Forum on China-Africa Cooperation

What is it? 

Since its establishment by African countries and China in 2000, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has been guiding China-Africa relations through its triennial action plans and its growing institutional arrangements. This webpage aims to facilitate a better understanding of FOCAC by offering an interactive overview on how the forum developed from regular high-level political meetings (Figure 1) between China and almost all African countries (Figure 2), focusing on increasingly diverse topics (Figure 3), into a vast ecosystem of funds, institutions, programmes, plans and conferences (Figure 4).

How has it emerged?

The People’s Republic of China started entering into diplomatic relations with countries in Africa shortly after its founding in 1949 and increasingly did so throughout the 1960s and 1970s following the independence of African countries. Growing relations throughout the 1990s led to the creation of FOCAC in 2000 as a platform for regular high-level political coordination between the continent and China, following a proposal by a number of African countries.

Why is it important?

Africa is the world’s most dynamic region in terms of economic and population growth. China has emerged as the continent’s largest trading partner and is the largest single-country source for investments and loans for many African countries. China’s triennial financial commitments to African countries under FOCAC have been risen steadily from USD 5 billion in 2006 for the 2007-2009 period to USD 60 billion in 2015 for the 2016-2018 period and continued on that level at the 2018 FOCAC Summit. Initially these commitments were focused on the provision of different types of loans (concessional, non-concessional, interest-free), but since 2018 also include pledges on investment and development assistance. Not only the extent of which in monetary terms, but more importantly how China engages with African countries makes the growing China-Africa relations one of the most important developments of our time. With a focus on infrastructure, energy, industrialization and technology, China-Africa relations are addressing some of the continent’s key socio-economic challenges in a way that other international partnerships never have. The success of China-Africa relations also increasingly influences approaches of other international partners towards the continent. FOCAC is key for understanding the dynamic and multi-facetted relations between China and African countries.

Figure 1: Meetings of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (2000-2021)

Figure 1 shows the years, locations and significance of FOCAC meetings since 2000. FOCAC is Co-chaired by the President of China and a Head of State/Government of an African country. The African Co-Chair changes every six years: Ethiopia (2000-2006), Egypt (2006-2012), South Africa (2012-2018), Senegal (2018-2024). FOCAC meets every three years to take stock of previous cooperation and to agree on priorities for the next three years. The FOCAC meeting location alternates between China and the country of the African FOCAC Co-Chair.

In Beijing in 2006, the FOCAC meeting was for the first time elevated to the Heads of State and Government level. This was repeated in Johannesburg in 2015 and Beijing in 2018. In 2020, the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 was also held with the participation of Heads of State and Government.

The different sizes of the circles symbolizing the respective FOCAC meetings in Figure above show their relative significance based on the concreteness of commitments contained in the respective FOCAC action plans. ¹

Figure 2: Members of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (2000-2021)

Figure 2 shows the increase of FOCAC members over time. In 2000, 46 countries established FOCAC as an exclusive forum for African countries and China with a very limited number of observers from the United Nations System. Over the past two decades FOCAC grew to 55 member countries, including China, all but one African countries², and the African Union Commission. The following members joined FOCAC after its establishment in 2000: (FOCAC 2006: Chad, Liberia and Senegal; FOCAC 2009: Malawi; FOCAC 2012: African Union Commission and South Sudan; FOCAC 2018: Burkina Faso, Gambia and Sao Tome and Principe).

Figure 3: Topics discussed by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (2000-2021)

Figure 3 shows how the main topics under FOCAC grew in number and importance over the years. The font size of a topic reflects its relative importance compared to the other topics at a given FOCAC meeting.³

While some topics, including political cooperation, infrastructure, science and technology, agriculture, education and training, and culture have been continuously playing an important role under FOCAC other topics, including climate change, industrialization and ocean economy were only added over time.

Figure 4: The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Ecosystem (2000-2021)

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Figure 4 displays a comprehensive overview of the emergence of the FOCAC ecosystem over the past two decades.4

Most importantly, FOCAC resulted in various institutional arrangements in China and African countries that continuously carry out FOCAC commitments. These institutions range from a business council and research centers to permanent representations of the African Union in China and of China at the African Union. FOCAC commitments are also realized through various thematic programmes and plans that often continue beyond FOCAC action plan periods.

In addition, FOCAC established a number of funds to finance China’s commitments towards African countries, including the prolific China-Africa Development Fund, but also less known funds like the Special Fund for Financing Imports from Africa. While most financing provided by China continues to be channeled through its policy banks, in particular the China Development Bank and China Exim Bank, FOCAC funds play an increasingly important role together with private sector financing.

Furthermore, FOCAC meetings resulted over time into comprehensive preparatory and follow-up mechanisms at the multilateral and national levels. There is also a plethora of regular conferences established under FOCAC, some of which are being held regularly as FOCAC Sub-Fora at Ministerial level.

Footnote 1: The significance of respective FOCAC meetings was determined based on the methodology applied for the development of Figure 3, using total values for all main topics under discussion at the respective meeting.

Footnote 2: Eswatini remains the only African country that is not a FOCAC member given that it does not have diplomatic relations with China due to its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

Footnote 3: Figure 3 shows the conversion of the text contained in the triennial FOCAC action plans into quantitative data for the following main topics: agriculture, including food security); business, including business and economic cooperation, private finance and investments; climate change; culture, including people-to-people exchange/cooperation; education & training, including human resource development and capacity-building; environment, including biodiversity, ecosystems and wildlife preservation; finance, including debt relief, loans, grants and the banking sector; health; industrialization; infrastructure, including transportation; judicial cooperation, including the fight against corruption; media; natural resources and energy, including green energy; ocean economy; political cooperation, including cooperation between legislative and political parties; bilateral cooperation; poverty reduction, including development assistance; science & technology, including information and communication technology, academia and think tanks; security; tourism; and trade. The importance of a topic is based on a weighted word count divided by the overall number of words contained in the respective action plan, with increasing weighting from broad observations (e.g. “we recognize that…”; “we take note that…”; “we appreciate…”) to broad commitments (e.g. “we agree to continue…”; “…will support…”) to specific commitments (e.g. “The Chinese side will set aside special funds”) to quantifiable commitments (e.g. “… USD 20 billions of credit lines”, “… 50 medical and health aid programmes…”).

Footnote 4: All components of the FOCAC ecosystem shown in Figure 4 are based on provisions included in the previous FOCAC action plans. The existence and activity of the various ecosystem components was verified through a comprehensive review of information sources available online in Chinese, English and French. Components marked with an asterisk (*) could not be verified.

Acknowledgements: We gratefully acknowledge the important research and analytical support provided by Louise Le Gatt and extend our sincere appreciation to Richard Humphries for the invaluable peer-review of the content of this webpage.

Last update: 25 October 2021. If you notice any mistakes or omissions, please notify us via emails at:

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