The Main Areas and Mechanism of China-Africa Cooperation from the Perspective of Human Rights— Based on the Analysis of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation
May 15,2022   By:CSHRS
The Main Areas and Mechanism of China-Africa Cooperation from the Perspective of Human Rights
Based on the Analysis of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation
XU Yao*
Abstract: China-Africa cooperation has a long history and a solid foundation of mutual trust. Since the launch of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, China and African countries have conducted more comprehensive and institutionalized cooperation, and achieved a series of achievements which have attracted the attention of the international community. From the perspective of human rights protection, China-Africa cooperation is mainly concentrated in five areas, namely: poverty alleviation, medical and health, the ecological environment, conflict management, education and cultural communication. Based on the practices in each of these fields, it can be summarized that there are five mechanisms, i.e., the approach mechanism, material support mechanism, capacity-building mechanism, system optimization mechanism, and mechanism for breakthroughs on key issues. The main areas and mechanism of China-Africa cooperation is a potential network structure and has become a powerful impetus to promote the joint building of a community of shared future between China and Africa.
Keywords: the forum on China-Africa cooperation · China-Africa cooperation · the perspective of human rights · a community with a shared future for human beings
The cooperation between China and African countries, taking the actual needs of both sides as the basis, affects the interaction of global forces and the restructuring of the global landscape. From the perspective of human rights, in order to safeguard national interests and influence the rules of interaction in the Western-led human rights discourse system, China needs to send a strong and common message of solidarity with the countries of the South. Africa is the continent with the largest number of countries of the South and where these countries are most united, occupies an important position in international human rights affairs. At the same time, there is huge space for China-Africa cooperation in such aspects as resource endowment, comparative advantage and sharing of governance experience. African countries face many challenges, including huge development pressure, fragile public order, backward technological capacity, poverty, and the limitations and disadvantages of North-South cooperation,1 which have prompted them to learn from China’s experience in economic and social development and technology within the framework of South-South cooperation. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China is also an important force representing the voice of developing countries, including African countries. China-Africa cooperation, based on profound historical traditions and mutual trust,2 is also a realistic need to face the huge pressure of human rights development.
From the perspective of human rights, China-Africa cooperation includes three categories: First, cooperation in the field of international politics or international relations mainly refers to the communication and mutual support between China and Africa on human rights-related issues in the United Nations and other international arenas, including mutual support based on voting rules and joint statements based on common interests or values. Second,cooperation in domestic human rights protection does not mean that China undertakes the obligation to protect the human rights of the African people, or African countries undertake the obligation to protect the human rights of the Chinese people, but rather that through their bilateral cooperation, the governments or other organizations of China and African countries will enjoy better conditions to protect human rights in their respective countries. Third, human rights exchanges in the field of culture and education mainly take the form of equal dialogue and mutual learning among civilizations. This paper analyses China-Africa cooperation of the second and third types from the perspective of human rights rather than that in the United Nations and other international arenas.3
I. Five Main Areas of China-Africa Cooperation from the Perspective of Human Rights
China-Africa cooperation has a long history. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China began to provide assistance in various forms to African countries in support of their struggles for national independence and for economic and social development. After China began its reform and opening-up in 1978, China and Africa paid more attention to economic and trade exchanges and development cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. In 2000, the two sides founded the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which has been held seven times. Each forum has formulated targeted action plans in different fields. See Table 1 for the time and the main participants of these forums and the names of the outcome documents they concluded with.

As the “golden signboard” of China’s cooperation with Africa, the FOCAC has achieved great success, and China-Africa cooperation is therefore known as the model of South-South cooperation and the model of international cooperation with Africa.4Compared with the cooperation between other countries and Africa, China-Africa cooperation is comprehensive. In 2000, the first FOCAC proposed to build “a new type of partnership”; the Beijing Summit of the FOCAC in 2006 proposed to build “a new type of strategic partnership”; and the Johannesburg Summit of the FOCAC in 2015 proposed to build “a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership” with an orientation of “jointly establishing and developing a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation featuring equality and mutual trust in politics, winwin cooperation in the economy, mutual enrichment in cultural exchanges, mutual assistance in security and solidarity, and coordination in international affairs.”5 In view of the epoch-making influence of FOCAC at home and abroad, the analysis of China-Africa cooperation in this study is mainly carried out within its framework.
It can be seen from the content of previous FOCACs that China-Africa cooperation includes six categories: political cooperation, economic cooperation, social development cooperation, people-to-people cooperation, peace and security cooperation and international cooperation. To be specific: (1) Political cooperation mainly includes high-level mutual visits and dialogue, the consultation and cooperation mechanism, exchanges between legislative organs, consultation institutions, political parties and local governments. It emphasizes more on communication approaches, building mutual trust, policy declaration and mechanism building and is the basis for other cooperation; (2) economic cooperation mainly includes agriculture and food security, industrial docking and production capacity cooperation, infrastructure construction, energy and natural resources, the marine economy, tourism, investment, trade, finance, etc. Those directly related to human rights protection mainly include agriculture, food and food security, infrastructure construction, etc. Other economic activities have a relatively indirect relationship with human rights protection; (3) social development cooperation mainly includes assistance, medical care and public health, education and human resources, exchange of experience in poverty reduction, scientific and technological cooperation and knowledge sharing, ecological protection and the response to climate change. With the most well-being projects, this type is most related to human rights protection and mainly involves health care, culture and education, ecological environment, poverty reduction and alleviation; (4) people-to-people and cultural cooperation mainly includes cultural cooperation, news and media organizations, scholars and think tanks, non-governmental exchanges, etc. It is mainly concentrated in the field of culture and education related to the protection of cultural rights and educational rights; (5) peace and security cooperation, or the cooperation in conflict governance, mainly includes military, police and counter-terrorism, consular,immigration, justice and law enforcement and aims to ensure social and public order and the safety of people’s lives and property; (6) international cooperation mainly refers to the declaration of common principles, objectives and positions of China and Africa on the international stage, and does not involve human rights protection projects directly related to their own peoples.
