By Timo Shihepo
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders, together with other African leaders, will have to be looking over their shoulders when signing agreements during and after the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in China this week.
An official close to FOCAC told The Southern Times that the US has sent out subliminal messages to African leaders that any deals being inked in China should not be looking at replacing the current US deals on the continent.
China and Africa adopted a declaration and an action plan on Tuesday at the 2018 Beijing Summit of the FOCAC in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
The Beijing Declaration - Toward an Even Stronger China-Africa Community with a Shared Future and the FOCAC Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021) were adopted at the two-phase roundtable meeting, chaired, respectively, by Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the co-chair of the forum.
President Xi labelled the declaration as a win-win cooperation and common development and said they have agreed to develop FOCAC into a brand of China-Africa solidarity and cooperation, and a banner that guides international cooperation with Africa under the principle of consultation, cooperation and benefit for all.
According to analysts, SADC needs to be cautious in its deliberate paradigm shift from the West (particularly US) to increase trade engagements with China, a move that analysts say could create an imbalanced development trend in the region.
China has been cementing its influence in the region and the continent seems to be shifting its economic partnership towards the East, boosted by China’s US$60 billion pledge to Africa’s development in 2015.
Earlier this year, the US warned African countries to carefully consider the terms when going into agreement with China.
It is a conundrum that SADC, and African countries at large, face when dealing with the two super powers (China and the US).
However, speaking at the FOCAC Summit, SADC chairperson and Namibia President, Dr Hage Geingob, said no one can stand in the way or obstruct sovereign African countries from travelling to China to meet “our all-weather friend, who has pledged to walk with us, through thick and thin, down the path to economic development and prosperity”.
Geingob added that given China’s renowned track record of industrial development and technological advancement, SADC wishes to leverage its relationship through FOCAC to fully achieve its 2015-2063 Industrialisation Strategy and Road map.
Namibia’s Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein told The Southern Times that China, as one of the largest economies in the world, plays an important part in SADC economies through investment and as a market for the region’s commodities.
“I think it’s very important that we utilise that capacity, which includes of course having to use their machines to manufacture our goods that we will eventually sell to them. It’s great that we have the two largest corporations (East and West) competing for our (SADC) market, it’s up to us to see which is the biggest deal which will benefit us not just in the short term but in the long run as well. It’s also up to us to open up our small economies to attract these two establishments but they must do business or investments on our own terms,” he said.
Frans Uusiku, an economist at the financial services firm, Simonis Storm Securities in Windhoek noted that with respect to trade, SADC has a lot more to learn from the East, especially China, “although recent developments show that China is now moving away from being a manufacturing-led economy to being a consumption and services-led economy”.
But that should not mean that SADC must turn her back on the West, Uusiku cautioned, adding that the West’s investments in other areas such as education and health are also significant.