State Councilor Yang Jiechi’s Interview
With Independent News & Media South Africa
October 2015, South Africa
(1) As Your Excellency have visited South Africa several times, what’s your impression about South Africa? What is the aim of your trip to South Africa this time?
State Councilor Yang Jiechi: South Africa is known as the “Rainbow Nation”. Every time I visit South Africa, I am deeply impressed with its breathtaking scenery, diverse cultures of unique charm, and the warm hospitality of the South African people. More importantly, I am always heartened to see new changes in South Africa. In recent years, under the leadership of President Zuma, the South African government has pursued a policy of national reconciliation, committed itself to growing the economy and improving people’s livelihood and enhanced its international standing and regional influence. I sincerely wish the South African people greater strides in the path of national development.
My visit this time is for the main purpose of comparing notes with the South African side with regard to the preparations for the FOCAC summit in Johannesburg this December and having an in-depth discussion on the arrangements and deliverables of President Xi Jinping’s visit to South Africa. We wish to work together with South Africa to translate the important agreement reached by our two presidents into concrete actions and specific programs and make the summit and the visit a complete success.
(2) This year marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). How do you evaluate the past 15 years’ development of FOCAC? As we all know, the upcoming summit is the first FOCAC summit held on African soil. What is the significance of this summit for China-Africa cooperation, and what outcomes can we expect from the summit?
State Councilor Yang Jiechi: Since the inception of FOCAC 15 years ago, China and Africa have had fruitful cooperation across the board. Political mutual trust has grown significantly. The two sides understand and support each other on matters involving each other’s core interests and major concerns, thus upholding the common interests of China, Africa and the developing world. Our practical cooperation has progressed in leaps and bounds, delivering tangible benefits to both the Chinese and African people. Statistics show that in 2014, trade between China and Africa exceeded US$220 billion and China’s investment stock in Africa surpassed US$30 billion, an increase of 22 and 60 times respectively over the figures in 2000 when FOCAC was just established. Moreover, the share of China-Africa trade in Africa’s total foreign trade has increased from 3.82% to 20.5%.
What is particularly noteworthy is China’s commitment to helping Africa break the two development bottlenecks of underdeveloped infrastructure and lack of human resources. The efforts have already made a big difference. By June 2015, over 3,800 kilometers of railways and 4,334 kilometers of roads have been either built or under construction in Africa with Chinese financing. More than 200 schools of various kinds have been established with Chinese assistance or financing. The Chinese government provides Africa with more than 7,000 government scholarships each semester and holds over 100 multilateral and bilateral technical and management training programs and senior officials workshops for Africa each year.
FOCAC has proven to be an important platform for collective dialogue between China and African countries and an effective mechanism for enhanced practical cooperation. As such, FOCAC is very much welcomed by all parties and has indeed become a banner for promoting China-Africa unity and cooperation and leading international cooperation on Africa.
As far as the African countries are concerned, they have the common desire to accelerate industrialization and agricultural modernization in a bid to realize economic independence and self-reliant, sustainable development. After more than 30 years of reform, opening up and rapid development, China has developed a large number of competitive industries and accumulated strong production capacities. This puts us in a better position to work with other countries to achieve win-win development based on complementarity of strengths. In other words, given their respective strengths, China and Africa are each other’s opportunity and need each other for cooperation and development. Convened against such a background, the FOCAC Summit, the first of its kind to be held on the African continent, will have great and far-reaching significance for boosting comprehensive transformation and upgrading of China-Africa relations and promoting more balanced, inclusive and sustainable development of the world.
In his first visit to Africa in 2013, President Xi Jinping put forth the principles of sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith to guide our relations with Africa, and called for taking a right approach to justice and interests. The fundamental purpose is to closely combine efforts to help Africa achieve economic independence, self-reliance and sustainable development with China’s own development, and achieve win-win cooperation and common development. China and Africa will seize this rare historical opportunity of the summit, fully leverage their advantages of political mutual trust and economic complementarity and step up mutually beneficial cooperation in the five priority areas of industrialization, agricultural modernization, health, people-to-people exchanges and peace and security. We believe that this summit, through its new plans, new blueprint and new momentum for China-Africa cooperation, will send to the rest of the world a strong message of China and Africa working together for win-win cooperation and common development and usher in a new prospect of development to people in China, Africa and beyond.
China, in the spirit of equal-footed consultation and joint preparation for the summit, stands ready to work with South Africa and the other 50 FOCAC members on the African side to make the summit in Johannesburg a historic gathering that will strengthen China-Africa unity and lead China-Africa cooperation to the future, thus writing a new chapter for China-Africa relations.
(3) How do you see today’s China-South Africa ties, and what are the opportunities and challenges? What outcomes can we expect from President Xi’s visit to further the China-South Africa relations?
