If the ‘8th Forum on China Africa Cooperation’ at the end of November was an indicator of the intensified competition between the United States, Europe and China for Africa, Beijing kept a fairly low profile. The limited media attention given to the meeting, which was scheduled only at the ministerial level, gives the impression that most observers wanted to quickly and graciously spread the cloak of silence over FOCAC8 and its results.
With the ‘Dual Circulation Strategy’ (DCS), the government in Beijing has once again thrown a stone into the water to test the effects of the announcement. However, after a few critical articles, the international discussion has remained surprisingly quiet. Yet the deliberations could have far-reaching implications for further globalization and China’s leading role in it.
China’s authorities report soaring foreign trade figures, despite of the on-going Corona pandemic. A further shift towards the BRI countries is emerging, a trend that plays into the narrative of the ‘Dual Circulation Strategy’ announced this summer. This “new development model” intends, on the one hand, to further enhance the internal economy, while ‘external circulation’ refers to further integration into the global economy through foreign trade and investments.
The narrative of Chinese “debt diplomacy” is rather simplistic: Lending by state-owned banks is not transparent, encourages corruption, and serves primarily Chinese corporations, it goes. This would lead inevitably into a debt trap. It appears as if Beijing’s policy is fundamentally different from the practices of international financial institutions, governments of Western industrialized countries or large commercial banks.
When China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Myanmar in January this year, he combined the announcement of vaccine supplies with offers of deepened economic cooperation. The timing of the visit was astute, coming after the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD, was re-elected for a second term in November 2020 – and two weeks before the military coup.
Ethiopia has become one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. The rail link between Djibouti on the Red Sea and Addis Ababa, built with Chinese credit and by Chinese companies, provides the landlocked country with a connection to the ‚Maritime Silk Road’. An escalation of the civil war, which broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray Province in early November, would be damaging to Beijing’s plans for Africa.
When fifteen Asia-Pacific countries signed the free trade agreement RCEP in Mid-November it was an event with exceptional dimensions: It creates an economic zone with a population of 2.2 billion people and around one third of the world’s economic output. There are three of Asia’s four leading economies – China, Japan and South Korea – first time together involved.