By Ma Guihua, China Features
In 1956, seven years after New China was founded, Egypt became the first country in Africa to recognize China and forge diplomatic relations with the young People's Republic. Now, 53 years on, as China is celebrating its 60th anniversary, China has befriended 47 of the 53 countries on the continent.
What is more, in an ever more globalized world, the traditional brotherhood between China and African countries in the yesteryears have been updated to a "strategic" partnership, with richer connotations.
This new partnership, formulated by Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2006 at the peak of the Forum on China and Africa Cooperation when 48 heads of African countries met in Beijing for their largest gathering, spells out the principles to bring China, the world's largest developing country, and Africa, the largest continental concentration of developing countries, together as the two sides see more common interests in the new era.
The strategic partnership secured in the political document of Beijing Declaration highlights equality and mutual trust in political affairs, mutual benefit and win-win solution in economic cooperation, and cultural interaction to promote mutual understanding and friendship, in a bid to push for a more harmonious international order.
As Hu Jintao said at the opening ceremony of the Beijing summit, the new China-Africa strategic partnership is not only called for by the increasing China-Africa cooperation, but also a necessity for world peace and development.
Ever since China's reform and opening up in 1978, huge productivity has been unleashed in China, which has sustained a two-digit growth rate for well over the last decade. The economic boom powered by a market economy with Chinese characteristics has lifted over 230 million rural Chinese out of poverty, making the country the first in the world to accomplish the UN Millennium Goal for poverty reduction.
While savoring the fruits of its own growth, China has never forgotten its obligations to the African brothers, thanks largely to their support, China resumed its legal seat at the United Nations in 1971.
Over the past 50 odd years, China has offered aid to 53 African countries with about 800 projects, constructing over 2,000-kilometer of railroad, 3,000-kilometer of highway, sending medical teams that amounted to 15,000 person times, treating some 240 million patients.
The projects, to the tune of 6 billion U.S. dollars and with no strings attached, sometimes were carried out when China itself was suffering economic difficulties.
Five years since the inauguration of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation, China had again relieved 31 African countries of 10.9 billion yuan (1.36 billion U.S. dollars) worth of debt.
China "feels indebted to" the African people, said Premier Wen Jiabao during his visit to Egypt in 2006. "We should never remember the benefits we have offered nor forget the favor received," Wen added, quoting an old Chinese proverb.
China's economic success has been great inspiration to Africa, a continent slowly recovering from the ravage of war and famine with a growing rate at around 5% in the past years, higher than the world average.
"As Africans demonstrate renewed resolve to address the challenges confronting their continent, they can benefit greatly from the experience of their friends in China, who have had such success in sustaining growth and reducing poverty," said Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General on the occasion of the Beijing summit.
He hailed the grand gathering in Beijing "a historic opportunity for China and Africa to build on these shared ideals, and to advanced South-South cooperation."
In 2006, China pledged to increase its aid to Africa by one fold in 2009 and endeavored to bring bilateral trade to 100 billion U.S. dollars by 2010.
Three years on, despite the global financial crisis, China has kept its promises. In 2008, bilateral trade rose to 108 billion U.S. dollars, almost doubling the figure in 2006. Nearly half of the African countries have expanded their exports to China by over 50 percent.
China-Africa Development Fund is in operation; debt relief is half way through; zero-tariff for 454 types of commodities are on the way; work on the Africa Union Center has started; the first trade and economic zone, malaria prevention and treatment center, and an agricultural demonstration center are all ready for work.
Since 1980s, China has shifted its aid to Africa from simple relief through goods and cash, dubbed "blood transfusion", to development-oriented relief such as training, technology and knowledge transfer, to focus more on capacity building, which is essential to Africans developing Africa.
As an emerging economy, China is increasingly aware of its obligation to the international community. China was the first country to clearly propose and promote the three-party mechanism on Darfur. It is also the first country beyond Africa to send peacekeeping forces to the Darfur region in Sudan.
As a responsible power, China has given its full support to United Nations missions in Africa, sending so far more than 800 peacekeeping troops to war-torn countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia.
However, China's increasing involvement in Africa plus its principle of non-interference into the political affairs of African countries is sometimes viewed in a different light, certain western critics even called it "neo-colonialism".
Bill Durodie, associate fellow with the Royal Institute of International Affairs, United Kingdom, said in 2008 at a conference in London that China's trade and investment in Africa benefits not only Africans, but the Europeans and the United States as well.
"African countries that have been growing at 5-6 percent for a decade need new roads, power stations, hospitals, schools and manufactured goods,' he said, adding "Unlike others in the region, the Chinese have a reputation for paying promptly and well."
According to Durodie, Western countries' criticizing on China's new role and impact on Africa is a sign of the Western imagination's inability to view Africans as capable of dealing with their own problems and the West's obsession with viewing China as malign.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, also noted in his a speech at the 2006 Beijing summit: "We hold that the establishment of a new type of strategic partnership is both the shared desire and independent choice of China and Africa, serves our common interests, and will help enhance solidarity, mutual support and assistance and unity of the developing countries and contribute to durable peace and harmonious development in the world."
Indeed, the new China-Africa strategic partnership will carry the two sides far into the future and, for all to see.