Wednesday, 30 April 2008

ASIAN-AFRICAN UNITY DEVELOPING

China, India can rewrite Asia-Africa unity story

By He Wenping
China Daily
2008-04-22 07:28

While we followed the progress of the Beijing Olympic Games
torch relay earlier this month, the first India-Africa
Summit was held with great fanfare on April 8-9 in India's
capital, New Delhi. Heads of state from 14 African
countries, including South Africa, Algeria, Uganda, Ghana
and Tanzania, attended the inaugural gathering. They passed
two documents of vital importance - the New Delhi
Declaration and the Framework Agreement on India-Africa
Cooperation - that will pave the way for the future
development of India-Africa relations.

It has been said that India's decision to hold this African
summit was inspired by the China-Africa Summit of 2006.
Indeed it is not hard at all to see the link between the
two summits. The Indian academic community and the media
have made no efforts to deny the link.

Some Indian and other media organizations made no bones
about comparing the New Delhi summit to the one held in
Beijing two years ago. Quite a few foreign media channels
gave prominence to the view that India is competing against
China to influence Africa, stepping up efforts to corner
more African resources and market before China does, and so
on.

There is no denying that fast economic growth of both the
Asian giants and their growing influence in Africa gave
rise to comparative studies on the development patterns of
the "Chinese dragon" and the "Indian elephant" and on their
impact on Africa's development.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development
published a study in May, 2006, titled The Rise of China
and India: What's in it for Africa. The World Bank followed
with a similar report - Africa's Silk Road: China and
India's new economic frontier - the next year.

Both papers are considered authoritative and professional.
And they both agreed the rise of Chinese and Indian
economies is having a positive impact on Africa's
development. They argued that the fast economic development
of China and India is boosting that of Africa much quicker
than most people expected and has helped Africa maintain
unprecedented and close contacts with the world economy
through exports of resources and raw material.

Of course, apart from numerous analyses and commentaries,
there have been painstaking efforts by ill-meaning people
who see things through tinted glasses to play up
China-India rivalries and conflicts as well. Such writings
invariably try to sow distrust between the two Asian
neighbors by flattering India, while belittling China.

Some Indian observers pointed out publicly that such
mentality is born of a desperation prompted by the
fast-approaching end of Western colonial influence in
Africa as well as by the fear of and objection to the
reality that rising nations such as China and India are
changing the world order Western powers prefer. And, by
sowing discord between China and India, the detractors wish
to see the two Asian neighbors fight till they are both too
hurt to react when the West takes control of Africa.

As a matter of fact, it is not important to know which
summit inspired the other. What is important is the fact
that emerging Asian economies such as China and India and
Africa's rising economic potential and international clout
have been drawing the two developing continents closer in
the past 10 years or so. We should hail the coming tide of
Asia-Africa cooperation, because it is fueling what we call
South-South cooperation and contributing to the
international cooperation that will help Africa attain the
United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.

Africa has been drawing the world's attention in the past
decade as the situation on the continent gradually improved
and its resources and market potential showed growing
significance. Take a closer look and one will see that the
"Africa fever" was not the result of its own rising status
alone but of increased cooperation with emerging Asian
economies and its "look-east" policy as well.

Since the end of the colonial era in the 1960s, Africa has
largely remained a supplier of raw material for developed
Western countries, while Western nations' aid for Africa
has failed to lift the continent out of poverty and
backwardness.

That is why African nations have come to the consensus to
"look east" for development models in Asia.

African countries seem to identify with India's development
pattern, which combines democracy organically with its
developing country status - very different from the
patterns in Western nations. African nations are also
interested in India's experience in handling conflicts
between castes and clans and preventing the gap between
rich and poor from worsening.

The eastward movement of African countries not only helps
them learn from Asian countries' advanced experiences but
also raises their stakes in South-North talks and
negotiations. Such engagements should help them protect
their natural resources, while developing the economy,
emphasize environmental protection.

Thus, when we look at the India-Africa Summit, which has
been billed as "India's top event in foreign affairs", it
is necessary to recognize the relationship of mutual
example and certain amount of competition between China and
India in their cooperation with African nations. Even more
important is that we need to see from a broad human
development point of view the mutually-complementary nature
of the two Asian giants' assistance to African development
and Africa's absorption of different "nutrients" from
Chinese and Indian development patterns.

The roles that China and India play to strengthen
Asia-Africa unity and South-South cooperation are of
historic significance. There is no reason why the world's
top two developing nations, with matching populations,
cannot play joint catalysts in taking Asia-Africa
cooperation into a new era.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of West Asian
and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences

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