Africa–China Relations: Benefits and Threats

Introduction

Africa has been a great interest in China. During the colonial period when major world countries were struggling to have a piece of the African territory, China was at the forefront in advocating for the liberation of African countries. This was the fact that made China greatly stand out. This long-standing support and solidarity from China to Africa have contributed to the current friendly relationship that exists between Africa and China (Adem, 2010, p. 337). The Chinese sympathy with Africa could be emanating from the fact that they both shared common ground with respect to the fact that they were both used by Africa’s colonists. The Chinese labourers have used in the building the infrastructure among African countries by colonists. These colonists included the Germans, the British, and the French. During that time, China did the unexpected when it supported the rampant liberation movements that were rising in various African States (Alden, 2007).

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China was involved in the development of most African States. It helped with the construction of roads and railways. In addition, China worked in some African mines. Another surprising aspect of the China-African relationship is the respectful distance that China has maintained. Even after supporting the liberation of African countries, one would expect China to want some favour from Africa, however, the interaction between China and Africa remained limited in the postcolonial era until recently (Cheng & Shi, 2009, p. 88).

Naidu and his associates (2009) observed that international commentators had viewed the China-African relationship as unstable and asymmetrical which might be due to the increased Chinese interest in Africa. Many European countries take the act of China rediscovering Africa as an opportunity for Africa to benefit their economic development due to China’s economic status and assistance. However, for some people, China’s renewed interest awakens fears of neocolonialism and stagnation in the African states’ economic growth (Naidu, et al, 2009).

China’s interaction with Africa started a long time ago probably being the reason why most countries do not view China’s renewed interest in Africa as the threatening one. China was courting Africa during the pre and post-colonial times. In this case, China formed alliances and was supportive during the trying times for many African states. Therefore, Africa gives China its diplomatic support and commercial benefits (Naidu, et al, 2009).

Globalisation refers to the integration of various countries in terms of trade and economic growth, peaceful coexistence, interactions with various cultures, and immigration. Although globalisation promises good opportunities to African countries, there are also disadvantages associated with the issue of globalisation. It can lead to mass discontent and inequalities amongst countries. Africa’s marginalisation has been brought about by globalisation (Edoho, 2011). There is a reduction in the investments made by western countries. The decline has also been noted in the economic assistance and the trade being done between Africa and other countries. These are some of the effects of Africa’s marginalisation that was brought about by globalisation. Despite the fact that Africa’s economy has been on the decline, China’s economy has been on a steady growth. Indeed, China’s economic growth has been increasing at a rate of about 9% per annum over the past twenty years. This has placed China on the pedestal of the world’s superpowers characterised by a strong economy and top-notch technology.

In the recent past, China’s interest in African states has evoked a lot of interest among other countries especially taking into consideration its pace and effect. African countries are notorious for having staggering debts to other countries such as America and Britain (Edoho, 2011). In 2003, China shocked the whole world by clearing over 10 billion dollars in debt that Africa owed other states. A 42% increase in the volume of business between China and African countries was noted in 2007. During this year, the trade volume was worth 450 billion US dollars (Edoho, 2011). China has been involved in aiding African countries as early as the pre and post-colonial periods. In 1977, China offered $ 1.5 billion of aid to 49 African countries (Cheng & Shi, 2009, p. 90). At that time, China was still struggling to steady its own economy. However, it still had enough to share with needy African countries even when other countries from the west were only interested in exploiting Africa.

The China-African relationship is a symbiotic one. The reason behind China renewing its interest in Africa is due to its highly growing economy. In this case, China tends to run out of raw materials. This is where Africa comes in to provide the needed raw materials. On the other hand, Africa requires financial assistance and China is ready to give this assistance. The value of the natural resources that Africa has exported in the past years has risen substantially (Adem, 2010). China getting involved in African issues in colonial times was a very strategic move. African countries are wary of their former colonists. However, they tend to trust China because China, unlike other western countries, does not meddle in the domestic affairs of the African countries. For instance, China does not threaten to withdraw the aid unless an African country adheres to certain expectations. The matter of Chinese interference with the internal affairs of African states is a source of debate. Adem (2010) argued that Chinese interference with African states internal affairs is overstated. Despite them claiming to be silent onlookers, the Chinese government does not hesitate to become active in the event where their interests are at stake. A good example is the Darfur case where ideological interference was noted (Adem, 2010).

