Chinese and African officials are gathering in Dakar, Senegal today (November 29) for the much-awaited Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), a triennial high-level forum for collective dialogue between China and nearly every African country. Although China-Africa relations have a long history that can be traced back centuries, the forthcoming gathering – the forum's eighth edition – highlights the increasingly close ties and growing engagement between China and many African countries in recent decades. China and Africa actively cooperate and broadly engage on a variety of issues and in a range of fields, while economically, China has emerged as Africa's most important partner. It is the continent's largest bilateral trading partner, the biggest bilateral lender, and among the leading sources of assistance and foreign direct investment.
But this increasingly close relationship has stoked anxiety and led to scrutiny from some in the West. Frequently, the relationship is portrayed in an unjustifiably critical and negative light, often based on a Sinophobic narrative and involving paternalistic warnings to Africans of the alleged dangers of cooperation with "predatory" China. However, despite these concerns, the populations of many African countries actually see China in a much different light. In fact, for the most part, Africans view China quite favorably, according to the latest national survey results released last week by Afrobarometer.
Briefly, Afrobarometer, which is based in Accra, Ghana, is a pan-African, independent, non-partisan research network that measures public attitudes on economic, political and social matters in Africa through conducting regular face-to-face interviews. The research institution is widely regarded as the world's leading source of high-quality, reliable data on what Africans are thinking. Last week, Afrobaromenter released the results of national surveys which polled nearly 50,000 respondents in 34 African countries between the years 2019 and 2021. Among the topics covered in the nationally representative surveys was how Africans perceived China's engagement with their countries.
According to the results, Africans tend to hold positive views of China's assistance and influence on the continent. In particular, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of Africans consider the economic and political influence of China in their country as "somewhat positive" or "very positive." Notably, this is more than other countries or international and regional institutions with a significant presence on the continent, including the U.S., the United Nations, and even the African Union. It is also interesting to note that the overall positive perception of China demonstrated in the recent Afrobarometer surveys is highly consistent with the findings of surveys conducted in past years, indicating that the favorable view of China held by Africans is not something new or simply a passing development.
Although not explicitly detailed within the latest surveys, there are a number of different factors that contribute to Africans' positive perceptions of China. For one, Africans appreciate China's promotion of multilateralism and its adherence to the principles of mutual respect. In addition, for many years, China has been a consistent and reliable partner to the continent, extending various forms of socioeconomic, infrastructural, technological and other assistance.
Ultimately, this assistance has met the needs of locals, created jobs, promoted development and helped raise living standards. As a formerly underdeveloped country that has achieved great socioeconomic strides and considerable developmental progress, China also offers African countries with an alternative model for development and has committed to sharing its experience. Additionally, China has made strong contributions to peacekeeping missions across the continent and supported the operability of the African Standby Force, therefore helping promote peace, security and stability.
Not to be overlooked amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, China has supported Africa's prevention and control measures, contributed multiple batches of medical resources and vaccines, committed to making vaccines available as a global public good, and dispatched medical teams across the continent to help with capacity-building and strengthening local responses. Importantly, with the pandemic having plunged Africa into its first recession in 25 years, China has also been at the forefront of the continent's economic recovery. Specifically, China has maintained robust economic and trade cooperation with Africa, while also signing debt service suspension agreements with multiple African countries, thus becoming the biggest player in terms of relieving African debt among the G20.
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