Among these cooperation contents, if analysed from the perspective of human rights and classified according to the criteria directly related to human rights, the contents of China-Africa cooperation can be divided into five main areas, namely poverty reduction and alleviation, health care, the ecology and the environment, conflict governance and culture and education, which can basically cover the contents directly related to human rights in the 10 major cooperation projects put forward by President Xi Jinping in 2015 at the FOCAC summit in Johannesburg of South Africa.6
As for the specific projects of the FOCAC, the Chinese Embassies in African countries invite the governments to put forward two to three alternative suggestions according to their practical needs, and then determine the alternatives through bilateral multi-level consultation and investigation, which will be reported by the Chinese ambassadors to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce.7 Therefore, these fields actually reflect the main challenges faced by African countries in human rights development, including the widening rich-poor gap, poverty, food shortages and low living standards; poor medical conditions, low technical capacity, the spread of AIDS and other infectious diseases, and poor protection of ecologies, the environment, and people’s right to health and life; and promoting sustainability while developing the economy; the challenge of ensuring basic public order due to the accumulation and spread of factors for social conflict and the terrorism keeps cropping up; the challenge to conduct education and training to develop human resources and provide fundamental assistance for economic and social development.
These five areas are not isolated, but are closely related. In most circumstances, these five aspects serve as the prerequisite of each other and reinforce each other, and any weakness in these five areas will also hinder the improvement of human rights in other areas. For example, in a conflict, cooperation in poverty alleviation, culture and education, health care, ecological/environment protection and other fields will not have the basic conditions necessary for it to be effective; serious poverty will deprive people of the ability to improve education, health and environmental protection, and trigger social conflict; the improvement of education will enhance people’s ability to reduce poverty, and high-quality citizens will also provide conditions for the improvement of health care and ecological/environmental protection, and alleviate social conflict; the progress of medical and health care will provide better human resources for social development and provide a talent base for poverty reduction, ecological protection and cultural exchanges. This relationship confirms the interrelatedness of human rights, and also requires that these elements must be treated as a whole in practice.
II. Specific Measures and Characteristics in the Main Areas of China-Africa Cooperation from the Perspective of Human Rights
China and Africa have put in place systematic measures in the above five major areas and achieved remarkable results.
A. Cooperation in the field of poverty alleviation
How to free people from hunger and poverty is an important part of China-Africa cooperation. In 1959, China provided food aid to the Guinean government. Since then, agriculture and food aid have always played an important role in ChinaAfrica cooperation. After the founding of the FOCAC, especially in the past 10 years, while continuing and improving traditional agricultural assistance, China has placed more emphasis on poverty reduction and alleviation, and launched a series of cooperation projects on poverty reduction and alleviation. From 2006 to 2018, China assisted in the construction of 20 agricultural technology demonstration centers in 19 African countries; 71 expert groups with a total of 724 people were sent to 37 African countries; more than 300 crop varieties were planted, and more than 500 technologies were taught, from which about one million small farmers have benefited; 337 training courses were held and more than 57,000 agricultural officials, technicians and vocational education students were trained.8
Both sides have attached importance to poverty reduction and alleviation because: (1) Poverty, hunger and lack of clean drinking water are difficult problems plaguing the basic life of disadvantaged people. Both China and African countries regard poverty reduction as an important responsibility of the government, and getting out of poverty is the most ardent expectation of the people for a long time; (2) since the launch of reform and opening-up, China has successfully lifted 700 million people out of poverty. Poverty reduction and alleviation is China’s most remarkable achievement in human rights development in recent years. In comparison, Africa still has a long way to go. Despite the formulation and implementation of the Oua-gadougou Declaration and its Action Plan, there are still many serious challenges in achieving the task of poverty reduction set out in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. As the region with the most serious food insecurity, poverty reduction and eradication still tops Africa’s development agenda; (3) the reason why China can use less than 10 percent of the world’s arable land and about 6.5 percent of the world’s freshwater resources to feed 20 percent of the world’s population lies in its breakthrough in agricultural science and technology, especially the technological upgrading in the fields of hybrid rice, hybrid corn, transgenic insect-resistant cotton and low-residue pesticides; (4) African countries are eager to improve their poverty reduction capability and master the technology of agricultural development by learning from China who has accumulated rich technology and experience in practice over the years and is willing to share it with African countries to promote their economic and social development and improve their people’s living standards. This matching of supply and demand and the strong desire of both sides to promote cooperation make poverty reduction and eradication one of the priority areas of China-Africa cooperation.
Poverty reduction and eradication involve the protection of a variety of rights, the core of which is the right to a basic standard of living, including the right to water, the right to food and the right to housing. It is also closely related to a series of other rights, such as the right to education, the right to culture, the right to development and the right to health. The guarantee of these rights at a minimum level is the basis for ensuring people’s dignity as human beings. The content of China-Africa cooperation is reflected in the following initiatives: (1) Improving their agricultural productivity, increasing food production and ensuring food security through cooperation in the agricultural field, so as to ensure people’s right to food, including assisting in the construction of agricultural technology demonstration centers, sending agricultural technology experts, assisting in the construction of farms, etc.; (2) improving the capability of poor people in Africa to get out of poverty and promote the realization of their right to education and culture through education and training, experience sharing and assistance in the construction of vocational and technical training facilities; (3) improving the infrastructure of African countries in transportation, communication, water conservancy, electric power and energy to provide basic conditions for them to get rid of poverty; (4) strengthening industrial cooperation and economic and trade exchanges. In particular, efforts should be made to promote the development of labour-intensive industries in Africa and create more employment opportunities for the people. See Table 2 for these initiatives and their distribution in previous FOCACs.9

From the perspective of the history and measures of the FOCAC, ChinaAfrica cooperation in the field of poverty reduction and alleviation has the following characteristics: (1) the importance of agriculture and food security has always been emphasized. When FOCAC was founded in 2000, the two sides mainly focused on cooperation in agriculture, economy and trade, infrastructure construction and other related fields and emphasized “the importance of developing agriculture to get rid of poverty and ensure food security,”10 which has been repeatedly mentioned by the follow-up forums, and “taking agriculture and food security as a priority area of cooperation” has been repeatedly stressed. The China-Africa Agricultural Modernization Cooperation Plan has been formulated and implemented, and the China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation Forum has been regularly held; (2) “poverty reduction cooperation” in China-Africa cooperation has become increasingly important. Although many poverty reduction-related initiatives were formulated in the first to third FOCAC, poverty reduction was then not a standalone part. By 2009, the fourth FOCAC devoted a part to “poverty reduction cooperation” in the “cooperation in the field of development,” which can also be seen in the subsequent official cooperation documents of the fifth, sixth and seventh FOCACs. (3) the mode of cooperation has gradually changed from relatively loose to more structured. In particular, in 2014 in Addis Ababa, China and the African Union published the Program for China and the African Union to Strengthen China-Africa Poverty Reduction Cooperation, which clarified and fixed the specific contents and relevant mechanisms of the two sides in the field of poverty reduction cooperation.