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In exchange for the raw materials that Africa exports to China, it has encouraged some of its own competitive companies to invest in Africa. More than 2000 Chinese companies have invested in African countries. In this way, both countries benefit from the relationship being, however, seemingly symbiotic. Nonetheless, based on the current status, there are also risks involved in encouraging this relationship, especially for the African countries involved (Adem, 2010).

How China Gains from the China-African relationship

China has a lot to gain from Africa. The major reason is that China is the huge superpower to many third-world countries. China can easily support its own economy as well. On the other hand, the African countries require aid for their economies to grow. Adem (2010) argued that African countries can win significant concession favours as a group better than they can do it on an individual basis. Africa has a high bargaining power for the raw materials it provides for China’s industries collectively.

China’s grip on the exportation of oil from Africa is tightening with time (Alden, 2007). Though most of the oil exports in Africa are exported to the US and Europe, the exports to China are set to rise in the coming years. China also knows that Africa is a virgin in respect to raw materials. In this case, most of Africa’s potential is still untapped. The economy of China mainly depends on its manufacturing industries, therefore, relationship with African countries is very beneficial to China. In fact, Africa is a source of energy in terms of coal and oil for China. China gets oil to run its production machines from African nations that have oil which is beneficial to China since it can get the oil at relatively lower prices (Lafargue, 2005). In addition, Africa stands as an ideal commercial partner. Since Africans do not have a high purchasing power, they can afford Chinese products, which are cheaper as compared to similar products from Europe and America. Furthermore, the partnership between Africa and China does not have special political conditions. As a result, this relationship is free from barriers that might affect the supply of products and supplies. The transaction between the two continents has been rising over the last ten years. For instance, in the year 2003, the value of transactions between the two countries was said to be US$ 18.5 billion. This was an increase from US$ 12.39 in the previous year (Mobiuos, 2011).

On top of the mineral resources in Africa, there is also vast land that is fertile. In addition, there is plenty of water, which provides the best conditions for food production. There is a high demand for food in China due to its high population. They can get the foodstuff they need from Africa. This is one of the reasons that China’s involvement in Africa is on the rise adding to the benefits that China reaps from Africa (Mobiuos, 2011).

Despite the fact that investments in African states by Chinese companies benefit African states, they benefit China significantly. China seeks to expand its economy. Its home ground is not large enough, thus, its investment in Africa provides an industrial base to acquire the raw material sources (Bauman, 2010). The Chinese companies that are established in African states provide some connections between China and Africa. Thus, they make export of the needed raw materials to China even easier. With the rise of China as a superpower, the rivalling super powers like Europe and the US feel threatened by its presence. China’s way of toning down this unwanted attention is getting involved in African countries (Bauman, 2010). China takes some attention from its growing empire by diverting some of its investments in Africa. At the same time, China flexes its muscles significantly by venturing into new waters. In addition, the Chinese continued support of African countries helps in placing China in a good light with the rest of the world. It is as if China is trying to prove that benevolent super power breeds can exist too.

China also benefits from its involvement with Africa since it enforces the ‘One China Policy’. The move by China to cancel the huge African debts to the US and Europe and its involvement in the economic growth of Africa do not just profit China economically but also endorses the ‘One China Policy’ (Naidu, et al, 2009). China also gained political support and found an ally in Africa. In its struggle for one policy with Taiwan, Africa’s support for China was immense and greatly appreciated by China (Cheng & Shi, 2009, p. 95). However, the relation has not had a warm welcome from the rest of the world’s superpowers since they are losing the market shares that they previously had in Africa. In particular, America used to be the largest trade partner with Africa before China took the place. Nowadays, China boasts a large share of the market in Africa, to be more precise, China sells most of its products in Africa.

