EDC2020 Briefing to Parliamentarians and Policy-makers

29 October 2008, 1.30 - 4.30 pm, Brussels/Belgium

Title: The EU, Africa and China: opportunities and challenges of a trilateral cooperation

The European Commission has scheduled a communication on "The EU, Africa and China: Towards a trilateral dialogue and cooperation on peace, stability and sustainable development" to come out on 15 October 2008. Together with our panelists we will discuss this communication as well as the question which further opportunities and challenges occur and what they imply for political decision-making, policy-making and research. The conference is particularly intended to facilitate interaction between parliamentarians, researchers and policy-makers.

Opening: Jos van Gennip, President Society for International Development Netherlands (SID)
Panel Chair: Sven Grimm, Researcher, German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)
Speakers: Uwe Wissenbach, Coordinator for Africa-China relations, European Commission, DG Development
Helmut Reisen, Research Director, OECD Development Centre
Prof. Dr. Xuewu Gu, Director, Institute of East Asian Studies, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Senator Rene van der Linden
, Chair of the Committee for European Cooperation, Dutch Senate

Final agenda French
Final agenda English

Report on the EDC2020 Briefing Session

The panelists / © C. Heck

On 29 October 2008 a first EDC2020 Briefing to Parliamentarians and Policy-Makers entitled “The EU, Africa and China: opportunities and challenges of a trilateral cooperation” took place in Brussels. It was chaired by Sven Grimm, Research Fellow at the German Development Institute/Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), who is leading the project’s work strand on new actors in international development. The aim of the meeting was to inform the participants about the European Commission’s Communication on "The EU, Africa and China: Towards a trilateral dialogue and cooperation on peace, stability and sustainable development" published on 17 October 2008. The meeting led to a discussion on communication as well as upcoming opportunities and challenges.

In his opening speech Jos van Gennip, President of SID Netherlands Chapter and its European Programme, highlighted the fact that European challenges cannot be solved without taking the global environment and the new multipolarity into account. The most recent example he pointed out was the EU-China-Africa trilateral co-operation.

Mr Uwe Wissenbach, Coordinator for Africa-China relations at the European Commission, DG Development, said that the (largely uninformed) debate about China’s presence in Africa started in 2005/2006 when China’s engagement on the African continent was put on the agenda by the media and policy-makers. This debate led to the impression that China was about to become a dominant actor in Africa actively undermining Western policy, which is out of line with the more nuanced reality. However, Mr Wissenbach pointed out that China is mainly competing in some economic sectors and challenging the Western companies’ domination in these. One of the results is a wider range of co-operation possibilities for Africa, making the Europe-Africa co-operation based on aid less exclusive and providing welcome extra resources for Africa's development. Therefore, the European Commission seeks to show, through the Communication, that co-operation with both partners is important to the EU and that Chinese engagement should be viewed as complementary in some areas of shared interest. While the European Commission was fully aware of the criticism voiced as regards to Chinese policy, it felt the need to emphasize the synergies through co-operation and to produce win-win situations for all actors. Main areas of a possible trilateral co-operation identified by the EC are:

  1. peace and security
  2. infrastructure
  3. sustainable development of natural resources
  4. agriculture and food security.

Dialogue and co-operation should lead to exchange of experiences, better mutual understanding and joint actions where this can add value. It is a pragmatic, flexible and step-by-step approach focusing on areas where discussions are already taking place in the respective EU-Africa and EU-China partnerships. A process of consultation, including formal meetings and informal discussions, has taken place in the preparation phase of the communication. Mr Wissenbach emphasised the importance to engage a broad range of stakeholders. The Communication should be considered as an offer for cooperation to two important strategic partners of the EU, not an imposition of EU concepts on these partners.

Prof. Xuewu Gu, Chair of East Asian Politics at the Institute of East Asian Politics of the Ruhr-University Bochum, was less optimistic about the prospects of a trilateral co-operation. He outlined six main challenges to co-operation which are interconnected in many ways:

  1. A different assessment of the situation in Africa: as China is seeking to gain geopolitical influence on the continent, the integration of Chinese co-operation into Western standards is made difficult.
  2. A different weight of the co-operation with Africa on Europe’s and China’s respective agendas. While European co-operation is focusing mainly on ODA; China sees Africa as a key element in its global strategy for greater influence on the world economy.
  3. A different interest in trilateral co-operation: One the one hand, China seeks to appease European criticism on Chinese engagement in Africa through trilateral co-operation. On the other hand, the EU has an interest in integrating China in Western donor policies.
  4. A different philosophy of China and the EU when co-operating with Africa. While the EU has clear guidelines for co-operation; China rejects the idea of having a value laden co-operation and gives Africans the possibility to influence the conditions of aid and co-operation.
  5. A different approach regarding the appropriate forms of co-operation with undemocratic regimes with the EU imposing sanctions in order to enforce their standards and demands.
  6. A different answer to the question of what are the current needs of Africans. On the one hand, China focuses on infrastructure as a precondition to economic development. On the other hand, Europe puts a main emphasis on good governance and supporting the civil society.