B. Cooperation in the field of medical and health
Medical and health care involves the protection of the right to health and the right to life. It is an important content bearing on human rights protection. In addition to poverty and hunger, lack of medical staff and medicine is another serious threat to the basic human rights of African people. Infectious diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are huge challenges. Historically, medical and health care has been one of the most important areas of China’s assistance to Africa. Back in the 1960s, China was requested to send medical teams to provide assistance to Africa which has continued until today. After the founding of the FOCAC in 2000, China-Africa medical and health cooperation entered the institutionalization stage, gradually forming a systematic and three-dimensional medical assistance system. By 2019, China had sent about 25,000 medical team members to African countries which had treated 270 million African patients. It had assisted in the construction of 30 antimalaria centers, trained tens of thousands of local medical staff and medical backbone for African countries, and introduced Chinese traditional medical technologies such as acupuncture and massage into Africa.11 Table 3 lists the main cooperation initiatives in this field.

When it comes to the measures of China-Africa medical and health cooperation, China’s assistance to African countries is relatively fixed in its approach, including sending medical teams, providing medical devices and drugs, assisting in the training of medical talents, strengthening the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases and emergency disposal, which are consistent elements in China-Africa medical and health cooperation and constitute the main content of such cooperation; on the basis of maintaining the traditional and effective forms of assistance, China continues to explore new ways of assistance according to new development needs, such as helping cataract patients restore their sight, assisting in the construction of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the African Union according to the needs of Africa, and innovating and upgrading the medical projects. These new approaches are problem-orientated and demand-orientated, which is why China’s medical assistance has been widely acclaimed by the African people.
After the outbreak of COVID-19, African countries have faced serious public health crises and severe economic and social development challenges. People’s right to health, right to life and right to work have encountered many difficulties. At the same time, due to the politicization and stigmatization of COVID-19, some new challenges have emerged in China-Africa relations, especially in people-to-people mutual trust. Against this background, in June 2020, China and Africa jointly held the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19, during which President Xi Jinping put forward the new concept of a China-Africa community of health for all, which defined China-Africa solidarity against COVID-19 and health cooperation in the post-COVID-19 era.
C. Cooperation in the field of ecological environment
The ecological environment is also an important area of China-Africa cooperation, which is mainly based on: (1) China has realized in its development practice that we must give equal consideration to development and the environment, “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets,” and we cannot develop the economy at the expense of the environment, and the environmental right and its associated right to health must be paid enough attention. (2) Environmental protection and climate change are highly internationalized topics and can hardly be defined as a country’s internal affairs. They must be perceived and dealt with from the comprehensive perspective of “a community with a shared future for human beings.” China-Africa cooperation on environmental and climate issues constitutes an important part of promoting effective global environmental governance. (3) Environmental protection is an important aspect used by some Western countries to “question” and even “slander” China-Africa cooperation and is also a concern of the African people and some non-governmental organizations. Strengthening cooperation in this field will help counter these negative voices and help China-Africa cooperation develop in a healthy and sustainable direction. See Table 4 for the main cooperation initiatives of the two sides in this field.

According to Table 4 and the action plans issued by previous FOCACs: (1) The importance of environmental protection within the framework of FOCAC has gradually increased, in that the first FOCAC devoted a separate part to “environmental management and biodiversity.” This is the case for all FOCACs since then except the second one. (2) The “pragmatism of” and “enthusiasm for” environmental protection cooperation have gradually increased, compared with the “principled” and “negative” statements of previous FOCACs12, and various projects have become more specified. (3) The focus of environmental protection cooperation between the two sides has changed with social needs. For example, the first FOCAC emphasized the “combination of environmental management and national development,”13 and the following fourth, fifth and sixth FOCACs emphasized “coping with climate change” and “how to mitigate disaster and conduct disaster relief.”
China and Africa have not only launched a variety of projects in ecological and environmental fields, they have also paid attention to integrating the concepts of ecological and environment protection and green development in other cooperation. For example, agricultural projects highlight being “environmentally friendly”; urban construction projects emphasize “smart cities” and “green and low carbon”; and the solving of the power shortage pays attention to the use of renewable energy.
D. Cooperation in the field of conflict management
Frequent conflicts and fragile public order are common problems faced by African countries. This problem, if not solved, will not only directly affect the protection of people’s right to life and health, but also indirectly hinder the effective realization of such rights as the right to work, freedom, election and education. China’s success after the launch of reform and opening-up has largely benefited from a better balance between “stability” and “development.” To ensure the success of various cooperation projects, promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and enhance the protection of human rights in African countries, social stability and security need to be emphasized. Public order is not a luxury for social development and the realization of human rights, but a necessity; it does not parallel these goals, but is a prerequisite for achieving them. Different from cooperation in poverty reduction and alleviation, health care and ecological environment, cooperation on conflict governance inevitably has certain political attributes, and even involves complex geopolitical and multilateral diplomatic relations. Under the general principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries, China has made greater use of the existing relevant institutional frameworks of the United Nations or regions. Relevant action plans of the main cooperation initiatives between China and Africa in the field of conflict governance are shown in Table 5.

