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An Chunying,Development and Changes of the China-Africa Cooperation Model on Poverty Reduction
Time : 2020-01-22
Author : An Chunying



Today’s China-Africa relations have reached the crucial stage of building on past achievements and forging ahead. African countries look forward to strengthening practical cooperation, sharing opportunities and meeting challenges together with China. China’s achievements in poverty reduction have provided precious experience for African countries, who are eager to integrate China’s experience, a global public good, into their own development practices. In this context, China shall not settle for mere material considerations about trade and investment ties in its relations with Africa, but should further the collaborative efforts of poverty reduction to build a China-Africa community with a shared future on a steady and substantial basis, respond to the aspirations of African countries, and advance China-Africa traditional friendship to an even higher level with new momentum.


Over the past 70 years, from 1949 to 2019, China-Africa cooperation in poverty reduction has not only evolved at the conceptual level, but also served as a guide to action for deepening the cooperation toward transformation, acceleration and upgrading.


From government-led assistance to multi-stakeholder participation

Regarding stakeholders in China-Africa cooperation in poverty reduction, before the 1990s, inter-governmental mechanisms dominated cooperation efforts in economic and social development between China and Africa, as during the period there were few actors in China involving in the cooperation. After the mid-1990s however, Chinese companies began to operate Africa in search for market-oriented investment opportunities. At the same time, a growing number of NGOs in China were expanding public-interest cooperation in poverty alleviation from home to abroad. Joining with relevant government departments, these two actors increased their participation in the China-Africa poverty reduction agenda.

First, the government plays a major role in executing poverty reduction programs through planned and sustained large-scale collaborative projects. Both in the early phases of the PRC and in the 21st century, the Chinese government has always been involved in poverty reduction cooperation in Africa, playing an important leading role in terms of the scope, scale and intensity of such cooperation. First, as the main provider of mandatory institutional supply, and the manager and user of public resources, the government can effectively advance the process and effect of China-Africa poverty reduction cooperation through policy tools. For example, in response to the lack of medical care and the suffering of African people, since 1963, when the first Chinese medical team was sent to Algeria, the Chinese government has continued to send medical personnel to Africa through top-down institutional arrangements. Second, the government, with its own administrative resources, has implemented China’s poverty reduction plans in Africa in a systematic way through relevant departments such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Education, thus integrating aid with poverty reduction. For example, the Ministry of Commerce has vigorously encouraged Chinese state-owned enterprises and private companies to carry out mutually beneficial forms of cooperation in terms of trade, investment and employment in Africa. The Ministry of Agriculture has undertaken China’s assistance and cooperation in agriculture-related projects, sending agrotechnicians to African countries to set up demonstration centers for agricultural technologies and carry out training programs for agricultural professionals and technical workers. In this framework of governmental assistance, the Ministry of Education is responsible for coordinating and arranging the reception of African students with relevant domestic colleges and universities, while dispatching volunteering Chinese students to African countries in accordance with agreements and providing services in many fields, such as Chinese language teaching, medical and health care, physical education, information technology, and international rescue. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has worked with relevant African countries in implementing a number of activities to promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges and mutual learning between China and Africa. The National Health Commission is responsible for sending medical teams to Africa, providing assistance in epidemic prevention and control and donating medical supplies. China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China, as two major national policy banks, are offering effective financial services to support the investment and assistance projects of Chinese enterprises in Africa.

