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Overseas views on NPC & CPPCC: Africa joining Belt and Road stands as grand historic move

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

03-07-2016 14:56 BJT

Full coverage: 2016 NPC & CPPCC Sessions

Editor's note: The National People's Congress (NPC), China's top parliamentary body, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top advisory body, convene its annual sessions, known as the "two sessions" on March 3-15 2016, which marks a pivotal year as the nation continues on to embark with its reforms and opening up policy, shifting towards a "New Normal" for economic growth rates, starting its 13th Five-Year Plan for social and economic development over the next five years and confronting challenges on the foreign policy front. How will the NPC address those concerns? What do foreign experts and Overseas Chinese say? The Panview Column of CNTV has invited some of them to express their views on major issues to be discussed at the ongoing two sessions. 

By Miroslav Atanasov, Ph.D., Renmin University of China

The Belt and Road (B&R) initiative,known as New Silk Road has become a national strategy that was introduced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 to expand China's global influence. Beijing has since mobilized its political, economic, and diplomatic resources to promote the concept as a pivotal step for global development.

The dual plan includes a New Silk Road Economic Belt connecting China with Central and Western Asia, and Europe and  also  a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road connecting China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

It's one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in history that will raise China's status as an international economic leader.    

Since China has become the world's leader in infrastructure building, the grand project stands consistent with the nation's portfolio. Beijing also founded the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) last year to ensure financing for scheduled projects.

Ironically the United States, which had been calling on China to assume more international responsibility, had criticized Beijng when the AIIB was announced and refused to join in.

Last year, a call was made for the inclusion of Africa in the B&R framework, which could make it a "One Belt, One Road, One Continent." Justin Yifu Lin, a former World Bank economist, said that infrastructure building led by China will assist Africa's economic growth. 

On January 27, 2015, China signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union, which had embarked on ambitious infrastructure proposals.

Beijing is committed to assist the AU in connecting all 54 countries on the continent through upgrading transportation, and constructing modern highways, airports, and high-speed railways.

Nkosazana Dlamni-Zuma, chairman of the African Commission, said the agreement would accelerate necessary regional integration of Africa and will benefit ordinary people by skills transfer and new jobs creation.

Ahmed Haggag, chairman of the Egyptian African Association, welcomed Africa's proposed inclusion in B&R and expressed a firm belief in China's good intentions.

The regional transportation and connectivity projects have two main applications in Africa and will benefit both sides. They will help China stimulate its economy by boosting exports and utilizing its construction industry overcapacity.

Additionally, they will make it possible for China to transfer some of its manufacturing businesses to Africa, which would be a necessary step for its economic restrusturing plan, necesitated by rising costs of production in China.

Experts including Justin Yifu Lin view those as two major aspects of future Sino-African Cooperation. 

The impressive China-financed infrastructure projects completed in Africa in recent years have transformed the continet. Chinese companies have also proven they can effectively train and hire local Africans for production jobs.

Examples of such models are Hisense Electronics manufacturing in South Africa, CITIC's real estate development in Angola, and Huajian's shoe factory in Ethiopia.

Beijing's Africa strategy is to pursue infrastructure development, jobs creation, and industry transfer on the continent, whether the continent is included in B&R or not.

Inclusion in the framework, however will bring more attention, focus, funding, and momentum to such economic initiatives. It will speed up the process of African development and improve life for many ordinary Africans. 

Akeen Owolabi, international financial expert, said the strategic move by China would contribute to the growth of African Small and Medium Size Enterprizes. It will also help Beijing sustain its economic growth and gain an outlet for its industrial overcapacity.

Owolabi feels his home country of Nigeria should take advantage of opportunities that this cooperation offers to improve its economy significantly challenged by a decrease in oil prices.

Beijing's investments in other areas, such as Nigerian agruculture, manufacturing, processing, and service industry should be expanded as well.

"China has developed from a poor inward-looking agricultural country to a global manufacturing powerhouse. For 180 million people (in Nigeria) wishing to have a higher standard of living, higher quality of life, the emphasis for us is to look inward and think beyond oil."

The expert added, "Nigeria must be open to the world and decide to go back to good governance and transparency so as to reduce corruption and create a better life for the masses."

China can provide both the know-how and practical assistance for that most populous country in Africa, as well as for the rest of the continet. Bringing Africa into the Belt and Road initiative would be a major step, but present a number of challenges.

On the one hand, there is the problematic relationship between infrastrure building and the exploitation of natural resources; also apparent is the need for responsible investment behavior in regard to local society and the environment.

On the other hand, Beijing needs to evaluate the financial and political risks of such major investments, which will affect their planning and execution.

While these matters need to be adressed such a potential inclusion is a major opportunity for the two sides and its international impact would have historic proportions. 

Miroslav Atanasov, Ph.D. (Intercultural Studies) is a Lecturer at the School of Foreign Languages ?at Renmin University of China. He does extensive research, writing, and consulting on Africa-related issues.

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