From Table 5 and the contents of previous FOCACs, it can be seen that China-Africa cooperation in the field of conflict governance has the following characteristics: (1) The main contents of conflict governance include both traditional security and non-traditional security. Non-traditional security mainly refers to terrorism, small arms smuggling, etc. (2) The cooperation mode emphasizes giving full play to the functions of conflict prevention, resolution, transformation and postconflict reconstruction by supporting and strengthening the capacity of existing mechanisms, such as playing a role through the United Nations, the African Union and other sub-regional organizations in Africa, rather than directly intervening in the conflict as an independent player. (3) With the deepening of bilateral cooperation on conflict governance, China’s cooperation with Africa is mainly conducted through the provision of funds, technology and training to African countries.
In practice, China has deployed more than 2,000 peacekeepers in Africa, making China the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations among the permanent members of the UN Security Council; through the forum, China has established a China-Africa Peace and Security Cooperation Fund to support China-Africa cooperation in peace and security, peacekeeping and stability maintenance; China provides free military assistance to the African Union and supports countries in the Sahel, the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Guinea in counter-terrorism and their efforts to maintain regional security; the FOCAC was founded as a platform for China and Africa to strengthen exchanges in the field of peace and security; 50 security assistance projects in the field of BRI, social security, UN peacekeeping, piracy and counter-terrorism have been implemented.14 China-Africa cooperation in the field of conflict governance has effectively safeguarded Africa’s security and stability and provided a foundation for the protection of human rights in other aspects.
E. Cooperation in the field of education and cultural communication
“Friendship, which derives from close contact between people, holds the key to sound state-to-state relations.” Close contacts between Chinese people and African people are the foundation of China-Africa cooperation, and the building and expansion of this foundation depend to a great extent on exchanges and cooperation in the field of culture and education. Cooperation in this field mainly involves two aspects: First, promoting the realization of the right to education and culture through educational cooperation, and improving the quality of workers as the fundamental measure to realize economic and social development; and second, promoting dialogue among civilizations through cultural exchanges, so as to enhance mutual understanding and trust. Due to the comprehensive effect of many factors such as history, religion and language, the people of most African countries are more exposed to European culture and relatively unfamiliar with Chinese culture, which requires us to vigorously strengthen exchanges and learning between Chinese and African cultures to provide a psychosocial basis for cooperation in other fields. Cultural identity underpins international cooperation. General de Gaulle of France once stressed that the “cultural steel bar” should not be missing in all relations established between France and African countries.15 Relevant action plans of the main cooperation initiatives between China and Africa in the field of culture and education are shown in Table 6. 

It can be seen from Table 6 and the contents of previous FOCACs that China-Africa cooperation in the field of culture and education shows the following characteristics: (1) With the passage of time and the deepening of cooperation, initiatives in the field of culture and education are increasing on the whole. The two sides have not only proceeded with their traditional initiatives, but also launched new initiatives. Due to the universality of cultural and educational exchanges and the diversity of communication subjects and forms, cultural and educational exchanges are increasingly diverse, interactive and prosperous. (2) Cultural and educational exchanges and cooperation tend to be institutionalized, specified and substantive, such as the China-Africa “20+20” Colleges Cooperation Program, China-Africa Think Tanks 10+10 Partnership Plan, the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD), Cultural Centers and Confucius Institutes. These pragmatic and concrete measures indicate that China and Africa have not only the will for cultural exchanges, but also specific mechanisms and carriers for more such exchanges.
III. Five Framework Mechanisms of China-Africa Cooperation from the Perspective of Human Rights
It can be seen from the cooperation fields and specific measures of the FOCAC over the past 20 years that China and Africa have gradually formed a relatively stable cooperation model in these areas of human rights. Although there are great differences in the specific contents of cooperation in different fields, a study of its internal mechanism from the perspective of human rights show that China-Africa cooperation mainly includes the following five framework mechanisms.16
A. The concept communication mechanism 
Concepts precede behaviour. China-Africa cooperation is first based on the same or similar concept of human rights protection. These concepts include but are not limited to: Countries have the right to independently choose their own development path; respecting and supporting relevant human rights mechanisms of the United Nations; opposing the politicization of human rights and double standards; paying equal attention to civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, and giving priority to the right to development; states should coexist peacefully and settle disputes by peaceful means; bilateral cooperation should follow the principles of equality, mutual benefit and win-win results, and uphold traditional culture that emphasizes collectivism, respect for the elderly, virtuous behaviour, equality and tolerance.17
China-Africa cooperation is based on a series of specific communication and consultation mechanisms for the protection of human rights, including: (1) the political consultation mechanism led by the foreign ministries, which is an important mechanism in parallel with the bilateral committee mechanism, mixed committee on economy and trade and the joint committee on science and technology. The sub-mechanisms closely related to this mechanism include the “regular political consultation mechanism between Chinese and African foreign ministers”; (2) dialogue and exchange mechanisms led by civil society, such as the China-Africa Youth Leaders Forum, China-Africa People’s Forum, China-Africa People’s Partnership Plan, etc.; (3) the news media-led people-to-people and cultural exchange mechanism. The Chinese and African news media play an important role in disseminating the human rights culture of both sides and are an important carrier for the communication of ideas between the two sides. The Chinese and African media have also established a series of cooperation and exchange platforms, such as the China-Africa Media Cooperation Forum; (4) other official communication and consultation mechanisms include regular “senior officials’ meetings,” “meetings for diplomatic envoys in China” and irregular “exchange visits of senior leaders.”
