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China and Africa Hand in Hand: Toward a Sustainable Future

by Yi Fan
10:15 am

Right before this year’s Chinese New Year, Rwanda’s ambassador to China, H.E. James Kimonyo, delivered some coffee products to a Chinese consumer who ordered the foodstuff from the e-commerce platform JD.com. The lucky consumer also received a certificate with the ambassador’s signature thanking her for buying a Rwandan product. 

Around the same time, Ethiopia’s ambassador to China, H.E. Teshome Toga, participated in a livestream event with a top Chinese influencer on e-commerce retailer Alibaba’s platform Tmall to launch and sell a brand of Ethiopian coffee in the country. 11,000 bags of coffee of the Arada brand were sold in five seconds.

With their marketing strategy, Rwanda and Ethiopia are looking to attract consumers in the world’s most populous country. In fact, e-commerce, or the digital economy at large, is one of the most promising areas of China-Africa partnership. It is also essential for the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the post-pandemic era, a critical task for both China and African countries.

The implementation of the SDGs is now almost halfway through, with important headway achieved in global development over the decade. But in the most recent months and years, the confluence of crises, dominated by COVID-19, climate change and conflicts, is reversing years of progress in eradicating poverty and hunger, improving health and education, providing basic services, and much more. The aspirations set out in the UN 2030 Agenda are in serious jeopardy. 

As the world’s largest developing country, China has come a long way in poverty reduction, infrastructure construction, connectivity, agricultural modernization, human resources cultivation, etc, all of which are key ingredients for progress toward the SDGs.

Based on the experience gained in this process, China launched the Global Development Initiative (GDI) as a vehicle to pursue the 2030 Agenda with all fellow developing countries. Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the UN General Assembly in 2021, the GDI is a promising response to help the world recover from recent setbacks and accelerate the achievement of the SDGs worldwide.

The GDI focuses on eight priority areas of development, namely, poverty eradication, food security, COVID-19 response and vaccines, financing for development, climate action, industrialization, digital economy, and connectivity.

All of these areas are highly relevant for the African continent and align well with the AU Agenda 2063. Take the aforementioned digital economy for example, which became more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local e-commerce platforms in Africa already penetrate transportation, logistics, human resources, and agricultural sectors, boasting market shares that rival Amazon. But there is still vast potential that has yet to be tapped. With a vibrant e-commerce sector, China has much to share with fellow developing countries in Africa. For example, just months ago, an e-commerce training program was launched in South Africa to draw upon China’s experience in this field.

Another area where South-South experience sharing could be of immense value is poverty eradication. As the No.1 goal of the 2030 Agenda, ending poverty has been particularly challenging since the onset of COVID-19. Having lifted nearly 800 million out of poverty in the past four decades, China has much experience to offer on this front. This is also an area that relates most directly to the well-being of ordinary people, which further attests to the people-centered approach defining the GDI.

Industrialization, a pressing priority for most African countries, is also a focus of the GDI. For a country to achieve development and raise income, industrialization is a sure path to follow. Over the years, China has invested heavily in the industrial sector of Africa and made a real difference on the ground.

The Hisense South Africa Appliance Industrial Park Project is a case in point. Hisense,a household home appliance brand name in China, entered the rainbow nation back in 1996 and has since steadily spread its products and technologies across the continent. From Johannesburg to Cape Town, from a few employees to now nearly one thousand in the industrial park, and from a single product category (TV) to now multiple categories including refrigerators and smartphones, the industrial park has had a far-reaching impact on the local manufacturing sector and related industries.

Inspired by the spirit of true multilateralism, the GDI welcomes the participation of all countries. On the African continent, it will synergize with the Belt and Road Initiative, AU Agenda 2063 and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development to inject new impetus into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. With its rich human and natural resources and enormous untapped economic and social potential, Africa is well-positioned to harness the opportunities brought by global initiatives like the GDI and march hand in hand with China toward a sustainable future.

Yi Fan

The author is a Beijing-based observer of international affairs.

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