How the Sino-African Relationship Is Influencing the Rest of the World

By Imai, Aya | African Business, January 2013 | Go to article overview

How the Sino-African Relationship Is Influencing the Rest of the World


Imai, Aya, African Business


China's rapid advance into Africa has sparked a heated debate not only among ordinary citizens and analysts but also within the corridors of world power. The West accuses China of neo-colonialism while China responds that its policy of noninterference is just what the emerging world, including Africa needs. But does the growing relationship between China and Africa have larger, global strategic implications? Aya lmai (inset) argues that it does and that it is already shaping global policy.

China in Africa is no longer a myth but a fact of life. The dragon's sensational arrival on the scene, which has been accelerated particularly after Beijing's decision to initiate the "going global" (Zauchfiqa) policy in 1999, has attracted the attention of investors, scholars, policy makers and a wider population, and has led to a phenomenal upsurge in the amount of relevant research and analysis.

Much of this has focused solely on either negative or positive repercussions of China's growing presence on the African continent, and, as such, there has been an increasing call for a re-evaluation of Sino-African affairs not as a neatly demarcated area within contemporary international relations, but as a key turning point in the post-Cold War global order.

Of equal significance is the impact of this relationship on the policy-making processes of China's neighbouring Northeast Asian states. Last month, China, Japan and Korea met in Beijing for the Trilateral Policy Consultation on Foreign Policy towards Africa, this being the fifth of its kind. This effort of linking foreign policies is quite an extraordinary accomplishment in a geopolitical setting as notorious as that of Northeast Asia.

Dominating views

Back in 2008, Chris Alden of the London School of Economics wrote: "It is the rise of China that has introduced new dimensions into relations between the two regions [Asia and Africa] and is itself indicative of a fundamental change in the pattern of international relations." Statements along the same lines as Alden's that strive to grasp the Sino-African relationship in a broader context have often been neglected amongst the mainstream commentaries in favour of those made by popular media or risk analysis consultancy, whose focus has been heavily inclined towards the latest updates of Chinese involvement in Africa's political economy. For example, the latest $2.5bn deal between Sinopec and Total over the latter's offshore Nigerian field and the new agreement to build the West African Coastal Highway signed by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), etc.

This is understandable given the fast-paced nature of the current Sino-African engagement and the volume of relevant information that comes with it. Google 'China' and 'Africa', and you will soon be confronted with more than 1.4bn search results that are enough to overwhelm anyone with countless detailed case studies, which eventually put one off from caring about a bigger picture.

This is why the commentaries on the Sino-African relationship can be broadly categorised into two contrasting views with both views mainly focusing on China and Africa per se.

The first view portrays China as a neocolonialist or as a greedy and cold-hearted resource-scrambler, with which several Western high officials align closely. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is famous for her condemnatory speech against China's "creeping colonialism" made during her 2011 tour in Africa: "We saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave. And when you leave, you don't leave much behind for the people who are there. We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa," she said.

Some African politicians also echo such an overly pessimistic view, a good example being the current Zambian President, Michael Sata. The well-known story of the 2006 Zambian election, where Sata brilliantly played the anti-China card and threatened Beijing by promising an official recognition of Taiwan, is too often elaborated as a brave attempt to resist the repetition of colonial history. …

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