China in Africa: Sino-African Relations Aspects

Introduction

Africa has been a great interest in the eyes of China. During the colonial period when major world countries were all struggling to have a piece of Africa, China was at the forefront in advocating for the liberation of African countries from colonialism. This is a fact that made China greatly stand out. This longstanding support and solidarity from China to Africa have contributed to the current friendly relationship between Africa and China (Adem 2010).

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The Chinese sympathy with Africa could be emanating from the fact that they both shared a common ground. This is in respect to the fact that they were both used by Africa’s colonists. Chinese laborers were used in the building of infrastructure in African countries by colonists like the Germans, the British, and also the French. During that time, China did the unexpected: it supported the rampant liberation movements that were rising in various African states.

China was involved in the development of most African states. It helped in the construction of roads and railways and also 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 favor from Africa. However, the interaction between China and Africa has remained limited in the post-colonial era, until recently (Cheng &Shi, 2009).

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

China’s interaction with Africa started a long time ago, and China has helped Africa in various ways on previous occasions. All these could be the reason why most countries do not view China’s renewed interest in Africa as threatening. China was courting Africa during the pre and post-colonial times with its alliance and support during the trying times for many African states and, consequently, Africa gives China diplomatic support and commercial benefits.

Globalization is the integration of various countries and nations for the mutual benefits of these countries in terms of trade and economic growth, peaceful coexistence, interactions with various cultures and immigration. In as much as globalization promises good things to African countries, there are also disadvantages associated with globalization. It can lead to mass discontent and inequalities amongst countries. Africa’s marginalization has been brought about by globalization (Edoho, 2011).

There is a decline in the investments done by the western countries, the economic assistance and the trade being done between Africa and other countries. These are the effects of Africa’s marginalization brought about by globalization. Although Africa’s economy has been on the decline, China’s economy has been on a steady growth increase of about 9% per annum over the past twenty years. This has placed China on the pedestal of the world’s superpowers with a strong economy and top-notch technology.

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In the recent past, China’s interest in African states has raised eyebrows, especially due to its pace and effect. African countries are notorious for staggering debts to other countries, especially America and Britain. In 2003, China shocked the whole world by clearing over 10 billion dollars in debt that Africa owed the states. It followed later and cleared other debts from 31 African countries. A 42% increase in the volume of business between China and African countries was noted in 2007 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 worth of aid to 49 African countries (Cheng &Shi, 2009). At that time, it was still struggling to steady its economy but still had enough to share with needy African countries, even when other countries of the west were more interested in exploiting Africa.

The China-African relationship is a symbiotic one. The reason China renewed its interest in Africa is due to its highly growing economy. In this case, China tends to run out of raw materials and that 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 Africa has exported in the past years has risen substantially (Adem, 2010). China getting involved in Africa back in colonial times was a very strategic move.

African countries are wary of their former colonists but tend to trust China. This could be 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 aid unless an African country adheres to certain expectations. The matter of interference with the internal affairs of African states by China is a source of debate. Adem (2010) argues that Chinese interference with the African state’s 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 Darfur where ideological interference was noted.

In exchange for the raw materials Africa exports to China, China has, over the years, 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 their relationship. Though the relationship is a seemingly a symbiotic one, based on the current status, there are also risks involved in encouraging this relationship, especially for the African countries involved.

How China gains from the China-African relationship

China has a lot to gain from Africa. The major reason being China is one superpower against many third-world countries. China can very easily support its economy, while these African countries require aid for their economies to crawl. Adem (2010) says that African countries can win more concession favors as a group better than they can on an individual basis. Africa has a higher 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. Though most of the oil exports in Africa are exported to the US and Europe, the exports made to China are expected to increase in the coming years. China also knows that Africa is a virgin of raw materials. Much of Africa’s potential is still untapped. The economy of China mainly depends on its manufacturing industries; hence, its relationship with African countries is very beneficial to China.