How Africa gains from the China-African relationship

The most obvious benefit that Africa gains from its continued relationship with China is the cancellation of debts. As it has been noted, China has contributed more than any other external force to the economy of most African countries. China cancelled many African debts and offered interest-free government loans to many African countries in 2005 (Naidu, et al, 2009). Apart from that, it has provided financial aids to African states in the recent past. China has also played a significant role in the development of infrastructure within most African countries. Chinese companies have constructed roads, railways, buildings, dams, and telecommunication networks among others in African countries.

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With China having cleared most debts for African countries, the African countries are now able to attract significant international investments from other countries being another benefit that came to Africa as a result of its relationship with China. The involvement with China has seen African states enjoy benefits like favourable loans from Chinese banks. Most loans from other world organizations and countries usually have a high interest rate or have unreasonable conditions attached to them. Thus, loans from China are a welcome break for African countries (Alden, 2007).

The increasing volume of trade between African States and China has seen the steady growth of most African countries’ economy. African countries need constant expansion of their trade volume for their economies to grow (Bauman, 2010). China is providing the much needed trading partner. The increased export rates of raw materials by African countries contribute to the growing trade volume. Africa is in dire need of technology that China provides including professional training. The Chinese companies that have invested in African countries bring with them the much needed technology for faster and easy completion of the construction of infrastructure. These companies also provide employment opportunities for citizens in these countries. Thus, the companies help to improve the living standards of these people and contribute to the overall economic growth via the payment of taxes (Alden, 2007).

African countries have not been mean to ensure that they gain maximum benefit from the relationships that they have with China. They are able to get ready market for their products. China wants to get raw materials for their manufacturing industries. The raw materials are available in Africa at a low price as compared to their availability in other nations. As China gets the raw materials, Africa benefits from the cash paid for those materials. Africa is generating income from the transactions and can make a better living from these.

There has been warnings that there could be a new colonial era that is being imposed on Africa by China. This was claimed by the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the year 2001 when she was speaking in Zambia. Clinton said, “We saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off the leaders and leave” (Kermeliotis, 2011, para 17). China had become the largest Africa’s trading partner in the year 2009. According to Moyo (2012), China has direct investment in Africa that is said to have increased rapidly between the years 2003 and 2011. The figure of the Chinese investments in Africa is said to have increased from $100 million in the year 2003 to a staggering $12 billion in the year 2011 (Moyo, 2012).

According to Ademola, et al (2009), the economic size of two nations is a major determinant of the distribution of gains that each country gets. It determines the performance of growth by the nations. For instance, there have been more tight relations between China and Nigeria over the last years since Nigeria is one of the oil producing nations in Africa. On the other hand, China has the strongest economy in relation to the third world countries. As a result of the relation between the two countries, Nigeria is poised to benefit in terms of sustained output growth, as well as sustainable productivity. China is also going to benefit from the relations since it is getting energy to run its machinery for production purposes. Similarly, the economic growth of other African nations, which have had relations with China, has been on the rise. Africa benefits significantly from the Chinese relation since it is mostly an economic relation with no politics associated with it. This is opposed to the relations with other nations such as the America and European countries whose relation is politically biased. Furthermore, the relation has helped Africa realise considerable savings. The same has happened to China, which has also had saved between 37 percent and 50 percent since the 1990s (Ademola, et al, 2009, p. 487).

The involvement of China in African affiars has been branded as imperialism by most European nations and America. In this case, China is said to have a strong appetite for raw materials in Africa and it has no qualms about exploiting the continent in order to get these commodities.

Though there are numerous benefits brought about by this symbiotic relationship between China and Africa, there are also disadvantages associated with it. There is no doubt that Africa is at risk of being disadvantaged more than China. Edoho (2011) asserted that there is a very huge possibility that China is only filling the void that was left by former colonizers after they left the African continent. This the China’s role to play the part of the new colonizer, masquerading as a partner and a helper. Africa promises untapped raw materials for China’s industrial endeavours. Though China is under the guise of true partnership, its intentions are very suspicious (Alden, 2007). No country can support another one for sole philanthropic reasons without having considered its own interests first. With the benefits that China has brought to Africa, it has to be benefiting considerably for it to continue doing what it is currently doing in Africa. It can be noted that China does not distribute its beneficial attention to African States in an equal way. In this case, there are more interests in some states than others. For instance, there is more China’s interest in South Africa than in other countries because South Africa is endowed with vast gold deposits whose potential is still largely untapped (Dijk, 2009).

