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China’s Role In African Development

One billion Covid- 19 vaccines and a pledge to continue funding development across Africa but can china avoid criticism over taking advantage of natural resources and saddling developing nations with unsustainable debt this is in this article.

China's president Xi Jinping has promised African nations 1 billion coronavirus vaccines and has pledged to continue economic investment in the region. He made the comments virtually as part of the annual forum on the China-Africa cooperation as the two-day summit in Senegal comes to a close.

China emphasized how crucial the partnership is China in Africa's largest trading partner with nearly 190 billion dollars in trade so let's take a closer look at China's long-term investment plans in Africa Chinese foreign direct investment in the continent was almost three billion dollars in 2020 totaling almost 50 billion overall almost a third of that investment has gone into the construction infrastructure development areas now that's helped make China Africa's biggest trading partner it's also given China premier access to needed raw materials to fuel its economy it's the largest importer of copper and cobalt from Africa most of it extracted by Chinese financed companies.

But this investment has also come with a heavy debt burden, Chinese finance comes with an average 4.2 percent interest rate far higher than other international options.

China's contact with Africa

We have to sort of go back to its origin and first contact you might say between the two continents nearly 500 years ago back in the 15th century early trade was that initial contact that they had it was very important and it still remains important today.

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Yeah it is indeed true that the interaction between China and the African continent, go back hundreds of years ago at the time of cause that preceded colonialism and this is something that is also been established based on the evidence of Chinese presence along the African coast and along the east African coast that actually go back further about a thousand years ago now the transactions were significantly modified of course in the period following the second world war in which after the coming to power of Mao Zedong the communist party saw it fit to work with a lot of liberation movements on the continent and they remained very supportive especially on the left-wing side of African politics. 

For much of the cold war and I think that is paying dividends especially in the post-cold war period in which China has sought to entrench those relations further by establishing a more presence in terms of robust economic as well as military posture let me bring in Anthony Goldman there because you've very neatly brought that post-second world war period and the cold war. 

China you might say come in under the radar dare I say it into Africa to deal with those governments who are more left-leaning more sympathetic and of course China itself and I'm quoting here from mount to dong here where he also described himself and China as being part of the third world they recognized and had an affiliation with parts of Africa that was very important in building up that relationship.

As part of that i think that there were projects that China began to engage with following on from that support for countries in Southern Africa so for example building an infrastructure railway between Tanzania and Zambia that was seen as a kind of a landmark thing of the 1970s a landmark achievement in terms of infrastructure mostly I think in that period in of the cold war the most visible presence was actually the tensions between China and Taiwan and that you could go to African capitals and see a competition if you like between Taiwanese built a palace or a Chinese-built national stadium and in a sense I think there's still an echo of some of that competition even today.

But China is still anxious that countries in Africa don't look too far to Taiwan for support but on the whole I think the tilt since the end of the cold war has been much more in favor of China building up actual you know economic ties based less solely around strategy and diplomacy as support for uh the ever-increasing ever demands of Chinese industry. 

China's influence in the region and on the continent has been long-standing and continues to be certainly after this conversational virtual conversation they've had this year no indeed so, I would just very briefly start with 1949 with the founding of the people's republic of China and Mao Zedong.

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I think from day one of the establishment of new China the philosophy has been to treat Africa with a spirit of sincerity, genuine, cooperation and mutual respect and I think that has been a common thread linking the decades since 1949 to today in terms of understanding.

By the relationship between China and the continent would you say that they wanted to try and treat all of those countries with equal respect but there was also this cold war between Russia and the United States or Russia and the West, they wanted to gain influence in Africa as well.

China itself at that time was also obviously very mindful of what its position could be or should be in the future if and when the cold war ended, no certainly and the world has changed tremendously since the early 50s so, geopolitically of course we've seen the cold war between the Soviet Union the United States and China played an important part of that geostrategically and from that perspective I think certainly Africa has been seen as a battleground maybe even a playground for of course colonial powers and I think today as well we've seen in the news I'm sure all this exchange of the United States wanting to contest Chinese influence in Africa but I think one of the things to point out too you touched on zeal is that China has always seen itself as part of the developing world and I think rightly so, today CJ Ping says that china will never forget that it is a member of the group of developing nations and if we go back to what Deng Xiaoping said about crossing the river by feeling the stones I think what China has very clearly enunciated in the last few years is that it has found a way across the river and now is willing to show other people that path but without imposing any type of ideology foreign ideology or any kind of political or economic mechanisms along with that and letting Africa other parts of the world develop on their own terms.