State Councilor Yang Jiechi: With the establishment of the comprehensive strategic partnership and the signing of the China-South Africa 5-10 Year Framework on Cooperation, the relationship between China and South Africa is at its best in history. The two countries enjoy close high-level exchanges. This year alone, the two presidents will have five meetings. We have reached an unprecedented level in political mutual trust and given each other understanding and support on issues relating to each other’s core interests and major concerns. Practical cooperation is booming, delivering more real benefits to people of both countries. In 2014, bilateral trade reached US$60.3 billion, an increase of 40 folds over that of 1998 when the diplomatic ties were established. The stock of Chinese investment in South Africa has reached US$12 billion, making China one of the major investors in South Africa. At the same time, South Africa is the leading African investor in China.
I have every confidence in the future growth of China-South Africa relations. Richly endowed in natural and human resources and committed to its strategy of reindustrialization, South Africa enjoys huge market size and development potential. As for China, thanks to its rapid economic growth for more than three decades, it boasts comparative advantages in capital, technology, business and personnel. China and South Africa are each other’s necessary and natural partners of development and have before them a rare, historic opportunity for cooperation.
President Xi Jinping will attend the FOCAC Summit in Johannesburg and visit South Africa. This will surely give a strong boost to the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries. The two sides need to seize this important opportunity to fully leverage their advantages in political mutual trust and economic complementarity, deepen cooperation in such key areas as special economic zone, marine economy, manufacturing industry, energy and resources, infrastructure, and people-to-people exchanges, and promote win-win cooperation for common development, thus bringing more tangible benefits to the two peoples.
Of course, the two sides also face numerous challenges in implementing, in a more effective manner, the important agreement reached by the leaders of our two countries. We hope that the two sides will create for each other better business and investment environment, find opportunities amid challenges and turn enormous cooperation potential into fruitful results on the ground.
(4) Currently, China is encountered with slowdown in economic growth with its stock and currency markets having undergone fluctuations, which have attracted world’s attention. Some people ask whether Africa can still count on China’s development to bolster Africa’s development and argue Africa should turn to other partners and strengthen cooperation with them. How do you see the current state of the Chinese economy and its development prospect? Under such circumstances, how could the two sides further deepen win-win cooperation? What are the prospects of China-Africa cooperation?
State Councilor Yang Jiechi: Since the introduction of reform and opening up more than 30 years ago, the Chinese economy has grown rapidly at an average annual rate of about 10%. It is now the second largest in the world. At present, the Chinese economy is shifting from a high-speed growth to a medium-high growth. This is not only because of the sluggish recovery of the world economy as a whole, but also a result of China’s proactive management to promote structural reform, lower the speed of growth and improve the quality of growth. We define this as the “new normal” of the Chinese economy. In the long run, it will help increase the efficiency of the Chinese economy and upgrade it, and ensure that the Chinese economy continues to grow in a steady and sound manner.
The Chinese economy registered a 7% growth in the first half of this year. Such performance is still one of the best among the world’s major economies. The long-term prospects of the Chinese economy remain sound. Major steps are being taken in China to stabilize growth, deepen reform, adjust structure, improve people’s well-being and prevent risks in order to sustain a medium-high speed of growth. China is making progress in its pursuit of a new type of industrialization, IT application, urbanization and agricultural modernization, and with a high savings rate and consumption potential, China enjoys huge market space and potential. China’s stock market has reached a stage of self-correction and self-adjustment. And there is no basis for continuous depreciation of the RMB.
Statistics show that the Chinese economy remains a major contributor to economic growth in the whole world and in Africa. In the first half of this year, 30% of the world economic growth came from China, and China’s role in facilitating the rapid growth of African economies is widely appreciated. It is true that China’s import and export have somewhat slowed down this year, due to price drop of commodities on the international market. But in terms of aggregate volume, China is still buying more commodities, not less, and its import of goods will remain on a steady upward trajectory. It is estimated that in the next five years, China will import US$10 trillion of goods and invest over US$500 billion overseas, and outbound visits made by Chinese people will exceed 500 million. What has happened proves that China’s reform and opening-up have created development opportunities to the world and contributed in many ways to Africa’s rapid development. China will continue to advance reform and opening up. This will bring not just more dividend to the development of the Chinese economy, but also more opportunity for the prosperity of Africa and the world.
Having gone through thick and thin together, China and Africa are bound by this community of shared future and interests. In the 1960s and 1970s, the two sides forged profound friendship in the fight for national independence and liberation. Today, nothing should stop the two sides from coming together to pursue common development. Africa is blessed with abundant natural and human resources and enjoys huge market and development potential. The Agenda 2063 and its first Ten Year Plan adopted at this year’s AU Summit have prioritized industrialization and sustainable development, ushering Africa into a new stage of development. As for China, with more than three decades of fast growth, it now has rich experience, mature technology, cost-effective equipment and sufficient capital in the field of industrialization. More importantly, China has the strong political will to support Africa in achieving economic independence and self-reliant sustainable development. China and Africa will usher in a new phase of win-win cooperation and common development.
