. To date, China has established strategic partnerships or comprehensive strategic partnerships with 24 African countries. Blessed by the guidance of our leaders, China-Africa partnership is operating at a high level, evidenced by closer strategic communication and coordination, stronger mutual understanding and support, and greater experience sharing on governance and development.
Over the past four decades, our economic cooperation has achieved phenomenal growth on the strength of interwoven interests. Trade between us has grown more than 200-fold, jumping to 170 billion US dollars from merely 765 million US dollars 40 years ago. For many years, China has been Africa's biggest trading partner. The last 40 years has also seen Chinese investment in Africa grow from scratch to a cumulative stock of 110 billion US dollars. What is more, three encouraging shifts are taking place in our economic cooperation: from government-driven to market-driven, from trade in goods to also include manufacturing cooperation, and from engineering contracts to capital investment and operations. These shifts will add wings to Africa's sustainable development.
Over the past four decades, our people-to-people ties have expanded, always generating fresh impetus to China-Africa friendship. Currently, nearly two million visits are made between the two sides every year. There are 133 pairs of sister provinces or cities between China and African countries. China has opened more than 80 Confucius institutes or classrooms in 41 African countries, and 27 African countries have stationed journalists in China. In last year alone, the two sides held more than 100 exchange events and implemented over 200 projects promoting friendship between our peoples.
Over the past four decades, our close cooperation in international and regional affairs has been instrumental to upholding our common interests. At the UN Security Council, for example, China has often spoken in defense of African positions. China's constructive role in promoting international and regional security and stability has been welcomed and applauded by African countries. China firmly supports African countries in addressing African issues by themselves and, in this context, has actively participated in peace and security affairs in Africa. With over 2,000 of its peacekeepers in five UN operations, China sends more peacekeepers than any other permanent member of the Security Council.
A few weeks ago, a conference on work relating to foreign affairs was held in Beijing, which established "Xi Jinping thought on diplomacy" as a fundamental principle and a guide to action for China's distinctive major-country diplomacy in the new era. You may recall that when visiting Africa in 2013, President Xi proposed "sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith" as the guideline for China-Africa relations, and offered to pursue the greater good and shared interests in relation to Africa. His proposal, built on China's decades-long approach to Africa, has produced far-reaching impact on the development of China's relations with Africa and the developing world.
China and Africa have walked an extraordinary path in developing our relations and cooperation, and our peoples have benefited greatly from it. What we have accomplished together is for the whole world to see. Yet a minority of Westerners, blinded by their "pride and prejudice", choose not to see it. Being long used to patronizing us and pointing fingers at us, they often disparage our cooperation and recently whipped up the so-called "debt trap" by accusing China of "mir[ing] nations in debt ... and undercut[ting] their sovereignty." Maybe there is more than a hint of "sour grapes" here?
The fact is, China-Africa cooperation, path-breaking in many respects, is based on solid principles. It has been universally welcomed and supported by the African countries. As I see it, the following three things set China-Africa cooperation apart:
First, China's cooperation with Africa comes with no political strings attached. China respects the will and needs of African countries. We cooperate as equals. Neither party dictates to, or lectures, or exports models to the other. There are no political strings attached - this is the hallmark of China's cooperation with Africa, one that distinguishes it from that pursued by some Western countries.
Second, China's cooperation with Africa is a boost to local economic and social development. The debt problem in some African countries is the result of multiple factors and not unique to them. It is a "growing pain" that naturally emerges in the process of development and can only be eliminated in the course of further development. As people often say, it is better to teach others how to fish than just give them fish. Guided by this philosophy, China is taking the initiative to align its development plan with those of African countries, helping them to build capacity for home-grown development, and undertaking a large number of projects that will make a big difference to economies and lives in Africa.
Third, China's cooperation with Africa is economically viable and win-win in nature. China understands the importance of debt sustainability and is helping Africa to improve its investment environment. As Chinese financing is provided in a responsible manner, the associated risks are generally under control. China encourages its companies to make more direct investment to Africa and explore new models such as public-private partnership (PPP). It must be said that China empathizes with Africa's situation and tries to help Africa contain debt risks and relieve the pressure of repayment.
Facts speak louder than words and fair-minded people can tell right from wrong. The benefits of China-Africa cooperation are abundantly clear. No one will ever buy the irresponsible slanders made by a handful of countries. Many African governments and individuals have come forward to say so. China sincerely hopes that those countries will do more for Africa's development, rather than judging others.
With the FOCAC Beijing Summit expected in September, this is going to be a big year for China-Africa relations. Both sides are determined to capitalize on the momentum generated by the summit to chart the future path. Discussions under the theme of "China and Africa: Toward an Even Stronger Community with a Shared Future Through Win-Win Cooperation" will surely propel China-Africa relations and cooperation forward in sync with our times.
The Beijing Summit will reinvigorate our joint effort to build a community with a shared future for mankind. As you may know, the overarching vision of China's diplomacy is to build a new model of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind. China and Africa have shared weal and woe together and see our future as interwoven. This is why we must champion and act on this vision. At the summit, the two sides will work for an even stronger China-Africa community for a shared future by laying out a master plan, seeking the guidance of our leaders, building consensus and coordinating our actions.
The Beijing Summit will also catalyze our joint effort to advance the Belt and Road Initiative. The summit provides an excellent opportunity to align this initiative with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Agenda 2063 and the development plans of African countries. The summit will bring together Chinese capital, technology, equipment and talent and Africa's natural resources, demographic dividends and market potential. New measures of cooperation are expected, measures that will deliver more win-win results to both sides.
We are pleased to note that preparation for the summit is well on track. African leaders have responded enthusiastically to our invitation, and many have confirmed their participation. They look forward to discussing plans for China-Africa cooperation. We have no doubt that, with the close collaboration of the two sides, the Beijing Summit will go down in history as another milestone in China-Africa relations.
Think-tank cooperation is part and parcel of China-Africa cooperation. In recent years, we have done meaningful things in this area and held a series of high-quality exchanges, including this forum. These activities have fostered a positive atmosphere, in both academia and society, for stronger China-Africa relations. On the other hand, the scale and effectiveness of our think-tank cooperation still fall short of the needs generated by the fast-growing China-Africa relations and fail to do justice to the role of China-Africa cooperation in driving international cooperation with Africa. In a fast-changing world, the contest for greater say in international affairs has become more intense. China and Africa must grapple with a more complex media and public opinion environment. Together, we must figure out ways to deepen and add more substance to our think-tank cooperation. This is crucial if we are to provide more intellectual support for China-Africa relations, have our deserved say in the world, and spread the story of our cooperation.
Before I conclude, let me take a moment to offer a few thoughts on cooperation between Chinese and African think tanks:
First, I encourage you to keep abreast of regional and global developments, and draw on the good experience of think tanks worldwide. By developing new approaches to cooperation that suit us, Chinese and African think tanks can contribute more to the building of a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind.
Second, I encourage you to focus on China-Africa relations. We welcome practical suggestions and targeted proposals that address the challenges and issues in China-Africa cooperation.
And third, I encourage you to lend your voice to the bright future of China-Africa relations and help shape a narrative that reflects our shared values. To set the record straight, it would be helpful if you could step forward to debunk false stories about China-Africa cooperation whenever they arise.
As China-Africa relations and cooperation continue to flourish, I see enormous opportunity and great prospects for collaboration between Chinese and African think tanks. I hope and believe that this forum will be a continuing success and spread the voice of China and Africa.
Assistant Foreign Minister, P.R. China.