The communication and mutual support of China and Africa in the concept of human rights protection are evidenced by the human rights-related consensus or cooperation intention between the two sides, which plays a unique role in ChinaAfrica cooperation. This is as follows: (1) The function of expressing common will: the joint statements of China and Africa on some key issues or basic issues is itself a kind of cooperation. These statements can express the common understanding and concerns of both sides to the outside world. For example, the two sides “support the constructive role of the United Nations in helping solve conflicts in Africa,”18 and “reaffirm respect for the Charter of the United Nations, the five principles of peaceful coexistence and the Charter of the African Union” and other recognized norms of international relations,19 which are all statements of the same attitude. (2) The function of declaring an unilateral attitude: China and Africa unilaterally express their support or gratitude for each other’s mechanism or action on some key issues. For example, “China supports Africa to respond to African challenges in an African way and without external interference,”20 “relevant African countries thank China’s medical team members for their dedication despite difficulties,”21 etc.. (3) The function of enhancing consensus: For example, both sides “realize that education is the foundation and key to realizing sustainable economic and social development, and decide to expand China-Africa education cooperation on the existing sound basis.”22 The consensus is the solid foundation of China-Africa cooperation. Without them, cooperation will be like a tree without its roots. (4) The function of building and enhancing mutual trust between the two sides. China-Africa cooperation involves long-term and complex bilateral interaction and both sides bear important responsibilities in this process. Communication and consultation on the concept of human rights protection help to enhance mutual trust, thus providing a basis for specific actions and measures.
B. The material support mechanism
Due to certain differences in the level of economic and social development between China and Africa, China provides aid materials or facilities to African countries in some areas of human rights development, which can directly promote their development and the improvement of their human rights protection. Material support (facility support) has played a prominent role in the fields of medical and health care, ecological environment, poverty reduction and alleviation, culture and education. According to incomplete statistics, China has assisted Africa in building more than 130 medical facilities, 45 gymnasiums and more than 170 schools,23 and TAZARA, built by China under extremely difficult conditions, is a symbol of China-Africa friendship and has long inspired the Chinese and African people.
China’s material support (facility support) to Africa is mainly of the following four forms: (1) Providing goods or funds that can facilitate the improvement of certain types of human rights, such as providing food aid to affected countries, providing drugs and medical devices to countries with serious infectious diseases, and providing financial support to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. (2) Helping build infrastructure that can improve human rights, such as schools, hospitals, irrigation and water conservancy facilities, satellite TV facilities, cultural centers, clean energy facilities, drinking water facilities, etc., which are an important basis for improving the human rights of local people. (3) Reducing or remitting the debts of countries or providing interest-free or preferential loans for certain infrastructure projects. (4) Setting up special funds. For example, the FOCAC Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-2018) states that “China will establish a 20 billion-yuan China South-South Climate Cooperation Fund,” and “China will provide US $60 million military aid gratis to the African Union to support the building of an African collective security mechanism.”
Material support (facility support) performs two important functions in ChinaAfrica cooperation. First, it provides the necessary material basis for the improvement of human rights. Apparently, it is difficult to improve the right to education without schools; without necessary media equipment, it would be difficult to protect cultural rights; without hospitals and drugs, it would be difficult to realize the protection of the right to health; if the police are poorly equipped, they would lack the necessary capability to resolve conflicts, etc. These assistance projects are of great significance for the structural and rapid improvement of human rights protection in Africa. Second, to avoid human rights disasters in a state of emergency such as rampant infectious diseases, serious natural disasters and terrorist threats, direct material assistance can quickly alleviate the plight of human rights protection, which is an indispensable basis for alleviating or avoiding the human rights crisis.
C. The mechanism for capacity improvement of human rights protection
Materials and facilities alone cannot fundamentally change the development state of Africa. To achieve sustainable development, the skills of workers and management capabilities must also be improved. From the perspective of the overall structure, China’s assistance to Africa proceeds from the actual needs of African countries and increasingly emphasizes the fundamental change of the backward state of the locality or industry by improving the quality of workers. In other words, more attention has been paid to building the independent development capacity of African countries.
There are three main forms of mechanism for capacity improvement: (1) Sending technical personnel for assistance and mentoring activities, including sending medical teams to African countries, promoting the development of local hospitals, improving the professional level of medical personnel while providing medical services; sending agricultural technical experts, and promoting the improvement of local agricultural technology level, etc.. (2) Establishing a “one-to-one” institutional cooperation mechanism and identifying paired units for long-term and comprehensive cooperation in improving the scientific research and service capacity of both sides, such as the China-Africa “10+10” Agricultural Scientific Research Institutions Cooperation Mechanism, China-Africa Hospital Cooperation Mechanism, China-Africa “20+20” University Cooperation Plan, China-Africa Cultural Partnership Plan and China-Africa “10+10” Think Tank Partnership Plan and so on. (3) Carrying out systematic training and education cooperation projects to develop the human resources of African countries. Almost every FOCAC involves a large number of such projects. For example, the fourth FOCAC put forward “training 2,000 agricultural technicians for African countries,” “training 3,000 doctors, nurses and managers” and “training 20,000 talents for African countries within three years”; at the fifth FOCAC, China announced it was “providing 18,000 government scholarships to Africa”; at the sixth FOCAC, it announced it was “providing professional degree education projects for poverty reduction and development” to African countries and “training 200,000 professional and technical talents in Africa”; at the seventh FOCAC, that it would “continue to support Africa by providing peacekeeping police training” and “regularly hold seminars and skill improvement courses on disaster risk management, application of disaster reduction and relief technology and public awareness raising.” The capacity improvement mechanism has gradually become the framework mechanism for China-Africa cooperation. It has its own unique functions: (1) Human resources development function. The role of material products is limited, and only the people can keep creating new wealth. Chinese culture emphasizes that “teaching a man to fish is better than giving a man fish,” “one may give financial aid to others in an emergency, but should not do so if they are perennially in need of money” and “hematopoiesis is better than blood transfusion.” These all imply a similar value, namely that only by improving the ability of people to help themselves is it possible to solve the problem of poverty and backwardness once and for all. (2) The function of transferring technological experience. As a tool to transform the world, technological experience not only relies on individuals and organizations, but also has its independent attributes. A certain technology, when mastered, can become a part of regional productivity, and a natural transmission chain will be generated. This mechanism plays a key role in the effective transmission of technological experience. (3) Comprehensively improving the function of human rights as an engine. When people master knowledge and technology, they can more effectively realize their rights to education, culture and work. With an increase in their income, many rights such as the right to basic living standards, the right to health and the right to vote would be better protected. Therefore, this enabling mechanism can essentially serve as an engine to promote the full realization of human rights.
