China is currently the second-largest economy in the world thanks to the economic reforms brought under the efficient mentoring of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. The country’s growth since then has catapulted itself to unparalleled market liberation and globalization, asserting its ever-evident dominion in the global spectrum. However, China’s interest in Africa rose to the limelight post the 1991 Cold War. With the global market at rest, reeling from the repercussions of the Cold War, China soon advanced toward Africa desiring to become the leading developmental partner through significant sound investments and trade with different countries. China’s endeavor of capitalizing on the African market saw an upright swing testifying to the current situation wherein 900 Chinese companies have invested in oil wells, farms, factories, and retail shops in different parts of the continent. Along with the capitalist intent, China in its brilliant chess strategy also further invested in public welfare projects and aid programs. Consequently, the African continent welcomed the Chinese traffic with their flexible foreign policy, an approach that embraces the aspects of mutual partnership, cooperation, and mutual benefit. Now, the coordination between the two contrastingly opposite nations facilitated by the foreign policy does appear to be a win-win situation. However, a great number of articles written by officials have surfaced in recent years accusing China of having colonial ambitions in Africa. The huge influx of Chinese infrastructure and firm investments coupled with the records of China luring economically weaker nations into debt traps to distort the countries’ sovereignty has made the African scholars doubt the intentions of China. Even the former US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton also had her fair piece of say in blaming China for acting out actions of new colonialism in Africa. However, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi dismissed these accusations by denying claims of colonial abuses, saying that the country does not see itself retracing the old path of Western colonialists.
The reason behind African-attraction
Africa is a continent enriched with long-term energy supplies. China’s attention in Africa does hover around the energy resources and pushes further to incorporate the diplomatic and financial discipline. With the rapid economic growth in China, the population’s prodigious need for resources has propelled China’s bow to Africa. China is currently eyes to secure the energy needs such as oil, gas, iron, coal, copper, uranium, and other raw materials whilst keeping Africa as a vibrant consumer for China’s manufactured goods boosting the progressive industrial development. Hence the quid-pro-quo relationship between the country and Africa’s huge bank of natural resources and raw materials is believed to have been the main reason why China decided of turning Africa in the first place.
Africa despite being huge in size and resources is not a region with a decisive market that has potential; much greater than any other modern market production today. Hence, the untapped wealth is unparalleled in any other open market concerning its size, scalability, and scope. A market like this therefore just requires a bit of investment to get the whole ball rolling. The potential scope of financial returns almost accounts for 1.67 trillion dollars. The additional production in six other different key areas such as forestry, agriculture, tourism, water, human capital, and fisheries. Therefore, there is no doubt as to why China’s relations with Africa grew over the years projecting a growth rate of over 700% during the 1990s.
Trade Practices between China and Africa
There have been two views regarding Chinese influence in the African continent and invariably its market. While some feel that China’s involvement is a great opportunity for African countries to boost their development and economic growth, the rest rightfully doubt the intentions of China concerning its vicious nature of sharking up the small fishes. However, regardless of the eminent concerns, China has emerged as Africa’s biggest and most important trading partner with their trade raking up a total of over 200 billion dollars in 2014 along with a million other Chinese workers who are believed to have immigrated to Africa in recent years.
Regarding the trade, China follows its ever-fruitful holistic approach of ‘I’ll build you a road if you give me that mine’. A similar practice is evident in Africa as well. The business requires African countries to offer big pieces of their natural resources, a factor that not all countries are willing or pleased in doing so. The defying countries are of the opinion that selling the resources to China would invariably become a tool for the foreign country to control or influence other African states. Presently, in pursuance of getting access to African raw materials and resources, China offers ‘interest packages’ to these countries in form of foreign investment, reinforcing their infrastructure, exports cheap manufactured goods, and loans out billions with no strings attached. The no-strings-attached policy or unconditional investment or loans is in plain contrast to the conditions given by western countries. Interestingly, China was the single country that gave more loans and aid to Africa from 2006-to 2008 than the World Bank itself. Chinese heavy investments often consequently hurt the small countries in the long run. The dynamics behind this is that the weak countries often need to comply with the regulations of the foreign countries which consequently results in the miniature countries sacrificing their independent growth through the likes of rights, sovereignty, and even freedom.
There is no doubt that China and its exorbitant investments have led to an exceeding decline in poverty and destitution but also have laid a fine foundation for faster economic growth throughout the whole region. However, those who fear and perceive China’s involvement in Africa as a colonial threat have attested that the deals between the two are more China-leaning and therefore unilateral. This means that China normally gets to be the big winner in these deals. Furthermore, the increased number of Chinese manufactured products in the African market has injured local manufacturers and producers leading them to shut down their small piece of business and supplies. The labor market has therefore suffered manifold and a negative effect on the employment rate can also be seen. This prerogative is viewed from a capitalist perspective where the Africans are of the view that the foreign investors are building a protectionist wall around their industries and business, making it extremely challenging for the small workers to penetrate and get work in these sectors, even for unqualified and unskilled positions. In addition to the misery, Chinese companies importing their laborers from China itself aches the local labor force. Even if the local labor force gets hired, they are paid a lot less than their Chinese colleagues and counterparts. As a result, China invariably manages to knock down and shut off small companies, and restricting local labor involvement is creating a big issue as African states are by some means, losing territory and control.
The relation between the two contrastingly opposite poles as that of China and Africa cannot be defined by a sweeping tag of Neo-Colonialism. The equation is certainly more layered and complex. One of the many reasons for not bracketing the equation in a definitive connotation is the fact that the activities and actions between the states have not been static. Thus, one does not get an appropriate locus to affix the compass and draw a circle enveloping the various parameters, deducing and defining the apt terminology. For instance, even though China’s FDI in Africa is slowly increasing, it hasn’t exceeded equally to the whole of Africa and hence the trade reports do not justify the investments and returns.
It is therefore imperative to understand that the theory of Neo-colonialism involves military, cultural, financial, and economic influence. The traces of which are extremely minimal for establishing the theory. Hence, in terms of monetary and cultural front, China does not appear to be a colonial overlord but suits more to be called a successful capitalist. While the notion of mutual benefit is static and sound, the great economic influence of China on smaller African states does provide an upper hand.
The instances of China being translucent in its actions has of course led to mistrust and suspicion against the country. Rearing and ever-improvising its debt-trap policy is a testament to the country’s hidden agenda behind every investment call it makes. The country’s regular pattern of handing out credit packages, and spending a fortune on infrastructure in return for receiving valuable natural resources in the form of oil and gas mirrors the current turbulent situations of many countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, etc. With China being all over the place in Africa and sustaining itself for the past 50 years does appear to have a bright future concerning the outcome of its increasing influence in the Sub-Saharan region.