Second, the economic and social benefits generated by the investment activities of the business community have directly or indirectly contributed to poverty reduction in Africa. Chinese enterprises started investing in Africa on a modest scale in the 1980s, and it was not until the 1990s that they began to regard Africa as an important destination for their international operations and overseas investment cooperation. By the end of 2017, about 3,413 Chinese enterprises had invested in Africa. With their investment and business activities in Africa, Chinese enterprises have helped Africa in their poverty reduction and development ambitions in the following ways. First, Chinese enterprises provide financial support for African countries to implement economic and social development plans, by creating output value through investment and increasing tax revenues of host countries. By the end of 2017, Chinese enterprises had invested in setting up 25 special economic zones in Africa, generating an output value of US$18.9 billion, and paid $900 million in taxes. This has contributed to Africa’s economic development and, to some extent, helped host countries implement national poverty reduction strategies. Second, Chinese enterprises seek to create jobs for the local people, so that they can participate in economic activities to broaden their sources of income and improve the income level of the poor. The Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, for example, increased the number of jobs created in the country from 2,647 to 7,251 between 2007 and 2017. Third, Chinese enterprises in Africa focus on technology transfer in their investment projects. They train skilled technical personnel in host countries through vocational training and short-term technical courses, so as to improve the quality of local human resources and help African countries upgrade their industries. Within four years of construction of the Maputo–Katembe Bridge, the largest suspension cross-sea bridge in Africa, the project has helped train more than 5,000 local welders, lathe workers, steel bar workers, drivers, mechanical operators and other technical personnel. This project is regarded as an education site for training local industrial workers in Mozambique. Fourth, by donating funds, building roads, bridges, wells, hospitals and schools, Chinese enterprises take the initiative to fulfill their corporate social responsibilities and partake in the public welfare undertakings of regional communities, so as to benefit local people and improve their livelihood. For example, during the operation of CNPC’s refinery project in Niger, off-site water pipelines were used to build water supply zones for nearby villagers, and more than 160 wells were drilled deep in the Sahara Desert. 

Third, Chinese NGOs have become a new force in China’s poverty reduction engagement with Africa by carrying out charity and poverty relief projects in Africa. NGOs are the product of a market economy to a certain stage and are one of the organizational carriers of social works in public affairs. Set apart from the government’s use of political and economic resources to implement national poverty reduction policies, and from the business community’s fulfillment of social responsibilities to promote poverty reduction, NGOs mainly engage in raising social awareness through interaction to mobilize all social actors to participate in poverty reduction. According to historical data, China’s NGOs have grown gradually since 1978, whereas their participation in poverty reduction cooperation with Africa started at the beginning of the 21st century. China NGO Network for International Exchanges, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, China Youth Development Foundation and other domestic NGOs associated with the agenda of reducing poverty have jointly explored cooperation with African countries in poverty reduction. The “smiling children program” project, which was launched by the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, is a typical case in point. The program provides free breakfasts to hungry children in recipient countries, and has been implemented in Sudan and Ethiopia. In Sudan, the program has benefited thousands of children in primary schools since it was officially launched in August 2015.

In general, the government, enterprises and NGOs each play their unique role in poverty reduction cooperation with Africa. The government takes livelihood assistance as its priority. The projects implemented by the government are sustainably organized, planned and funded, and have become the most important support for poverty reduction cooperation with Africa. Although enterprises and NGOs have been involved in the cause of African poverty alleviation for only a little more than 20 years, their participation has gradually expanded and deepened with the increased momentum of China-Africa common development, which has allowed them to play a powerful role in complementing intergovernmental poverty reduction cooperation.


From cooperation in traditional fields to human resources development

With the establishment of the International Poverty Reduction Center in China in 2005, China’s human resources training related to poverty reduction has entered a period of systematic planning and institutional structuring. Simultaneously, the content of China-Africa poverty reduction cooperation has changed from the conventional “survival-oriented poverty alleviation” to the “development-oriented poverty alleviation” aimed at improving the ability of Africa’s poor population to lift themselves out of poverty.