Obviously China may see itself in whatever terms it wants to but China is viewed by some

i.e the USA in terms of its influence across Africa as a bit of a bogeyman I mean they need a new enemy you might say sometimes this time an economic enemy.

I think certainly at the beginning of China's new economic engagement with Africa maybe 20 or so years ago perhaps some of that rhetoric about you know China being you know a fair apartment not having a kind of a neo-colonial agenda that china had its own experience of rapid growth and uh taking people out of poverty industrialization that might have had some currency I don't think it really does anymore I don't think anybody in Africa really thinks like that China is just you know another potential source of financing and other potential and a competitor for projects and I think earlier this week with a senior official in an African country said that perhaps it might be better if people worried less about what china thought for Africa and more what Africa needed from its partners and I think that this is the competition, if you like between rival powers doesn't do a great deal for the people who ultimately are meant to benefit in terms of actually providing projects on their own merits you know projects that are commercially viable and have less kind of this rhetorical baggage from you know that makes more sense perhaps in Washington or even Beijing than perhaps in Burkina, Faso or Zambia. Everyone know Africa itself and its subsequent nations within the continent have had to deal with military gurus cross-border, confrontation, climate change and famine ethnic rivalries each country has its own beset problems.

How has China been able to maintain a good relationship with all of those?

Different sorts of regimes and governments when they've had this whole range of problems across the continent I think China has learned from some of the mistakes that were done by previous powers especially Europe and the United States in part because they does not choose governments for Africans and that is very attractive to African leadership which more often sometimes is not accountable and sometimes they tend to be authoritarian.

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Secondly African countries have found the path of Japanese growth relatable in part because it's a country that is previously being classified as a third world even though that's a political conference but increasingly of course it's moving into the higher stages of being an advanced economy.

Thirdly, I think because China looks at Africa as a partner and does not seek to involve in the channel affairs of indigenous Afghan countries it has allowed both friends and enemies within the continent to actually be able to work with China irrespective of which government of the day is in power and I think because of the kind of relations that it sought to build, while it was relatively poor and the perception of equal partnership that is seeking to build even at the cost of increased debt trap that most African countries are finding themselves in China has been able to be successful in areas where for instance the west has been failed and in part also because it does not have the granule baggage and it's not viewed as negatively as some of the western metropolis even though as I did mention there is an increasing a sense that a number of countries are sinking further into Chinese state that is going to prove unsustainable in the near future.

Africa's resources what China wants and what it needs it for in terms of its manufacturing and product

Extracts cobalt and copper there's a lot of natural resources that China requires and the balance of payments is lopsided as well you know what Africa is able to buy off China is far less than what China you might say takes from Africa. Africa is not a country obviously, there's a huge distinction between the most favored trading partners and some of those countries where maybe China has much less of a relationship with Angola and South Africa are particularly important. I think we've seen some growth in in West Africa in recent year’s China's tried to crack Nigeria with different degrees of success but I think that on top of the products that raw materials typically that China seeks to secure from Africa the energy security and mineral security.

It needs to support growth in that sense, it is fairly familiar to the kind of patterns of economic engagement that other industrialized countries seek with Africa one of the differences perhaps is that China as a major manufacturer of cheap and cheaper products is that actually there's quite a large informal trade that's perhaps not always captured in the official data between China and Africa quite a lot of that has dipped obviously because of the pandemic and the lack of travel over the last 18 months or so but until that they were regular flights from direct from China to parts of Africa where small traders even were going picking up petty goods you know the things to sell at market so I think that the picture isn't always captured by the big data if you like and there has been quite a deep relationship from the top as well as the bottom with Africa even where China's strategic interests do focus more on a particular and small set of countries. 

Xi Jinping announced the fact that there would be less money being invested in Africa as a continent that can be interpreted in many ways one of the ways that it has been interpreted is that

China is listening to what Africa needs and adapting its finances accordingly others are suggesting that China is walking away from Africa. The reality is much more complex and nuanced then too portrayed in such black and white binary terms.

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From the European and perhaps the Americans in dealing with Africa I would say it's much more profound than that and that China brings a true sense of empathy in working with the continent because china has not that long ago struggled with exactly the same issues high mortality rates malnutrition etc.

So, I think that it's coming from a very different place and the philosophy the governing principles or non-interference and respect for each country's systems and choices so I think that allows it to deal much more effectively with the countries of Africa.