Prof. Gu concluded that one could speak of two competing models of development. EU would have to do more than enforcing the trilateral co-operation to get Africa’s attention back: open the agricultural markets provide infrastructure and industrialisation opportunities to Africa and introduce good government, human rights and rule of law. According to him, it would be wrong to expect from China, an undemocratic regime, to support good governance in partner countries.

Dr. Helmut Reisen, Research Director of the OECD Development Centre, tried to give a balanced approach to trilateral co-operation and highlighted two motives for Chinese engagement in Africa being respectively raw materials and a high return on investment. With regard to raw materials he highlighted both risks (intensification of dual structures, little labour options) and chances (diversification of possible partners and means of partnerhip, rising prices). Until 2006, European states feared that China could use their lending policy to access resources and undermine the Western initiative towards debt sustainability. The second economic motive was a low return on investment for Chinese companies in China which is due to a national saving rate of about 50% of GDP. In the struggle to survive, Chinese firms go abroad where higher returns on investment are possible.

Dr. Reisen underpinned that in order to increase the European influence with respect to Africa and China, African based organisations like the African Development Bank should be more involved as they are not perceived as being ruled by Western interests or standards. Also, the European private sector should be included in the trilateral co-operation as it could contribute to the demands of Africans (e.g. infrastructure). A characteristic of European co-operation would be a less action and more bureaucracy driven approach; in contrast to the quick and efficient way of delivering on the Chinese side.

From a global governance perspective, Dr. Reisen, pointed out that a redefinition of co-operation standards should be envisaged together with Africa and China, because the existing standards have mainly been set and influenced by Western interests. However, he closed by saying that it is important to differentiate between the different actors and to see their heterogeneity. He quoted an old Chinese saying “Beijing is far, the sky is high”.

Senator Rene van der Linden, Chair of the Committee for European Cooperation of the Dutch Senate said that the Chinese presence in Africa is important in the sense that it catches the EU’s attention towards Africa, especially as we are facing times when the support for ODA has come under pressure: discussions about aid effectiveness have shown some negative perceptions of aid, the financial crisis could lead to reduced funds and protectionism threatens the sustainability of aid. Responding to Prof. Gu he acknowledged the challenges defined, but said that rule of law has to be seen as a precondition for sustainable development. Rather than imposing values, good examples should lead to changing values from inside. In this sense, adding values to its co-operation, the EU should be strong in the competition with China. With regard other sectors the EU should admit that for instance in the sector of infrastructure China is more efficient, faster and cheaper and that Chinese engagement is in the interest of Africans.  The financial possibilities of new actors should also be seen as an opportunity for African development.

Sven Grimm summarised Senator van der Linden’s presentation identifying two main arguments. On the one hand the need for co-operation despite competition and on the other hand the perception of China as a driver of change in Europe.

One major point made during the discussion was the need to include not only education but also research capacity building in the trilateral co-operation. Research capacity in Africa would be an important factor in the long term as research and innovation are needed for Africans to ensure the ownership of the development process. Still, most of ODA would be spent on research capacity in the North. A positive example for building research capacity is the policy of the Swedish agency Sida/SAREC which supports regional centres of excellence.

One remark made on the communication was that there should be not only a thematic focus of co-operation but also a regional focus.

Prof. Nadarajah Shanmugaratnam, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NORAGRIC), concluded the session pointing towards the difficult nature of the trilateral co-operation bringing together very different actors. However, he saw a general air of optimism and said that we should hope that this briefing will contribute to further action.

By Charlotta Heck, EADI

Preparatory reading

European Parliament, Committee on Development: Draft Report on China's policy and its effects on Africa (2007/XXXX(INI)), 17 November 2007
More information on the activities of the European Parliament.

European Commission: Communication on "The EU, Africa and China: Towards a trilateral dialogue and cooperation on peace, stability and sustainable development", 17 October 2008
Communication (EN), Annex (EN)
Communication (FR), Annex (FR)

Sven Grimm, The triangle China-Africa-Europe – Why co-operate and how?, October 2008

Additional reading

Helmut Reisen and Sokhna Ndoye: Prudent versus Imprudent Lending to Africa: From Debt Relief to Emerging Lenders, Working Paper No. 268, OECD Development Centre, February 2008

Winfried Jung, Dirk Messner, Yang Guang (editors): Chinese and European Perspectives on Development Cooperation with Africa. Values, Objectives and Modalities, KAS Schriftenreihe China No. 84, 2008.

Peter Kragelund: The Return of Non-DAC  Donors to Africa: New Prospects for African Development, Paper, Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), August 2008

Jian-Ye Wang: What Drives China's Growing Role in Africa?, Working Paper, International Monetary Fund, October 2007

Margaret C. Lee, Henning Melber, Sanusha Naidu and Ian Taylor: China in Africa, Current African Issues No. 33, Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), January 2007

Penny Davies: China and the End of Poverty in Africa – Towards Mutual Benefit?, Report, Diakonia and Eurodad, August 2007

Nadarajah Shanmugaratnam summarises the discussion

Uwe Wissenbach on the EC Communication

Xuewu Gu on the Chinese perspective

Helmut Reisen on the economic aspects of co-operation

Charles Goerens on windows of opportunities and risks

Alan E. George on how the co-operation could work

More resources

Report by Martin Behrens (Euforic)