Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

China-Africa Relations in the 21st Century

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

China-Africa Relations in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, while the United States and other Western powers focused on counterterrorism and traditional aid programs in Africa, the People's Republic of China (PRC) developed a broad, unified strategy toward Africa. This policy spans government ministries and uses all four instruments of national power. "China's African Policy," announced in January 2006, is a bold step for the PRC as it demonstrates a fundamental foreign policy change for a government that once valued noninterference as its highest standard. Although the policy still espouses China's historic respect for the sovereignty of other countries, the scope of its activities reveals a clear intent to advance Beijing's involvement in Africa beyond historical levels and build strategic partnerships on the continent that will substantially increase China's economic, political, and military presence. With U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) now having full operational capability, it is important for officials to understand the extent of the PRC's engagement in Africa, where it is going in the future, and the implications for USAFRICOM.



China and Africa share a common history with respect to colonialism and their economic and political developments. China's 2006 African policy stems from the resulting decades of growing formal and informal Sino-African cooperation since World War II. The underlying principles behind this cooperation, documented at the first Asian-African conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, declared Beijing's respect for the sovereignty of other nations and pledged to avoid interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

Yet despite the nature of these principles, China's recent actions demonstrate a more proactive involvement on the African continent. Over the past decade, a shift in domestic politics made it acceptable and necessary to engage in matters external to the PRC. Understanding the roots of this cultural shift is central to understanding the intent behind China's African policy and its interests on the continent.

China's New outlook

More than anything, China's growing economy, especially over the past decade, forced a shift in foreign policy in order for the country to maintain its economic growth. The 9.5 percent rate of growth since 1996 necessitated the change by creating an increased demand for energy and raw materials to support Chinese industries. To compete with the United States and the European Union in the African oil market, the PRC had to get more involved in regional and local organizations and affairs, in contrast to its previous policies of noninterference.

China's newfound prosperity also enabled the change by bolstering its people's confidence in their nation's world position. On the African continent, the effects of this transformation are evident in two key areas: an ever-increasing presence of Chinese expatriated civilians and military forces, and increased economic and political investment. By engaging in this manner, China hopes to draw attention and business away from Africa's traditional aid and trading partners-the United States and the European Union. (1) Ultimately, this need to support a growing economy and the desire to take a larger role in world affairs underpin nearly all of Beijing's activities in Africa.

PRC Policy in Action

China's African policy categorizes its interests in Africa into four "fields"--political; education, science, culture, health, and social; peace and security; and economic (2)--which are comparable to the diplomatic, information, military, and economic instruments of U.S. national power. The following details many of China's activities over the past decade in these four areas while making predictions about where they might go in the future.

Diplomatic. Over the past decade, China set out to improve diplomatic relations with Africa on two primary fronts: first, institutionally through official forums; and second, bilaterally through political exchange programs and an expanded embassy and consular presence. …

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