Academic journal article China Perspectives

China in Africa: A Limited Conquest

Academic journal article China Perspectives

China in Africa: A Limited Conquest

Article excerpt

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, China has become a major economic player in Africa due to its interest in the continent's deposits of raw materials and hydrocarbons. It is also concerned with forging a fruitful political partnership with Africa, which would give it a stronger influence within the international community.

China's presence in Africa can be gauged by the increase in bilateral trade,0' which went from $12.3 billion in 2002 to $40 billion in 2005 before climbing to $55.5 billion the following year and to $72.9 billion in 2007.

Criticism of China's policy in Africa has become commonplace. China is accused of establishing colonial relations with Africa by importing the continent's raw materials(2) while exporting value-added finished products. Chinese businesses also benefit from the situation of the yuan, a currency that is notoriously undervalued, while countries in the franc zone are penalised through the appreciation of the CFA franc, itself linked to the Euro. Chinese companies are also accused of engaging in all-out competition with African countries in third markets such as the European Union. The clothing industry in Morocco (which represents 45 percent of industrial jobs) has been made particularly vulnerable since cancellation of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA) on 1 January 2005 liberalised China-EU trade in this area. Similarly, the AGOA Agreements<3) designed to encourage exports, especially of textiles, from African countries to the United States now seem much less attractive. These are not the only criticisms. Chinese conglomerates are also blamed for the shoddy workmanship of African infrastructure, the mediocre quality of traded goods, and the fact that their workforce is recruited from China and poorly paid.(4) The profits made by Chinese entrepreneurs are also seldom reinvested locally. Beijing grants financial aid in a cavalier fashion without any concern for the solvency of its debtors. Indeed, during a meeting of G8 Finance Ministers in May 2007, Western countries publicly expressed concern that China's attitude was a contributing factor in the indebtedness of African states. In the words of German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, "We note that China has a growing interest in African resources (...),<5)" which is leading it "to start all over again the very thing we were hoping to put an end to with our debt reduction program, namely, the overindebtedness of African countries." Finally, Chinese investment gives comfort to autocratic regimes such as those of José Dos Santos in Angola or Omar al-Bashir in Sudan. In 2007 these two states accounted for 47 percent of all China's imports from the African continent.

There is no shortage of arguments denouncing the negative impact of China's presence in Africa. Neo-colonialism is a term routinely used not only in Europe, but now also by African elites, former South African President Thabo Mbeki being a case in point.<6) A detailed analysis of the situation reveals a somewhat different picture, however. This article does not discuss the motivations the PRC may have for being in Africa, or its investment strategies, which have already been the subject of a number of studies.P) It does, however, indicate the need for a sense of proportion to understand China's growing influence in Africa, given that the scope of its economic interests there remains limited. The whole discourse on "China's conquest of Africa" must be seen in the context of a common yet largely unhelpful critique of Beijing's policy, which has little to do with the actual situation. In fact, China's African policies have subjected it to a barrage of criticism that is not always justified.

Ichina's place In Africa remains limited

The PRC is today Africa's third most important trading partner. Table I shows that since 2000 the amount of trade between Africa and China has increased by 600 percent, compared with 197 percent for the United States and Africa. …

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