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The Different Readings of FOCAC

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Senegalese Foreign Minister Aïssata Tall Sall spoke to the media on Tuesday at the conclusion of FOCAC 8 in Dakar. Image via DakarActu.

One of the intriguing results of last week’s FOCAC meeting has been a narrative pushed by key English-language publications that it represents a reduction in Chinese engagement with the continent. Bloomberg set the tone in its initial report which counted the sums mentioned in President Xi Jinping’s speech and came to $40 billion. Comparing it to the $60 billion funding targets of 2015 and 2018, it concluded that the summit represented a pullback from the continent.

Subsequently, many have pointed out that the pullback narrative is based on incomplete math. First, depending on how you price them, the pledge to give one billion vaccine doses alone could push the total commitments to 2018 levels. Second, Xi’s speech was punctuated by the announcement of multiple shared projects: 10 medical and health projects (in addition to the vaccines), 10 poverty reduction and agriculture projects, 10 connectivity projects, 10 industrialization, and employment promotion projects, 10 digital economy projects, 10 projects dedicated to green development, environmental protections, and climate action, 10 schools to be built or upgraded, and 10 peace and security projects.

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