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Conclusion

China has become more of a competitor in African countries than a helper. A philanthropist puts the needs of the party they are helping ahead. The Chinese companies that have invested in African countries compete with the local companies in these countries. China does not care about depleting the resources in Africa rather it seeks to continue tapping these resources until there is none left. The interests of China override the economic sustainability and livelihood of the countries where it invests. China’s well-being overrides its accountability to the citizens of the countries it claims to help. China’s cancellation of debts might have been a relief to the African countries at that time, but this is just a vicious cycle that was being created by China. African countries are now at an even greater risk of getting into bigger debts. With African countries finally out of debts, they focus on China as their lifeline. That is why Chinese banks are offering African countries loans with arguably better interest rates. What African countries do not know is that this is just a bait. Very soon, they will be in huge debts again. However, this time they will be indebted to China, which has been viewed as their apparent saviour. Despite the fact that both China and Africa will feel the loss with the depletion of the raw materials that first attracted China to Africa, Africa is likely to suffer significantly. China will look for an alternative to compensate for these raw materials. However, there will be an issue with the African states because they will lose a major source of livelihood. In addition, Africans will not be having enough assets to offset the risks of their involvement with China. The economies will nosedive to worse levels than before, resulting in a real image of the third world.

One might argue that China faces risks by investing in Africa as well. However, the risks are of a totally different nature and China can easily find a way out. Corruption in African countries and sometimes insecurities in these countries form the major part of these risks. However, this can be termed as occupational risks being worthy risks meaning that the benefits China is likely to make from these investments outweigh the risks by far. Whether the involvement of China and African countries is positive or negative, it will still remain speculative and theoretical. In this regard, China has always been on the sidelines in regards to Africa’s issues. However, its recent interest has caused a wave of change in Africa, much of which has been positive. No one can tell whether the effect will change with time as it is still early to tell the greater impacts to come. China is not known to have any pattern at all, thus, it is quite difficult to predict its next move or course of action. China is little different from the western powers that had dominated Africa. Even though its ideology about the world order is different, Africa does not know what to expect wgich can be very frustrating and nerving as no country wants a repeat of the colonial era.

Reference List

Adem, S 2010, ‘The Paradox of China’s Policy in Africa’, African and Asian Studies, vol. 9, pp. 334-355.

Ademola, T, et al, 2009, ‘China-Africa Trade Relations: Insights from AERC Scoping Studies’, The European Journal of Development Research, suppl. Special Issue: China in Africa: A Relationship in Transition, vol. 21, no. 4: pp. 485-505.

Alden, C 2007, China in Africa, Zed Books [u.a, London [u.a.:

Bauman, C 2010, The impact of the Chinese engagement in southern Africa with a country focus on Nigeria, GRIN Verlag GmbH, München.

Cheng, JYS & Shi, H 2009, ‘China’s African Policy in the Post-Cold War Era’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 87-115.

Dijk, MP 2009, The new presence of China in Africa, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam.

Edoho, FM 2010, ‘Globalization and Marginalization of Africa: Contextualization of China–Africa Relations’, Africa Today, vol. 58, no. 1, pp. 103-124.

Kermeliotis, T 2011, Is the West losing out to China in Africa? Web.

Lafargue, F, 2005, China’s Presence in Africa, China perspectives, Web.

Mobiuos, M, 2011, China’s growing presence in Africa, Web.

Moyo, D, 2012, Africa Benefits from Chinese ‘Colonialism’, Web.

Naidu, S et al, 2009, ‘China’s (Re)-Emerging Relations with Africa: Forging a New Consensus?’ Politikon, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 87–115.

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