It's important to recognize that China does not look at Africa as a patron client relationship but again if we think about it as mutual respect win-win, there will always be adjustments we look at trade with Africa it's been about 200 billion dollars a year over the last five years or so but it goes up and down uh based on exogenous factors as well as domestic market considerations so, I think that the longer term direction is much greater interaction with Africa but we have to see how that unfolds in terms of investments trade details all kinds of other things technical assistance, I believe China provides about 45 percent of its foreign aid to Africa.

Xi Jinping has said that he wants to open green lanes for African agricultural exports he wants to speed up inspection and quarantine procedures to increase the scope of products with zero tariff treatment to help achieve a goal one assumes of equality of trade equality is that how you see it that is in part a response to increasing sentiment on the continent that the balance of payments are heavily in favor of China and therefore China is trying to look for ways in which they can appease the African partners.

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It is important though, that they still increased appeal of China while economically it's seeking sometimes often to make some of the African economies uh in its own image by following its own path it does not seek to make Africa in its own image in terms of values and I think those two things are the ones that have connected these two continents however I would look at the recent statements by the leader of China as more public diplomacy that it meant to our clear peace leaders of the continent and generally the local population that has been complaining about increased Chinese influence in ways that sometimes disadvantages especially local labor. Last week we watched video, where Chinese mine officials had sanctioned and beating of a local man in the democratic republic of Congo for stealing cobalt rock this was videoed it was shown widely.

China's initial thoughts are always about empathy with Africa being equal with Africa understanding the needs of Africa when you see video like this, it undermines that argument doesn't it about what China really wants and this is the you might say the tag that western media and western governments grab hold of and say you see this is what China is really about.

Well it does and I think that there may be a difference between policy from headquarters and what actually happens on the ground and certainly I think that not the only instance you know everybody is a cameraman now and there have been a couple of instances from you know from West Africa as well similar things where relations at the cold face almost, literally do deteriorate quite sharply.

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I think that's probably true with lots of foreign companies but the idea that China is somehow very distinct and much better in that regard is belied by the reality of events in a lot of places on the ground including those where it's been captured in the way that describe and it's also true that in certain in some of those countries where China has its most active engagement it's also become a domestic political issue in Zambia there's certain populist mileage that political parties make in making an issue out of Chinese investments and other elements of Chinese policy because although china was never a colonial power obviously in Africa there has been quite a lot of immigration from China as part of its growth and of economic ties with Africa and I think you know upwards of a million people have moved to Africa over the last 20 years from China and that's concentrated in a few places and sometimes not always with positive results these are difficult changes to make and not changes that happen easily or overnight.

I think it's intellectually dishonest to attribute the actions or the misdeeds of an individual to a government policy I mean us all know that those of us that I'm sure every all of us have interacted with large organizations whether governmental or for-profit and one of the big challenges and especially for Chinese enterprises working in a place far from home with a different language different culture different customs.

That these are very difficult circumstances I think it would be surprising if some sort of mistakes or abuses did not happen we also need to recognize mining is a difficult business as well so, these are unfortunate and I think that they should not happen in an ideal world but certainly as far as I know there is no policy on the Chinese side to condone these types of actions.

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Chinese-made vaccine to the continent obviously a welcome donation but it comes in the context of the world health organization. Africa would be looked after yet western countries did nothing much, little we've been reporting it for 18 months they've done something but not enough not enough for mutations to appear China again helping out as much as it possibly. Previous administration in the United States to paint China a lot more negatively as a source of Covid-19.

It has worked its way into lots of hearts and minds of people especially the developing world and so what this donation means is people are going to pay attention to those soft power aspects of China which it has been doing more excellently despite some of the propaganda that has been shared of course with regard some of the human rights violations in terms of isolated incidents and it's going to I think to go a very long way because the west has largely not been as present and especially Europe and United States has been trying but of course I think it's grappling with its own issues and there are a lot of vaccine and nationalism that has limited the ability of the west to actually engage Africa in a way that is going to be appreciated in the long term.

Soft power how important is that in terms of Chinese policy?

Is it a word? That’s used is it a phrase that's used and do you see this vaccine donation in that same sort of area absolutely so I think soft power is sometimes referred to in the Chinese context is discourse power and in a world where we face global challenges and global responses are required the ability to be heard taken seriously have one's views and opinions seen as legitimate is vital and I think one of the big issues we're seeing here is in places with market-driven economies like they are not able to overcome. 

The structural limitations of for-profit companies wanting to protect their bottom line whereas China is able to act in the interest of its country and the world and I think this is an important factor in its increasing discourse power.

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