THE AFRICAN LION AND THE DRAGON IN THE EAST
“I’ll love you dear, I’ll love you till China and Africa meet, and the river jumps over the mountain and salmon sing in the street.” –W.H. Auden
China’s interest in Africa raises tough questions the world over. Maybe most pressingly for the United States: What does China’s pragmatic, multifaceted agenda on the African continent mean for African democracy, especially in light of the failures of Western aid? Time will provide the answer, but in the meantime westerners need a new way to approach Africa.
Perhaps ironically the West can learn from China on how to better engage with Africa: in 2009 China exceeded the U.S. as Africa’s largest trade partner; more than 2000 Chinese companies have invested so far in Africa; and between 1956 and 2006 some 160 Chinese officials visited Africa while 524 African officials made 676 visits to China. The Dragon of the East’s engagement on the continent should certainly come with a healthy dose of skepticism, but the sheer level and diversity of interaction merits consideration beyond the West’s largely aid-based approach to the continent. From these factors alone, it should be clear that trying to buy development with aid alone must become an idea of the past.
Over the last 30 years, China’s meteoric growth has catapulted it from a third world country to one of the world’s heavyweights. Today China boasts the second largest economy in the world with a GDP of $7.3 trillion. In the process, 600 million of its people have been lifted out of poverty. At the same time, China’s extraordinary rise has caused concerns in other parts of the world, and despite its assurance of a peaceful ascension, questions remain: Is China a competitor or a partner? Are they a threat, a nuisance or an opportunity? What does China’s rise mean for international relations as the world encounters a new great power? And what does China’s growth model mean for democracy and freedom?
Questions like these are playing out in bold colors on the African continent. China’s interest in Africa over the last twenty-some years has caused both head scratching and hand wringing in the West. In a hearing on “China’s influence in Africa” before the House of Representatives in July 2005, Rep. Donald Payne of the House Committee on International Relations stated succinctly, “China’s economic and political pursuits appear to be undermining United States success in alleviating poverty and expanding US influence [in Africa].” For their part, Africans have welcomed China with a healthy dose of skepticism: Is this neocolonialism? How do African countries seize opportunities and mitigate harmful interests?
With China’s increasingly muscular ties to Africa, the answers to questions like these will no doubt be complicated. China’s involvement on the continent stretches back centuries and includes business, government, military, immigration, and a myriad of other linkages. All of this to say, “China in Africa” is a topic teeming with complexities, and the intertwining of Dragon in the East with the African Lion brings with it equally as complex benefits, opportunities, challenges and troubles.
Chinese Interests on the Continent
Unlike China’s ideological agenda that drove its interaction with the continent during the Cold War, the country’s current interests on the continent are more varied. They are threefold and are embedded in their stated policy of mutual benefit, respect and non-intervention:
China’s most prominent interest in Africa is resources. Writing in “China in Africa: Savior or Self Interest?,” Ambassador David Shinn notes that, “China obtains about one third of its oil imports from African countries and significant mineral resources: for example about 90 percent of its cobalt, 35 percent of its manganese and 30 percent of its tantalum.” Africa is so significant in this regard that Shinn attests, “It would be difficult for China to meet all of its mineral needs from non-African sources.”
Secondly, China’s interests are driven by its expanding export market. Africa’s population of nearly 1 billion people and huge labor force provide a huge opportunity for China to grow its exports. In fact, between 2000 and 2010 China’s exports to Africa grew by a factor of thirteen. Overall according to 2011 measures, China’s exports to sub-Saharan Africa are triple those of the United States.
Third, Africa is crucial to China’s geopolitical strategy. China’s accession to the UN Security Council is a prime example of the essential role African countries have provided to China. In 1971, China succeeded in unseating Taiwan from the Security Council with heavy support from African countries. Currently only four African countries still recognize Taipei, and China is interested in completely eliminating recognition of Taipei on the continent. Though China does not attach conditions to its aid, it has historically required African governments to recognize the one-China policy in exchange for assistance.
