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If You Want a Preview of the FOCAC Agenda, Look at What Xi Said During the China-ASEAN Summit

Chinese President Xi Jinping chairs the Asean-China summit via video link on Monday. Image via Xinhua.

President Xi Jinping spoke on the opening day of the virtual China-ASEAN leaders summit on Monday and laid out a five-point plan that echoes many of the themes that Chinese officials have been hinting will be discussed at the upcoming Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) ministerial conference in Dakar next week:

  • MULTILATERALISM: China’s resistance to what it perceives as unilateral sanctions and other measures by the United States emerged as the first point articulated by President Xi: “China firmly opposes hegemonism and power politics,” he said and called for “the need to practice true multilateralism.” 

    It is very likely that this will emerge as a prominent theme in the FOCAC Action Plan as well.
  • COVID: PresidentXi called for the creation of a “health shield” against COVID-19 and announced further financial support for ASEAN countries to help bolster their public health response to the pandemic. He also announced a new donation of 150 million doses of COVID vaccines to countries in the region.

    It is almost certain that a similar announcement will be made at FOCAC for African countries.
  • DEVELOPMENT: President Xi touted his Global Development Initiative and a commitment to open China’s market to $150 billion worth of ASEAN agricultural products over the next five years. He also raised the idea of creating an ASEAN free trade area that would complement the new Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade zone that will go into effect on January 1.

    Greater access to the China market for African agricultural products will be a key theme on the agenda at the next FOCAC and there will likely be a lot of discussion around the Global Development Initiative, as well as linking Chinese trade to the African Continental Free Trade Area.
  • GREEN: Although the President did not announce any specific commitments related to green energy and finance, it was nonetheless noted as the fourth pillar in his regional plan.

    Chinese officials have said that sustainable energy development will be a key theme at FOCAC and will include more specific initiatives than what was announced on Monday at the ASEAN summit.
  • PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE EXCHANGES: “We need to actively consider orderly resumption of the flow of people after the COVID-19 pandemic,” President Xi said in his final pillar that called for more civil society exchange. He specifically said China would support more vocational training in the region and give students more scholarships.

    Education and vocational training have long been key FOCAC themes and there is no doubt these themes will emerge in Dakar, as they did in the ASEAN summit.

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