China, using its experience and capacity in economic and social development, has had long-term engagement in poverty reduction cooperation aimed at satisfying the basic needs of the poor in Africa since the independence of African countries. This is mainly evidenced in the following aspects. First, China supports the development of public infrastructure in Africa to improve the working and living conditions for the poor and directly benefit the local communities. These infrastructure projects include roads, bridges, housing, canals, etc. For example, the China-assisted Kambia Bridge project in Sierra Leone has effectively improved the land transportation conditions in the northwest of the country, lowered transaction costs, and benefited local producers. Second, China has been carrying out various forms of collaboration to increase the level of food security in poor areas. Main practices in this regard include: helping with agricultural infrastructure, such as the Poilao Dam in Cape Verde; building farms, like in Uganda, Ghana, Niger and Rwanda; providing agricultural material assistance and a certain amount of funds in emergency humanitarian food aid to African countries; sending agrotechnical experts to teach breeding, seed selection, sowing, field management and other farming techniques. Third, medical aid to Africa has been the most long-standing poverty reduction project under China-Africa cooperation, involving the largest number of countries and achieving the most prominent results. By the end of 2016, China had sent more than 20,000 medical teams to 48 African countries. It can be summarized that in the second half of the 20th century, China-Africa poverty reduction cooperation mainly focused on poverty alleviation through cooperation in agriculture, medical care, infrastructure building and other fields immediately related to reducing poverty. Assistance services were provided to guarantee the basic survival needs of Africa’s poor population.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, China’s large-scale poverty reduction efforts have aroused great interest of those African countries that are also a part of the developing world. Investigations were made about China’s philosophy of poverty reduction, and how it had provided for successful alleviation of poverty. At the same time, China has become aware of the importance of education in its poverty reduction cooperation with Africa. Therefore, China and Africa began to pay more attention to the exchange of experience in poverty reduction and development. The sharing and exchange of knowledge on poverty reduction have become institutionalized and more frequent than in previous stages. First, numerous forums and seminars on poverty reduction experience have been held. Since its first meeting in November 2010, the Africa-China Poverty Reduction and Development Conference has become a core platform for the two sides’ poverty reduction exchanges. This annually-held event has been included in the FOCAC framework and is now known as the FOCAC Africa-China Poverty Reduction and Development Conference.” Second, China is holding short-term training courses for African countries. The China Agricultural University, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Academy for International Business Officials of the Ministry of Commerce often hold seminars on issues related to poverty reduction and development in Africa. The International Poverty Reduction Center in China is the most active in organizing international poverty reduction seminars for African countries. Today, the center has established a comprehensive training system for international efforts to lift population out of poverty. From 2005 to the end of 2018, the center held 139 training courses on overseas poverty reduction, 106 of which were for Africa, and trained 2,219 participants from 52 African countries in a bid to share China’s experience in its own battle against mass poverty. Through theoretical explanation, case studies, field visits and participatory discussions, the students were able to improve their perceptual and rational understanding of poverty reduction efforts in China. Third, through reciprocal interaction between “going global” and “bringing in,” China carries out medium- to long-term cooperation in human resources development. In addition to sending volunteers to Africa and providing government scholarships for incoming young students from African countries, China established the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development at Peking University in 2016, with master and doctoral degree programs and non-degree training programs. With a wide range of courses, the institute hopes to cultivate talents for the modernization of national governance system and capacity in developing countries. The first class of students came from Ethiopia, Burundi, Eritrea and Zimbabwe, among others. The above-mentioned cooperation in training and human resources management is conducive to enhancing the independent capacity for poverty reduction and development of recipient countries.

To sum up, China-Africa cooperation in poverty reduction has covered a wide range of areas, including food security, industrial development, infrastructure construction, medical and health care, development experience sharing and capacity building, debt relief, and humanitarian assistance. It reflects that the two sides have adopted a holistic approach to their cooperation in poverty reduction. The contents of their cooperation have been increasingly extended, and have shifted from a predominantly philanthropic purpose in the past to fulfilling the goal of improving the working and living conditions of poor people in Africa, enhancing their capacity for self-development and self-reliant poverty reduction, and sharing experience in poverty reduction and development. This demonstrates that the quality and extent of China-Africa poverty reduction cooperation is reaching to an even higher level.


From bilateral cooperation to interactions at both bilateral and multilateral levels

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and African countries, the two sides have, in terms of formats, implemented intergovernmental poverty reduction and development cooperation projects through bilateral committees, strategic dialogues, political consultations between foreign ministries, and joint economic and trade commissions. Since the mid-1990s, as the African continent becomes more united and independent, the integration process at continental and regional levels has entered a new stage. The African Union replaced the Organization of African Unity, and set forth the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and Agenda 2063. Since the launch of reform and opening-up, China has accelerated its integration into the world system and increased its cooperation with international organizations. China-Africa relations have developed in an all-round and multi-faceted way. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, as a one-to-many multilateral mechanism for international cooperation, thus emerged. It is precisely based on these changes that the approach to China-Africa cooperation in poverty reduction has been upgraded from a purely bilateral channel to a new stage of equal emphasis on both bilateral and multilateral interactions.