Of course, these are state-level interests. China’s basis for interaction with Africa is much more complex than Western caricatures tend to depict.
Extent of China’s Involvement with Africa
Chinese “aid” does not fit squarely into the Western assistance paradigm. Chinese grants and loans qualify as ODA, but most of China’s public finance transfers to and from Africa do not. These conflicting definitions of aid are perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that China wrote its first white paper on foreign aid in 2011, many decades after Western power considered foreign aid as a policy tool.
Nevertheless, the Beijing has distributed $37.7 billion in aid, of which $15.6 billion comes from grants, $11.25 billion from zero-interest loans, and $10.8 billion from concessional loans. In the same white paper, the Chinese government stated that its foreign aid had grown 29.4% annually between 2004 and 2009. Most noteworthy is that 45.7% of Chinese aid was directed to Africa, significantly larger than its next biggest recipient, Asia, which totaled only 32.8%. This percentage reflects China’s fierce interest in the African continent. Of course, these numbers must be viewed in the context of other significant aid flows. According to figures from the OECD, China gave $1.2 billion in ODA in 2008, compared to $4.1 billion from the World Bank, $7.2 billion from the U.S., and $2.6 billion from the U.K.
China’s history of immigration into Africa dates back to the Ming Dynasty, as Chinese international trade spread throughout the Indian Ocean region. The longest-standing Chinese populations are found primarily on Africa’s eastern coast in South Africa, Reunion, and Madagascar. On the other hand, there have never been significant populations of sub-Saharan Africans in China, neither in the past or the present.
But in recent years the level of people-to-people interaction has increased noticeably. In 2006, Hu Jintao proclaimed that China aimed to train 15,000 African professionals over a three-year span. A growing number of African students see China as a way to expand their academic and professional careers in light of contracting opportunities in Europe. A less significant push has been made to compel working African adults to travel to China. Nigeria, for instance, has established expatriate communities in the Middle Kingdom. Like in other parts of the world, sub-Saharan Africans face racism and discrimination in China; yet this has not prevented them from seeking out the vast landscape of opportunity that China holds.
The exact numbers of Africans in China and Chinese in Africa are unclear. One source estimates that, “The Chinese community in [Africa] has surged from 80,000 in the 1980s to an estimated 350,000 in 2006, though overall migration to Africa is declared by Beijing to be only 750,000 (with other estimates higher).” Even “Chinatowns” have appeared in cities such as Dakar, Lagos and Cape Town. While these numbers may seem insignificant in a country of billions, they represent a depth of interaction unseen from the West.
Trade and Investment.
The Chinese trade relationship with Africa is growing in size and significance. “Between 1995 and 2000 commercial exchanges [between China and Africa] more than doubled from 4 billion USD to 10 billion USD, having quadrupled in the following five years (42 billion USD in 2005) and the figure surpassed 106 billion USD in 2008.” According to the Heritage Foundation, China’s non-bond transactions—a form of foreign investment—reached $31 billion from 2005 to 2010 to Sub-Saharan Africa, compared with 29.7 billion for East Asia, 36.7 billion for Europe, and 22.9 billion for the US. In 2011, China’s total foreign direct investment reached $14.7 billion, though the number is believed to be closer to $40 billion. Additionally, more than 2000 Chinese companies have invested in Africa. To provide some perspective, China’s investments may outweigh that of the U.S. or any single European country, but the cumulative investment of the West exceeds what China has contributed. 
With $166 billion in trade, China has surpassed the U.S. as Africa’s largest trading partner. According to 2010 figures, China exported about $60 billion to Africa consisting primarily of machinery, textiles, and transportation equipment. At the same time, China imported just over $60 billion worth of goods—over 80% of which are minerals.
The trend has been upward. China’s total trade with Africa grew from $6.3 billion in 1999 to $166 billion in 2011. Chris Alden, African foreign policy expert at London School of Economics notes that, “While Africa’s share in Chinese exports grew from 1.7% in 1996 to 2.7% in 2006, the share in imports expanded from 1% to 3.6% in the same decade.” The results have not been homogenous, however. Africa’s oil exporters generally have large trade surpluses while the poorer countries tend to run deficits.