D. The system optimization mechanism
The human rights protection system includes individuals, teams, and organizations in it, but is not limited to this. It pays more attention to the systematic, holistic, and structural macro-operation mechanism and operational efficiency in a certain field. With the detailed division of labour in society and the increasingly higher professional level in various fields, the role of this systematic mechanism is becoming more significant.
In recent years, China-Africa cooperation has gradually strengthened the system optimization mechanism, which is manifested in many areas. Take the systematic improvement of the medical and health field as an example: The sixth FOCAC emphasized that China “will help African countries improve their public health, supervision, epidemiology, and prevention and control systems” and improve their poverty alleviation and education systems. At the fifth FOCAC, it was stated that “a group of agricultural vocational education and training teachers will be sent to African countries to help Africa establish an agricultural vocational education system.” The seventh FOCAC stated that “the two sides will work together to improve the food security risk management system and establish an emergency response mechanism.” This systematic improvement can also be seen in the overall empowerment of internet technology in related fields. For example, at the seventh FOCAC, it was announced that “China is willing to support African countries in building smart cities, maintaining public security, combating terrorism, and fighting crimes.”
The system optimization mechanism performs the following functions: promoting the integration and coordination of such human rights protection elements as people, technology, systems, and materials and forming synergy in a specific field for better overall effectiveness; promoting the alignment of relevant fields of human rights protection such as public health, epidemiology, prevention and control systems, etc.; promoting the use and empowerment of advanced technology, especially the development of modern information technology in related fields.
E. The special breakthrough mechanism for key issues
In addition to the above mechanisms, for some outstanding issues, it is necessary to comprehensively mobilize resources and adopt a method for making breakthroughs to quickly and comprehensively resolve them. There are measures in China-Africa cooperation that play this role, which can be called “the breakthrough mechanism for key issues.” Similar practices can be found in various actions for the development of human rights in China.
The breakthrough mechanism for key issues in China-Africa cooperation includes actions in the medical field. For example, the fifth, sixth, and seventh FOCAC proposed the initiatives to help African cataract patients restore their sight by providing free medical care; the seventh FOCAC proposed that “China will continue to carry out malaria control projects with African countries, support Africa’s framework for the accelerated elimination of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 2030, and work with the international community to promote global malaria control and elimination goals.” In addition, in 2014, China aided three countries in West Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic, and the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 in 2020 aims to promote COVID-19 prevention and control. These actions show that these breakthrough mechanisms for key issues are mainly actions aimed at certain hot or urgent issues.
The function of the breakthrough mechanism for key issues is unique and remarkable: First, such actions can resolve or mitigate a certain problem in a comprehensive, systematic and rapid manner. These problems are generally not uncommon. Such actions can attract the society’s attention to these issues, mobilize relevant resources, provide inclusive services to the people, and ultimately tackle the problem; second, in a crisis, such actions can help provide material or moral support to promptly alleviate related problems.
In addition to the above framework mechanisms, there are other mechanisms. For example, the Follow-Up Committee optimized the resource sharing mechanism of the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite Data (CBERS) program in the fields of land use, meteorological monitoring, and environmental protection, and so on. Since these mechanisms are not as pivotal as the above five mechanisms from the structural point of view, this article will not do any detailed analysis of them.
IV. The Structure and Optimization of the Framework Mechanism of China-Africa Cooperation from the Perspective of Human Rights 
From the perspective of human rights, the above framework mechanism of China-Africa cooperation has formed an organic whole, but in practice, there are still some vague and fragmented practices, and the overall optimization of relevant mechanisms still lacks initiative and is not systematic enough. At the same time, these areas of China-Africa cooperation overlap with those of other countries’ cooperation with Africa. Whether China can achieve better results and win the hearts of the people in these areas highly depends on whether relevant cooperation mechanisms can be made more scientific, pertinent and effective.
A. The internal structure of the framework mechanism of China-Africa Cooperation
The focus of the above five framework mechanisms in China-Africa cooperation and their role in the system are different.
First, the concept communication mechanism is the premise for the establishment and operation of other follow-up mechanisms. This is why in Chinese there are sayings like “follow the same path” and “do not attempt to work with people whose way is not your way.” Only when the two sides have the same approach can they cooperate. At the same time, the concept of human rights protection is more inclusive, abstract, macro and basic than the actions of human rights protection. In particular, those main ideas are the basic cognition of the behaviour subject to the problem or reflect the fundamental principle of the behaviour subject, which has considerable stability. However, the cooperation between the two sides cannot stay at the “approach” level. In order to really change the reality and begin the cooperation, practical actions must be taken.
Second, the material support mechanism and the capacity improvement mechanism are the two dominant mechanisms in China-Africa cooperation, and are the easiest to promote, as what needs to be done can be identified and widely agreed upon. Material support (facility support) focuses on funds, materials or infrastructure; capacity improvement focuses on human resources development and promotion; “people” and “materials” are the most indispensable elements for change. When both sides have the willingness to cooperate, it will be a natural choice for them to carry out specific assistance or cooperation in “materials” and “people.” However, only “people” and “materials” are not enough. They must also be put in a certain system and have a certain relationship, which not only is indispensable for social development, but also often plays a decisive role in the final result.
