More soft power needed in Africa
Summary: Sino-African relations have progressed significantly on the economic front over the past decade, thanks to the highly institutionalized Forum on China-Africa Cooperation that was established in 2000…
Sino-African relations have progressed significantly on the economic front over the past decade, thanks to the highly institutionalized Forum on China-Africa Cooperation that was established in 2000.
China overtook the United States as Africa's largest trade partner in 2009, and the bilateral trade volume surged from $10 billion in 2000 to more than $160 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, Africa is now China's second largest overseas labor and project contracting market and fourth largest destination for outward investment. Yet despite such tangible achievements, there are reasons to worry about the lack of bilateral exchanges at the ideological level.
China has long maintained its comparative advantages in its relations with Africa by expanding its investment in the continent and aiding African countries with hard projects such as infrastructure building, as a result, China's presence on the continent is widely welcomed by the African people. In comparison, Western countries such as the US have concentrated their input in soft projects that have produced intangible results, such as the construction of civil society in Africa, capacity-building for African leaders and academic researches that involve African intellectuals. Many in the US say Washington should follow China's lead and attach more importance to hard projects in Africa that produce tangible results.
But China should also learn from the US. Looking back on Sino-African relations, we can see that although in recent years, emphasis has been laid on bilateral cooperation in areas such as human resource development and the two sides launched the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Program in 2010, China's investment in soft projects is still rather limited compared with its investment in hard projects.