First, the two sides determine the direction and focus of poverty reduction cooperation, based on the FOCAC and the Outline on Strengthening Poverty Reduction Cooperation between China and the African Union. After 18 years of development, the FOCAC has become an effective mechanism for collective exchanges and dialogues between China and African countries and an important platform for deepening practical collaboration. It is also a typical example of international multilateral diplomacy featuring an approach of “X+Africa.” The FOCAC ministerial meeting is usually held every three years, with representatives of the Chinese government and the African Union as well as political leaders of African countries attending, to jointly discuss and formulate the general direction and outline for cooperation in the coming three years in the form of declarations and action plans. After conclusion of the meeting, proposals made by the two sides will be followed up by the senior officials’ meeting, the follow-up committee and other coordinating bodies responsible for promoting implementation. For example, the FOCAC Beijing summit in 2018 identified the essence of building a China-Africa community with a shared future, featuring joint responsibility, win-win cooperation, happiness for all, cultural prosperity, common security, and harmony between man and nature. The summit also outlined initiatives to strengthen cooperation in industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, health care, people-to-people exchange, and peace and security. The FOCAC has served as a leading multilateral institutional platform for Africa’s poverty reduction efforts and the common development of China and Africa. In particular, the above-mentioned Outline on Strengthening Poverty Reduction Cooperation, reached by China and the African Union when Premier Li Keqiang visited the AU headquarters in May 2014, is a policy document focusing on poverty reduction cooperation. The 15-point Outline explains the necessity and urgency of China-Africa cooperation in poverty reduction, and calls for “upholding the principle of inclusiveness and diversity.” According to the Outline, the two sides should explore additional cooperative approaches in industrialization, infrastructure, food security, youth development, vocational and technical training, and mutual learning on poverty reduction. Both the FOCAC and the Outline constitute a general framework of poverty reduction cooperation agreed by China and Africa through multilateral channels, whereas specific projects must be implemented through bilateral channels. Therefore, China-Africa cooperation in poverty reduction is a combination of bilateral and multilateral approaches.

Second, China participates in poverty alleviation projects in Africa under the framework of South-South cooperation with various international organizations or third parties. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched the Special Program for Food Security under the South-South cooperation framework in 1996. China has been actively involved in the program since its inception, and signed a memorandum of cooperation with the FAO in 2006, becoming the first country to establish a strategic partnership for South-South cooperation with the FAO. Since then, cooperation between the two sides has been deepening in the following aspects. First, providing financial support. In 2005 and 2015, China donated US$30 million and $50 million respectively to the FAO trust fund for South-South cooperation to support agricultural and rural development projects in developing countries, including African ones. Second, sending agrotechnical experts to conduct policy research, field demonstrations of agricultural production techniques and personnel training, covering fields such as aquaculture, crop production, irrigation, livestock and poultry breeding, agroforestry, and pest control. By the end of 2018, China had sent nearly 1,100 agrotechnical experts to 12 African countries, namely Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Namibia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda, establishing China as the main leader and supporter of South-South cooperation. In addition, China has conducted third-party cooperation with the US-based Gates Foundation at agrotechnical demonstration centers in Mozambique and Zambia. This shows the openness of China-Africa cooperation in poverty reduction. Together with other countries in the world, China has contributed its wisdom and solutions to the sustainable development goals of developing countries.


China-Africa poverty reduction cooperation conforms to the development and changes in national conditions on both sides, with more social forces and actors involved. In light of the new themes and trends of international cooperation, it has also added sustainable development and capacity building in content in pursuit of innovation on the basis of inheritance. Cooperation platforms have also been diversified and the number of partners has increased, thus highlighting the characteristics of diversity, innovation and sustainability. Today, the cooperation enjoys a firmer foundation, greater resources and stronger development. China has become a major external force for promoting poverty reduction and development in Africa.


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