Third, the focus of the system optimization mechanism is to “systematically” improve the operation efficiency of the existing human rights protection elements from the perspective of “system” and “mechanism,” which is the key to promoting the systematic response to and solution of human rights problems. However, such a mechanism with institutional arrangements often has some connection with the country’s political and power structure, so it is also subject to the existing culture and governance tradition, and may conflict with some projects of other countries in Africa. Therefore, the overall improvement of the human rights protection system will face more restrictions, more potential variables and more complex and diverse challenges than the approach communication which is at the macro level and material assistance and capacity improvement which focus on specific problems.
Fourth, the above four mechanisms focus more on macro issues and less on specific and urgent issues. The breakthrough mechanism for key issues makes up for the shortcomings of the above mechanisms to a certain extent and focuses on making rapid and comprehensive key breakthroughs on urgent and focal issues, so that the overall mechanism takes into account both macro and specific issues, thus effectively improving the overall human rights protection. However, breakthroughs in focal issues are often subject to the existing technical conditions and the ability to take rapid and effective action in a crisis, which is closely related to the local economic and social development level and the existing institutional capacity.
Fifth, these mechanisms have formed an internal organic system of China-Africa cooperation and embodied the basic logic of China-Africa cooperation in various fields. The “fields” and “mechanism” are intertwined to form a “network structure” of China-Africa cooperation. The elements in this structure affect and promote each other, making the structure an integral framework, providing solid and systematic support for China-Africa cooperation.
B. Suggestions on further optimizing China-Africa Cooperation
In order to further deepen and optimize China-Africa cooperation, it is suggested to strengthen or adjust the following aspects.
First, strengthen the interpretation of China-Africa cooperation from the perspective of human rights. China-Africa cooperation can be interpreted from many angles. Some scholars have reviewed it from the perspective of history,24 agricultural cooperation,25 international relations,26 poverty alleviation,27 but no study has been carried out from the perspective of human rights. This will lead to some biases, especially in some countries with strategic interests in Africa, who have developed feelings of anxiety, prejudice and jealousy about the rapid development of China-Africa relations, and which, as a result, smear China-Africa cooperation as “neocolonialism”28 and “economic imperialism” and voice suspicions that China’s unconditional aid has contributed to the authoritarianism or autocracy of African countries and undermined the “democratic achievements” of the efforts of Western countries. In particular, they claim that China-Africa economic and trade cooperation, production capacity docking and agricultural cooperation are connected with “violations of human rights,” “destruction of the environment,” “debt traps,” “land plundering” and hype the “China Threat Theory,” which undermines the social foundation for China-Africa cooperation. In fact, China-Africa cooperation has rich content in terms of promoting the realization of human rights. If this part can be systematically expounded from the perspective of human rights, on the one hand, it can enhance our understanding of China-Africa cooperation, make policies more pertinent and systematic, and reduce the overemphasis on the economy; on the other hand, it can offset the doubts of the West about China-Africa cooperation from the perspective of human rights and thus silence some of the criticism, which would help further enhance China’s image as a responsible power.
Second, activating endogenous drivers for Africa’s self-development. For a long time, China-Africa cooperation has been mainly conducted in the form of China’s assistance to Africa, which is highly dependent on a large amount of human and material resources. Considering that China’s economic development has slowed due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total amount of resources that can be used to support Africa may be more limited. This model, which is highly dependent on resource investment, faces the risk of unsustainability. Therefore, in order to promote the long-term development of human rights in a sustainable manner, China-Africa cooperation should control direct resource investment, promote the economic and social development of African countries by stimulating endogenous power and optimizing relevant systems, encourage Chinese and African enterprises to participate in the operation of relevant projects, and improve the mechanisms and systems that can promote win-win results for both sides.
Third, improving the structure of China-Africa cooperation for both macro and specific areas. China’s cooperation with Africa is known for its comprehensiveness. It has promoted various projects in parallel in many fields. Generally speaking, it attaches more importance to “macro areas” than to “specific areas.” While focusing on the overall promotion, there may be problems such as scattered resources, insufficient focus on problems, and insufficient projects. At the same time, many countries have close cooperation with Africa, including European countries with a long history of presence and strategic interests in Africa (such as France, the United Kingdom, Portugal, etc.), newly industrialized countries (such as Brazil, India, Turkey, etc.), and developed countries involved in Africa later (such as the United States, Japan, etc.), all of which have their own unique comparative advantages.29 It may be an effective path with comparative advantage for China and Africa to choose more and better areas for breakthroughs while promoting bilateral cooperation as a whole, and do a good job of leading macro areas through specific areas.
Fourth, improving the operational efficiency of the system and mechanism. Compared with the material assistance mechanism and capacity improvement mechanism focusing on specific problems, the human rights protection system and related mechanisms focusing on the effectiveness of the overall system are still relatively weak, and the alignment of relevant cooperation is not smooth, including the ways of incorporating agricultural development into the overall rural governance system, turning aid into prevention in disaster management, integrating cooperation initiatives with the existing policy objectives of African countries, and so on. As these mechanisms involve the design and operation of the institutional system, there are more factors to be considered. However, institutional capacity is a basic “human rights infrastructure” for a country, which determines the overall operation rules and efficiency of many human rights protection resources. China and Africa should continuously improve the operation efficiency of the institutional system by comprehensively strengthening communication, so as to make the best use of the limited existing resources and make the protection of human rights more institutionalized.
Fifth, heightening the awareness of industry and commerce to respect and protect human rights. In addition to the above five main areas of cooperation, more cooperation between China and Africa is made in economic fields such as industry, commerce and trade. It is indisputable that cooperation in these fields is pragmatic, but at the same time, close attention needs to be paid to the principle of respecting and protecting human rights in such cooperation. It needs to be examined from the perspective of human rights in many aspects such as labour employment, environmental protection, compensation and resettlement. Otherwise, it will be easy to arouse doubts and objections from Western countries or local societies in the name of human rights, and affect the smooth progress of the overall China-Africa cooperation.