Even though investments in African states by Chinese companies benefit African states, they benefit China more. China seeks to expand its economy. Its home ground is not large enough, hence, its investment in Africa provides an industrial base right on the raw material sources. These Chinese companies established in African states provide some connections for China and make the export of the needed raw materials even easier. With the rise of China as a superpower, the rivaling superpowers like Europe and the US feel threatened by its presence.

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China’s way of toning down this unwanted attention is getting involved in African countries. By diverting some of its investments in Africa, it takes some attention from its growing empire and, at the same time, flexes its muscles more by venturing into new waters. Also, the Chinese continued support for African countries, and the aids it provides, help place China in a good light with the rest of the world. It is as if China is trying to prove that benevolent superpower 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. This is because it 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).

How Africa gains from the China-African relationship

The most obvious benefit that Africa gains from its continued relationship with China are the cancellation of debts. As we have seen above, China has contributed so much to the economy of most African countries more than any other external force. China canceled many African debts in the form of interest-free government loans in many 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 infrastructural development within African countries. Chinese companies have constructed roads, railways, buildings, dams, telecommunication networks among others in African countries.

With most debts out of the way, thanks to China, African states are now able to attract more international investments from other countries too. This is 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 favorable 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. The loans from China are, thus, a welcome break for African states.

The increasing volume of trade between African states and China has seen the steady growth of most African countries’ economies. African countries need a constant expansion of their trade volume for their economies to grow. China is providing just a 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, alongside professional training. The Chinese companies that have invested in African countries bring with them much needed technology for the fast and easier completion of the construction of infrastructure. These companies also provide employment opportunities for the citizens in these countries, hence, help improve the living standards of these people and contribute to the overall economic growth via the payment of taxes.

Nonetheless, though there are numerous benefits brought about by this symbiotic relationship between China and Africa, there are disadvantages associated with this too. There is no doubt that Africa is at risk of being disadvantaged more than China, and these disadvantages are materialized. Edoho (2011) asserts that there is a very large possibility that China is only filling the void that was left by former colonizers after they disintegrated themselves from Africa. China comes in to be the new colonizer, masqueraded as a partner in the development and a helper. Africa promises untapped raw materials for Chinese industrial endeavors.

Though China is in the guise of true partnership, its intentions are very suspicious. No country can just support another for philanthropic reasons without having considered its interests at first. With the benefits that China has brought Africa, it is clear that is has to be benefiting more for it to continue doing what it does in Africa. Something that cannot pass a normal observer’s eye is the fact that China does not distribute its beneficial attention to African states in an equal way; there are more interests in some states than others. For instance, there is more China’s interest in South Africa. This could be because South Africa is endowed with vast gold deposits whose potential is still largely untapped.

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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; it seeks to continue tapping until there is none left. The interests of China override the economical sustainability and livelihood of the countries where it invests.

China’s wellbeing overrides its accountability to the citizens of the countries it claims to help. China’s cancellation of debts might have seemed heaven-sent to the African countries at that time, but is just a vicious cycle created. African countries are now at an even greater risk of getting into bigger debts. With African countries finally out of debt, 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 bit.

Very soon, they will be in huge debts again, this time to China, their apparent savior. Even though 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 more. China will just 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, and still do not have enough China’s assets to offset the risks of its involvement with China. The economies will nosedive to worse levels than before, and it will be a real image of the third world.

One might argue that China too faces risks by investing so much in Africa, but let us face it, the risks are different and China can easily find a way out. Corruption in African countries and sometimes insecurities in these countries form a major part of these risks. However, this can be termed as occupational risks. They are worthy risks in the sense 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 remain speculative and theoretical.

This is because China has always been in the side-lines on Africa’s issues, but 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, so it is quite difficult to predict its next move or course of action. China is a little different from the western powers that had dominated Africa. Even though its ideology about the world order is different, hence, Africa does not know what to expect. This can be very frustrating and nervous as no country wants a repeat of the colonial era.

Bibliography

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

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

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

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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