Text by: Tang Xiaoyang
Department of International Relations, Tsinghua University
The success of China-Africa cooperation stems from the extension of China's experience,
but not the duplication of the Chinese model
-- A summary of the main arguments in Coevolutionary Pragmatism
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa has maintained rapid growth for a long time. What is the source of this continued growth? There are many different opinions in the international academic community and it is not easy to conclude. Neither resources and comparative advantage, nor political impetus or assistance can explain the diversity, universality, and sustainability of this partnership. In the book Coevolutionary Pragmatism: Approaches and Impacts of China-Africa Economic Cooperation published at the end of 2020, the author believes that the sustainable driving force of China-Africa Cooperation stems from the extension of China's development experience, and the essence of this experience lies in being goal-oriented, paying attention to interaction and collaboration, and achieving systematic running-in transformation in practical experiments.
The author refines China's development experience and the spirit of China-Africa cooperation into a "coevolutionary pragmatism" and believes that it has formed a series of sharp contrasts with the mainstream western development theories represented by the “Washington Consensus” in terms of principles, standards, frameworks, mechanisms of action and implementation methods.
Specifically, China has not limited its reform and national development cooperation to the dispute over the systems and models, but has formed a social consensus based on whether it is conducive to the sustained growth of comprehensive productivity, and corresponding systems and models are evaluated and selected in the constant pursuit of development goals. This firm goal orientation embodies the developing countries' experience of their own in dealing with the threats and challenges of capitalist powers in the past centuries. Karl Marx incisively pointed out that the essence of capital is the constant pursuit of value increment. Money (G) is invested in the production of goods (W), which can be sold for more money (G'), and so on, endlessly, namely G-W-G'-W-G "-...... The pursuit of value growth stimulates the continuous growth of productivity in capitalist countries. Therefore, other countries must make the development of productivity their central task of the country if they want to address the challenges of capitalist countries. The continuous growth of productivity requires the corresponding transformation of production and lifestyle. The labor production link should become increasingly specialized, with a more detailed division of labor, more extensive collaboration and with more application of machinery and technology at the same time. The circulation and consumption link should continuously promote consumption demand and expand the scope of trade. These changes will in turn prompt social structures to adjust to the needs of sustainable productivity growth. However, the social and economic system is self-reinforcing. Due to social inertia, it is much more difficult for non-industrialized countries to transform into industrial society than developed countries to continue industrialization . The realization of market order, government regulation, workers' skills, infrastructure, entrepreneurship, professional norm and urbanization requires the cooperation of other factors, but the development of other factors also requires the support of these factors. The successful transformation of the social system depends on the establishment of a mutually reinforcing virtuous circle among the various relevant factors, avoiding the formation of a mutually obstructing vicious circle. In the process of reform, China adheres to the idea of " wading across the river by feeling the way", jumps out of the framework of binary opposition between government and market, encourages comprehensive and extensive market-oriented reform from central government, local government to enterprises and individuals, and gradually reaches a new balance through continuous adjustment and collaboration among various aspects. The transformation process is necessarily diversified and flexible, as specific people and affairs need to interact in their unique ways. An effective market economy is not designed and installed according to a given model but comes from long-term coordinated exploration and joint efforts of multiple parties. Market reform must take shape gradually, rather than being done overnight. According to the author, for the success of such extensive and complicated co-progressive transformation in China, the key lies in the high degree of ideological consistency in the whole country since the late 1970s. Practice is used as the sole criterion for resolving disputes, i.e., experiments and innovations that are conducive to the sustainable development of productivity can be recognized and promoted. And this is exactly the main challenge of China-Africa cooperation. Many Chinese staff often find the most difficult part in the cooperation with African countries is the barrier of thoughts between local people and them. The difference doesn’t only lie in language and culture, but also the direction of value pursuit. While China focuses on the improvement and development of production efficiency, its African partners may deviate from cooperation due to pursuing goals in politics and religions, and fail to achieve the set goals of economic development. However, the success of China's industrialization has set up a significant example. More and more African officials and the people attach importance to the economic development of their countries. They actively explore the know-how of China's experience, think about how to learn from China's experience, no longer be superstitious with the model formulated by the Western countries, and are willing to work more closely with China. The change of this concept is a crucial first step, just as the discussion on "criterion of truth" at the beginning of domestic reform has impacted the inherent mindset, and gradually formed a consensus with sustainable economic development as the central goal. Of course, due to the diverse and complex cultural traditions and intertwined social structures of African countries, both the formation of consensus and the actual changes in production modes and organizations will inevitably face numerous difficulties and will take a long time. In China-Africa cooperation, we must be prepared for a protracted war and be courageous to respond to challenges and setbacks. At the same time, we need to recognize the comprehensive advantages and significant historical opportunities of this cooperation in promoting Africa's industrialization and modernization transformation, and have firm confidence in the prospect of development. China's huge economic scale and complete industrial system provide a strong and continuous impetus for the cooperation between the two sides. No matter in trade, investment, production and manufacturing, infrastructure construction or digital economy, there are many Chinese enterprises with the demand and the ability to participate in international cooperation. Their operation does not only significant impact on the economic and social transformation of Africa in their respective fields, but also can coordinate and create joint forces to promote a virtuous circle of structural transformation. In the book, the cyclic causality mechanism and interactive co-progress process in different fields of China-Africa cooperation are deeply analyzed, and the challenges in linkage such as product quality-market supervision, infrastructure construction-commercial profits, modern agriculture-rural society, processing and manufacturing-supporting industry, special economic zone-state transformation, work ethics-occupational practice, and ecological and environmental protection-industrial development are studied. Based on the actual cases of field study, it reveals how the Chinese and African parties explore and test in practice, and promote economic structure transformation with the breakthrough in the restrictions of mutual restraint. In brief, China-Africa cooperation integrates China's development experience, but it is by no means an imitation or duplication of the so-called "Chinese model", which is exactly the fundamental difference between China's development path and that of the West. As mentioned above, since the reform and opening-up, China has adhered to the fundamental goal and criterion of sustainable long-term growth of productivity, without fixed modes or rigid rules, let alone imposed conditions. Instead of using models, it is more flexible to make adjustments for specific practices according to different times and regions; instead of using limited conditions, it is more conducive to comprehensive exchanges and collaboration among all parties on common goals. The focus on the economic development of China-Africa cooperation does not mean that the political field has been neglected. It is also another important aspect of China's experience. Through its modern history, China has realized that only by building a sound economy and developing productivity can a latecomer resist the bullying of foreign hegemony and achieve true independence. The pragmatic spirit of China-Africa cooperation seems to focus on economy and trade, but it contains a comprehensive review and reflection of China's success and failure facing the challenges of modernization in the past one or two hundred years. While sharing its development experience with its African partners, China has also strengthened the consensus and capability of both sides to jointly resist hegemony in the world political arena, laying a solid foundation for building an equal, inclusive, prosperous and open community of shared future for mankind.
Karl Marx, Das Kapital (Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meisner, 1867), pp.109-118.Gunnar Myrdal, The Challenge of World Poverty, London, Allen Lane, p. 268.
Source: Tang Xiaoyang