Economy

How China And France Plan To Cash In Together In Africa

France knows the place, China has the money, and now a major joint investment fund for Africa is in the works between Paris and Beijing to help drive the continent's economic expansion.

Xi and Hollande in Paris in March
Xi and Hollande in Paris in March
Wong Ling

BEIJING — Britain, France and Germany have recently been extending olive branches to China, but France has at least one major advantage over its neighbors: It's particularly well poised to cooperate with China on investment in Africa, with historical advantages to serve as a springboard for the Asian power's ambitions on the continent.

"France has long experience in Africa," says Muriel Pénicaud, president of the French Agency for International Investments. "A growing number of Chinese enterprises produce goods in France to export to Africa."

According to French foreign investment and job creation data, nearly 200 Chinese companies had operations in France as of last year, making it the country's eighth-largest investor. Since 2010, China's investment in France has steadily grown, at a rate of 6% between 2012 and 2013.

China's second-largest carmaker, Dongfeng Motors, invested 800 million euros in February to gain a stake in the French company PSA Peugeot Citroen.

Pénicaud, meanwhile, noticed on a trip to China that Chinese companies lack a basic understanding of Africa. As a past colonizer of many African countries, France has had a presence on the African continent for nearly 150 years compared with China's mere 20. And China is often scolded by the West for some of the ways it does business there, without sufficient attention to local factors.

For now, French enterprises are concentrated primarily in West and North Africa. But they have also started to target other areas. As data from the African Development Bank forecasts, Africa's GDP will continue to grow, and by 2060, the continent is expected to see a majority middle-class population, and extreme poverty that is still all too present is forecast to be virtually eliminated.

Under the most optimistic picture, total African GDP could exceed $1.5 trillion by 2060. This means that the continent will need major infrastructure, communication and telecommunication investment.

Just as French companies try to cooperate with Chinese or Japanese companies when entering the Asian market, France is available to collaborate with China for its foray into Africa, a source from the French Foreign Ministry says.

"The offshore RMB (Chinese currency) market in Paris is aimed at Chinese companies' business in Africa because the continent's finance market is underdeveloped," the source says. "Paris offers services that Africa doesn't yet have." France may be the European country where RMB is most used, and French companies are also more willing to use the currency to trade.

Long French History: A Peugeot 304 in Tanzania in 1978. Photo: Mwanasimba

In September, the People's Bank of China authorized its Paris branch as a certified clearing bank for the Chinese currency. As Bank of China data indicates, its Paris branch handled over 1.3 trillion RMB ($212 billion) in cross-border transactions last year.

Private and public interest

The French government has also taken some direct initiative in pushing cooperation with China in Africa. A well-placed French government source says the two countries' sovereignty funds began exploring related issues three months ago and will probably set up a common fund for African investment. The same source says that, just as President Charles de Gaulle established diplomatic relations with China 50 years ago, joint France-China investment in Africa will also be a long-term strategy.

There is also a sense in Africa that France can help make up for the shortcomings of Chinese companies there, the source says.

China and France celebrate 50 years of diplomatic cooperation this year. The warm bilateral relations will undoubtedly support their joint foray into Africa. French President François Hollande visited China last year, which was followed by a visit to France this year by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In the past two and a half years, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has visited China eight times, a record for any French foreign minister. The cordial relations are an important reason why China would rather invest jointly with France than with any other Western country that has previously colonized Africa.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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