Published On: Tue, Aug 28th, 2018

“Belt and Road” Express and the future of China-Africa

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By Charles Onunaiju

During the gathering of China-African leaders, at the 3rd summit of the Forum China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) this early September in Beijing, the theme of “Belt and Road,” would feature very prominently. Proposed in 2013, the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st century Maritime Silk Road” was a global framework of connectivity spanning an integrated network of overland, maritime and digital infrastructures.
The “Belt” is network of overland infrastructure of transport arteries consisting of highways, railways, airport terminals. The “Road” consists of sea transport arteries that would span sea routes, sea ports and constructions of fiber optic cables to facilitate integrated digital network. The “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” lays emphasis on ways and means to achieve ports renovations, boost shipping lines upgrades and improvement of shipping capacity in the 21st century that is considerably without the hegemonic designs of Maritime expansion, confrontation and colonization which largely characterized western Maritime dominance. Rather, Beijing seeks to effectively avoid traditional risk of globalization and usher in a new type of ocean civilization featuring the integration of man and the ocean, harmonious existence of countries and sustainable development.
The Belt and Road is essentially a global transport network, integrated and interconnected system that is composed of railways, highways, aviation, navigation, oil and gas pipelines, transmission lines and communication networks.
Along these lines, would gradually emerge formation of industrial clusters and other wide range of economic activities, serving these networks. Through the deepening of industrial effects, an economic corridor featuring comprehensive development of construction, metallurgy, energy, finance, communication, information, logistics and tourism will be established.
Remarkably, the Belt and Road framework of international cooperation will witness and accelerate a process in which China transfers quality production capacity down the global industrial value chain. In this respect, combining the existing mechanism of China-Africa Cooperation, that is the profoundly engaging FOCAC process with the Belt and Road initiative would accelerate the momentum of production and industrial capacity cooperation between China and Africa and give Africa a solid head-start in the role of the next workshop of the world and the industrial heartland of an emerging integrated globalization.
As the Africa’s leaders gather in Beijing, it will be in the best interests of the people of Africa, whom they represent, to closely and dispassionately evaluate core contents of the Belt and Road initiative which in its several respects and dimensions are in full throttle now, take proactive stance to fully integrate in the process, using the underlying spirit of the Belt and Road value of extensive consultation, joint contributions and shared benefits to raise issues that demand clarifications from the initiators and engage the process more robustly on issues that are critically germane to Africa’s renaissance, inclusive and sustainable development. If there are however, areas in which Africa felt that its concerns are not adequately reconciled to the Belt and Road process, the mechanism of diligent and routine consultations between China and Africa, generously offered by FOCAC process, especially at its highest level of leader’s Summit, which the Beijing third Summit provides, is an excellent platform to compare notes with the Chinese leadership and forge ahead in the spirit of win-win cooperation.
The opportunities of the Belt and Road framework brings an uncommon vigour to the existing cooperation between China and Africa in addition to extending its frontiers and deepening its contents. Africa’s development is at historic juncture, where it would have to cease a unique momentum, provided by a phenomenal international partnership to underwrite the strategic and practical contents of Pan-Africanism, which includes integrated network of infrastructural connectivity to boast trade, enhance people-to-people contacts and create integrated industrial network in the region and beyond. With enormous goodwill and all weather friendly cooperation with Beijing, Africa can join the ride on the “Belt and Road” express, bring her accumulated wisdom of community resilience on board, give the full expression of her contemporary renaissance and integrate it to the Chinese dream of rejuvenation and jointly construct a community of shared future for all mankind. Having historically borne the brunts and pains of monumental injustice, perpetrated by colonial domination and imperialist plunder, China and Africa along with the vast numbers of countries in the global South are in strategic and vintage positions to engineer an inclusive international order of a human community of shared destiny.
The Belt and Road paradigm is not a bliss of heavenly passage without challenges. The connectivity it seeks, which is embedded in the overland, maritime and digital transport arteries are also fraught with risks of all kinds, both traditional and non-traditional. But the innate strength of the Belt and Road process, consist essentially in the fact that security threats and development challenges are better confronted with sustainable development efforts to neutralize its most toxic effects and make it more routinely, manageable.
Because, the Belt and Road process looks forward to tapping from the accumulated and diverse wisdom of humanity, spanning all countries and cultures, it proclaims it modest origins as China initiated but owned by the world and also depends on the world for vigour, sustainability and success.
As the Belt and Road is a critical paradigm and harbinger of an emerging inclusive and participatory global order, Africa has a unique opportunity to make original contributions to a new world order, both in its architectural designs and real contents. The African leadership gathering in Beijing with their Chinese counterpart at the third summit of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) must grasp the weight of the historic foresight that lay on their shoulders and appreciate that this is a gathering that is like no other in the international circuit but a defining moment that would shape the future of humanity. The world will be watching with all attention to see if the moment can be grasped.

Mr. Onunaiju is director, Centre for China Studies, (CCS) Abuja Utako, Abuja.

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