(Translated by TIAN Tong)
* XU Yao ( 许尧 ), Associate Researcher of the Human Rights Research Center (National Human Rights Education and Training Base) of Nankai University, Doctor of Management. This paper is the research subject of the China Human Rights Research Association’s “Research on China-Africa Human Rights Cooperation Mechanism and Its Improvement Strategy” (CSHRS2020-27YB), the national social science planning project “Research on Broadening and Standardizing Network Channels for the Expression of People’s Demands, Interest Coordination and Dispute Resolution” (20BZZ019), and the project of Asian Research Center of Nankai University “Research on the Online Platforms for Conflict Resolution and Its Efficiency Improvement Path” (AS1915).
1. Xiong Wenchi, “Human Rights, Aid and Development Issues — Taking African Countries as an Example,”World Economy and Politics 8 (2010): 77-97.
2. China and African countries have a solid foundation of long-term mutual support on the international stage. For example, Africa supported China’s restoration of its legitimate seat in the United Nations, opposed to the draft of Human Rights in China by Western countries many times, supported China on the Taiwan question, the human rights issue, the Tibet-related issue, the right to host the Olympic Games and other issues. China supported the African people’s struggle against colonialism and provided a variety of economic assistance despite its own economic hardships. See Li Anshan, “On the Origin of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and China’s Africa Strategy,” Diplomatic Review 3 (2012).
3. At present, Chinese academic research on China-Africa cooperation mainly focuses on academic perspectives such as trade cooperation, production capacity connection, historical review, cultural exchange, health assistance and China-Africa relations. There is no research interpreting China-Africa cooperation from the perspective of human rights.
4. Zhou Yuyuan, “Prospects for Open and Inclusive China-Africa Cooperation and China-Africa Relations — Focusing on the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation,,” Diplomatic Review 3 (2021): 2.
5. “The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-2018).” For the original texts of relevant documents formulated by previous FOCACs in this paper, please refer to the “Important Documents”column of FOCAC website: http://www.focac.org/chn/zywx/zywj/.
6. The 10 major cooperation projects between China and Africa are: industrialization, modern agriculture, infrastructure construction, finance, green development, investment and trade facilitation, poverty reduction and people’s welfare, public health, people-to-people exchanges and peace and security.
7. Li Anshan and Liu Haifang, “On the Operation Mechanism of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and Its Relationship with African Integration,,” Education and Research 6 (2012): 59.
8. Han Changfu, “Promoting China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation to a New Level,” World Agriculture 9 (2018).
9. The contents of Table 2 to 6 in this paper are from the previous documents of FOCAC. For details, see: the Program for China-Africa Cooperation in Economic and Social Development, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Addis Ababa Action Plan (2004-2006), the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2007-2009), and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Sharm el-Sheikh Action Plan (2010-2012), the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2013-2015), the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-2018), the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021). The author ignores the differences in details and the differences in numerical indicators of progress in various fields when summarizing, but mainly aims to categorize the cooperation initiatives in various fields of China-Africa cooperation from the perspective of human rights, which means it is an incomplete summary. “ √ ” in the table indicates the existence of the initiative, and “—” indicates the absence of the initiative. It’s the same for the following tables.
10. The Program for China-Africa Cooperation in Economic and Social Development (2000).
11. Zhou Haijin, “Characteristics of China’s Medical Assistance to Africa,” China Social Sciences Journal, April 1, 2019.
12. Principled statements include “commitment to cooperating in all fields related to environmental management” and “both sides show their commitment to the main contents of various environmental protection conventions”; negative statements include “both sides guarantee that all cooperation projects shall 
comply with the principles of environmental protection,” etc..
13. The Program for China-Africa Cooperation in Economic and Social Development (2000).
14. Yuan Wu, “Twenty Years of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Witnessed the Leapfrog Development of China-Africa Relations,” China Social Science Daily, December 10, 2020.
15. Zhang Hongming, Research on the Strategy of Major Countries in Africa (I) (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2019), 15.
16. The term “framework mechanism” is used to distinguish it from the “specific mechanisms” in different fields and to highlight that the former is more abstract and structural than the latter, and is hidden behind the latter.
17. Li Anshan, “Cultural Similarity Between China and Africa (chronological order) and What China Should Learn from Africa?,” China Africa Research Review (2013) (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2014), 1-15.
18. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-2018).
19. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2007-2009).
20. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-2018).
21. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2007-2009).
22. Ibid.
23. Li Anshan, “The 20th Anniversary of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation: Process, Achievements and Thinking,” Contemporary World 10 (2020): 19.
24. Relevant studies include: Li Anshan, “The 20th Anniversary of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation: Process, Achievements and Thinking,” Contemporary World 10 (2020); Zhang Zhongxiang and Tao Tao, “The 20th Year of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation: Review and Prospect,” West Asia and Africa 6 (2020); He Wenping, 20 Years of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation: Review and Prospect, Journal of Zhejiang Normal University (Social Sciences Edition) 6 (2020).
25. Related studies include: Tang Lixia, etc., “New Development and New Challenges of China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation Under the Framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation,” West Asia and Africa 5 (2020); Deborah Br?utigam, Will Africa Feed China? — Breaking the Myth of China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation, trans. Sun Xiaomeng and Shen Xiaolei (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2017).
26. Related studies include, Liu Hongwu and Lin Chen, “70 Years of China-Africa Relations and the Development of China’s Diplomacy,” West Asia and Africa 4 (2019); Liu Qingjian, etc., China’s Research on the International Environment of Africa Relations (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2019); Zhou Hong and Li Xinfeng, The Changing World and Africa (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2021).
27. Liu Meiwu, African International Poverty Reduction Mechanism from the Perspective of Overlapping Mechanism (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2014).
28. Chuka Enuka, “The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC): a Framework for China’s Re-engagement with Africa in the 21st Century,” 30 Pakistan Journal of Social Sciences 2 (2010): 209-218.
29. Zhang Hongming, Research on the Strategy of Major Countries in Africa (I) (II) (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2019); Zhou Hong and Li Xinfeng, Changing World and Africa (Beijing: Social Science Literature Press, 2021).
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