As an important member of the international community, Africa deserves greater international support in its development. China welcomes more diversity in Africa’s partnerships and stands ready to work with other partners in the international community to support Africa under the principle of “raised, agreed and led by Africa.” China believes Africa belongs to the African people. Respecting Africa’s centrality is essential for such cooperation.
(5) South Africa is the rotating chair of the Group of 77 plus China this year. Not long ago, China and the UN co-hosted the High-Level Round Table on South-South Cooperation in UN headquarters. President Xi Jinping chaired the meeting and shared his views on South-South cooperation. As two important developing countries, what roles could China and South Africa play in promoting South-South cooperation? And what kind of cooperation could be launched in the future?
State Councilor Yang Jiechi: South-South cooperation is an important means for developing countries to seek strength through unity and pursue win-win outcome. It is also a significant force in international development cooperation. China attaches great importance to South-South cooperation. It initiated and co-chaired with the United Nations the Round Table on South-South Cooperation during this year’s UN Sustainable Development Summit. President Xi Jinping and over 20 foreign leaders and representatives of international organizations reviewed the journey of South-South cooperation and explored future cooperation and development, which has lent fresh impetus to South-South cooperation.
As President Xi pointed out at the High-level Round Table on South-South Cooperation, the post-2015 development agenda has set higher development goals and raised higher development requirements for all countries. South-South cooperation should take the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda as an opportunity to boost developing countries’ development in quality, scale and scope. China and South Africa are both major developing countries. We should stand firm in upholding the overall interests of developing countries in implementing the post-2015 development agenda and on other major international issues. We have provided assistance within our abilities to African and other developing countries and given support to all countries in achieving common prosperity in order to take South-South cooperation to new heights.
Today, pursuing the common task of development, China and South Africa have all the more reason to work together. As President Xi points out, developing countries need to share their successful governance experience, synergize development strategies, start with connectivity and global production capacity cooperation to build closer partnerships in trade, finance, investment, infrastructure and environmental protection. Along this line of thinking, China will step up practical cooperation with South Africa. Meanwhile, China will continue to work with South Africa to promote global economic governance reform, urge developed countries to make good on their ODA commitment, improve the external environment for the development of developing countries, and help them achieve poverty reduction and development goals and successfully implement the post-2015 development agenda.
(6) Both China and South Africa are BRICS members. Actually it is China that invited South Africa into BRICS. As the world economy is undergoing profound adjustment, BRICS countries also face some difficulties and challenges in development and cooperation. Some people think BRICS cooperation has already lost its momentum. How do you see the prospects of BRICS cooperation?
State Councilor Yang Jiechi: Given the current sluggish world economic growth, the BRICS countries now face growing difficulties and challenges in their economic development. However, as a Chinese saying goes, it takes a long-term view to put things into perspective. Similarly, we need to adopt a historical, long-term and holistic perspective to truly understand the development of and cooperation among the BRICS countries.
In the short run, the BRICS countries do see some moderation in their economic growth and face certain problems in structural adjustment and transition. Nonetheless, if we look beyond the immediate trend lines, these are inevitable hurdles that come with development and must be overcome in order to leap over the middle-income trap. Moreover, we have to recognize what remains unchanged. The positive fundamentals of the BRICS economies and their tremendous potential for future growth have not changed. The historical trend of their rising stature in the international political and economic landscape also remains unchanged.
Compared with the past, the economic growth of the BRICS countries may have somewhat dropped from their record high. But compared with other countries in the world, their speed of growth remains at quite a high level, particularly when compared with that of the developed countries. Over the past decade, the BRICS countries have accounted for over 50 percent of world economic growth. According to the IMF projections, the average growth rate of the BRICS countries between 2015 and 2020 will continue to outpace the world average, which means that they will remain important drivers of world economic growth.
Internationally, the BRICS countries have been profoundly affected by inadequate global demand, lackluster trade and investment, and weak commodity prices. Domestically, as they press ahead with economic transformation and upgrading through proactive policy readjustment, they have to pay the price and experience the growing pains. However, with the attainment of growth featuring better quality and high efficiency, their economic structure will be improved and their inherent momentum of growth will be stronger.
In recent years, cooperation among the BRICS countries have grown with far greater depth and breadth than that of the inception period. With the participation of South Africa in particular, the BRICS members have covered four continents and spanned both the North and South hemispheres. Having such growing influence and appeal, the BRICS has become a major force in the international relations and an active player in the building of international system. The BRICS countries have launched the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement. These two flagship programs fully testify to the ability of BRICS countries in carrying out effective cooperation. We are convinced that as long as the BRICS countries pull in one direction, uphold the spirit of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation and work together for closer partnership, BRICS cooperation will embrace an even brighter future.