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Interview: China-Africa cooperation propels Africa's digital economy development, says WTO deputy director-general

Updated: December 14, 2023 Source: Xinhua News Agency
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NAIROBI, Dec. 13 (Xinhua) -- In recent years, amid a sluggish global economy, an increasing number of African nations have recognized the digital economy as a pivotal driver for their development, and China, with close connections with Africa, naturally emerges as a crucial partner in propelling the continent's digital economy and realizing its modernization aspirations, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Zhang Xiangchen has said.

In the process of economic globalization, there exists an imbalance in the distribution of interests between the Global North and the Global South, Zhang said in a recent interview with Xinhua in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, noting that developing countries, especially African nations, have reaped limited benefits.

Developing the digital economy is a crucial pathway to gaining advantages in international competition in the future, Zhang said. And developing countries, including those in Africa, should benefit from "re-globalization" distinguished by its emphasis on digitalization, he added.

Africa has a vast market, a sound market environment and the youngest population globally, which, Zhang said, "are advantages for Africa to develop the digital economy." However, research conducted by the WTO found that African countries have a relatively low share in global digital trade.

"Africa's slower pace in digitization primarily stems from the digital gap, including deficiencies in digital infrastructure, lack of knowledge and skills for digitalization and regulations," said Zhang. "If these issues can be addressed in African countries, I believe Africa will catch up in this field."

He said that China's long-standing relationship with Africa holds significant value in terms of sharing development experiences.

In recent years, guided by mechanisms such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative, an increasing number of Chinese companies have continuously expanded their investments in Africa.

In countries like Nigeria and Kenya, Chinese-funded enterprises have established mobile payment platforms, providing secure and convenient digital payment services to millions of users. Additionally, Chinese e-commerce platforms enable many African people to sell distinctive products worldwide without leaving their homes.

While the digital economy can be a country's competitive advantage, "the digital economy cannot entirely replace traditional industries such as manufacturing, especially for African countries that have not yet completed industrialization. The digital economy is one of the drivers for growth," he said.

"While African countries develop the digital economy, they should also strengthen their manufacturing sector to achieve industrialization as soon as possible," he added.

Zhang highlighted China's initiatives for supporting Africa's industrialization, agricultural modernization and talent development, saying that these will further drive Africa's economic and social development.

He anticipated that an increasing number of Chinese companies are poised to invest in Africa, thereby expediting Africa's digital transformation.

One of the major challenges for Africa in achieving digital transformation is education, Zhang said, stressing that "Africa needs a significant number of skilled young individuals engaged in digital-related-work; therefore, cooperation between Africa and China on talent development is crucial."

"China is a reliable friend to Africa, and their cooperation will continuously provide momentum for Africa's development of the digital economy," Zhang said.

Editor: Yang Yifan