The round table with the participation of Russian and Chinese experts took place on 25 May in Moscow.
“The key element that differentiates the Russian and Chinese approach in Africa is their respect for the nation states’ sovereignty. We have no intention of forcing African countries to work with us,” stressed Guan Guihai, the Executive Vice President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies of Peking University. “Three-sided cooperation will only be effective if the local government is willing,” he said.
Guan Guihai also mentioned that differences between Russian and Chinese interests and perceptions in Africa will complement each other.
Nataliya Zaiser, Chair of the Board of the Africa Business Initiative, mentioned that Russia and China had far more opportunities for cooperation together in Africa, as opposed to competing with each other. She also highlighted the importance of promoting cooperation with Africa through BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation mechanisms. According to Nataliya, the potential areas of cooperation include the digital economy, climate change and the dialogue of civil societies outside the framework of bilateral relations.
RIAC expert Lora Chkoniya highlighted that despite the large Soviet heritage today it is crucial for Russia to act in Africa within a “strictly business” approach. “Russian efforts may not be quite so effective if the demands and requests of African countries are not met. It is important to be attentive to the statements of African politicians and decision makers,” she said. According to Lora, consistent follow-up between summits is crucial, not just a desperate search for opportunities of cooperation before the summit.
According to Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, the USA are currently losing interest in Africa — in 2020 the overall number of new American projects in Africa decreased by 2/3. Andrey mentioned that Russia and China may consider three-sided cooperation in Africa with the European Union as well as with the Gulf states. “The role of India is usually forgotten, whereas it has a huge interest in Africa. India and China have the lowest level of contradiction, so cooperation might be considered,” he added.
“It’s natural that there will be some competition, but Russia and China have different niches. For example, China is interested in diversification of its energy sources, China will purchase LNG. Russia is a gas exporter itself, so it is more a competitor for Libya or Nigeria. The countries have different specializations: while Russia may offer cooperation in the exploration or construction of energy enterprises, at the same time it is quite hard to imagine it competing with China in the construction of ambitious port infrastructure,” he added.