Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Colonial Patterns in the Growing Africa and China Interaction: Dependency and Trade Intensity Perspectives

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Colonial Patterns in the Growing Africa and China Interaction: Dependency and Trade Intensity Perspectives

Article excerpt


Underlying the European motives for colonial expansion into Africa was the pursuit of mineral wealth and territorial conquest. The conference at Berlin (1885) provided the ground rules for such territorial scramble: States claiming territory would have to produce proof of economic and infrastructure development in the region claimed. Clearly, from the outset of the colonization of Africa, the drawing of borders was associated with mineral exploitation and infrastructure development.

Not surprisingly, China's thirst for African minerals and the concomitant infrastructure development, exacerbated by the heavy and growing reliance of Africa on China for financing of its infrastructure needs, have been painted as being nothing but a new form of colonialisma. For instance, during a tour of Africa in 2012, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced China for displaying traits of "new colonialism" in Africa (quoted in Krause-Jackson 2011). Other more extreme assertions in this regard point out that as China pledged to development massive infrastructure projects in Africa, "the continent has now become de facto Chinese territory" (Durden, 2012). Moreover, influential African policymakers have recently been echoing similar concerns. These include Lamido Sanusi, the governor of Nigeria's central bank, who points out that the Chinese practice of importing Africa's unprocessed primary commodities and exporting manufactured products to Africa is the "essence of colonialism" (Sanusi 2013).

It should be noted that the above observation by Sanusi (2013) clearly refers to China's alleged neocolonialism in Africa within economic and trade structures and does not stem from a territorial-settlement or state-centric view. Because of this departure from the traditional state-centric analytical framework, dependency theory (Prebisch 1959) is arguably in a privileged position to offer valuable insights in that it focuses on "aspects of power that are linked with economic structures, rather than with state-centric interpretations of sovereignity" (Worth and Kuhling 2004: 32).

Based on insights from the trade-dependency literature, the present paper seeks to determine whether China is a particularly rapacious neocolonialistb in its interactions with individual African countries. We postulate that, besides trade structure, what makes bilateral trade interactions look particularly colonial is the existence of exceptionally higher trade flows between Africa and China than would otherwise be expected. Relative trade intensity analysis is the most suitable analytical tool for this perspective and is thus used in this study. Indeed, the findings show that there are ten African countries in which an asymmetric trade relationship with China not only exists but is exacerbated by the growing dependence on China for financing of their infrastructure needs. In view of this ongoing debate, this paper is timely and is expected to contribute to a better understanding of the purported colonial expansion of China into Africa and of the nature of Africa's dependence on China.

The rest of this paper is organized as follows: The second provides an overview of the relevant literature and trade facts while the third section presents theoretical and analytical considerations. The fourth section presents empirical results and discusses their implications for the alleged colonialism, and the last section summarizes the conclusions of the study.

Literature and Factual Overview

To assess whether China is actually involved in some form of colonialism in Africa, and what that means, we need a firm grasp of what is meant by colonialism. In general, the concept of colonialism and its derivatives is multifaceted and thus contentious (Lange et al. 2006). Generally, the literature on colonialism or its variants (e.g., neocolonialism) overwhelmingly focuses on political domination, territorial occupation, and economic exploitation, and the concept of colonialism has often been approached from these three dimensions. …

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