Author: Gabriel Jonsson, Johan Lagerkvist.
Introduction: China’s rulers, foreign ministry and state-controlled newspapers all say that Africa is ripe for take-off. This optimistic slogan is refreshing after so many decades of so- called Afro-pessimism, which focused on the tragedies of the resource curse, war, disease and incompetent governance. The siren song is performed with enthusiasm by China’s Communist Party leaders, stock markets and fund managers alike. To a large extent the new optimism is the result of the search by Chinese state-owned companies and other Asian multinationals for raw materials in Africa. It is arguable that China’s financing and implementation of Africa’s construction boom contributes to better development prospects for the world’s poorest continent. New South-South cooperation, and particularly Asian-African partnerships in various forms, is clearly deepening economic and political relations with African countries, leading to a redrawing of geo-economic boundaries and the geopolitical map of Africa.
Testifying to both the increasing importance of and also its profound lack of knowledge about how South-South aid practices and cooperation actually work, the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD-DAC) in 2009 set up its Task Team on South-South Cooperation. A project is under way to collect case histories on South-South development cooperation that can inform the next High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness to be held in South Korea in November 2011.2 These intercontinental transformations have far-reaching consequences for a world order long dominated by Euro-Atlantic and Japanese military and economic power. China’s growing importance for Africa’s development is arguably by far the most important game- changer in the foreign relations of African countries since gaining independence and the collapse of the Soviet Union. For China, Africa has special importance linked to political loyalties and the mutual support exchanged in multilateral forums focusing on climate change and human rights, as well as its abundant natural resources and emerging markets for inexpensive goods.
Inroads by Asian countries such as China and India, but also South Korea and Malaysia, portend a new era of South-South cooperation and a remarkable shift in both trade relations and aid paradigms. As can be deduced from the title of this paper, the increasingly prevalent Asian aid is of a strategic nature. It is not about philanthropy, but it would also be grossly inaccurate to call it neo-colonialism or plunder. It is about increasing trade and business, expanding markets and gaining access to natural resources. Development assistance is certainly a good entry point for these endeavors. The presence in Africa is meant to provide two-way benefits: South- South Cooperation is not unidirectional. Several Asian nations have organized forums and summits together with African countries to enhance mutual goals. These new Asian-African architectures and frameworks are fundamental to the building of consistent bilateral and multilateral relations. China, Japan and India, but also South Korea, are all putting considerable efforts into vying for influence. Japan’s Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) process began this type of cooperation in 1993. Although China’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) started later, in 2000, it has been the most successful. The First Korea- Africa Forum was held to strengthen cooperation with African countries in November 2006.