Overall, the results seem to be positive. Brautigam explains, “Before trade with Chinese picked up, African consumers did not really have much choice of things that they could buy at the low end … I think African countries are happy that they have a diversity of trade partners, that they do not have their trade locked into their former colonizers and that they do not have it going in just one direction.”
The early years (1960-2000) of Chinese foreign relations with Africa occurred largely in the context of Sino-Taiwanese tensions. But in 2000, China established the Forum for China Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) as part of its “go global” strategy. The forum occurs every three years, alternating locations between China and Africa, and serves as a platform to announce new Chinese lending programs, development projects, or debt forgiveness. While such events are becoming more and more commonplace in the 21st century, LSE’s Alden sees in FOCAC a certain “dynamism lacking in many other trans-regional initiatives.” This may be due to the fact that China often reserves revealing its policy initiatives until such conferences, whereas Western powers decide aid packages in congressional proceedings at different times and locations than official announcements of new aid or trade packages.
At one FOCAC meeting held in November 2009 in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, Wen Jiabao revealed a “10 billion USD package of concessional loans, commitments to raise African agricultural productivity, to reduce or eliminate tariff barriers for Africa’s poorest countries, build hospitals and schools, new or expanded training programmes to address human development, provisions for 100 clean energy projects and greater support for peace and security.” The fifth, and most recent, FOCAC was held in July 2012, and included the creation of Afreximbank—Africa’s trade finance bank.
Most representative of the level of Sino-African engagement are the number of official visits exchanged between continents. Over the last 50 years, some 160 Chinese dignitaries have visited Africa and 524 Africans with the rank of minister of higher have made 676 visits to China. President Hu has been to Africa six times during his tenures as vice-president and president. All U.S. presidents combined have taken eight trips to sub-Saharan Africa.
This overview of China in Africa just scratches the surface. Sino-African interactions also include intermarriage, military training exercises, and black markets to name a few. China’s interaction with Africa is rife with opportunities and troubles in equal measure, but it does represent the movement of a continent out of the margins of global politics and economics. China’s presence on the continent, like that of other world powers, comes with its own suite of problems. There are saddening tales of the decimation of the African elephant from the illegal ivory trade (in part fueled by Chinese demand), and arms transfers that have found their way into conflict zones. Finally, China in Africa is not a monolithic story, but rather a complex array of interactions. Time will judge the ultimate intentions of China in Africa, but the responsibility falls on Africans themselves to manage and mitigate their own interests against the interests of other state-actors.
 U.S. Africa Policy Beyond the Bush Years: Critical Challenges for the Obama Administration. Ed. Jennifer G. Cooke and J. Stephen Morrison. CSIS 2009: pg 154.
 This framework is borrowed from Amb. David Shinn writing in Great Decisions 2012 “China in Africa: Savior or Self Interest?”
 Brautigam in Rising China, 207-211. For further discussion of the discrepancies between Chinese and OECD reporting, see Sven Grimm’s “Transparency of Chinese Aid: An analysis of the published information on Chinese external financial flows.”
 Grimm. 31.
 Brautigam in Rising China, 211.
 Brautigam, Deborah. “China’s African Aid: Transatlantic Challenges,” pg. 3.
 Alden, Chris. “The Changing Dynamics of China’s Engagement in Africa,” pg. 190. For other estimates see Politzer or the African-Caribbean Pacific Observatory on Migrations, “South-South extraregional migration: An overview of emerging trends.”
 David Shinn. China in Africa: Savior or self-interest. Great Decisions. 2013
 Alden. pg. 190
 Scissors, Derek. “Tracking Chinese Investment: Western Hemisphere Now Top Target,” pg. 3
 Shinn. 2013
 Shinn. 2013
 Alden. pg. 185
 Alden. 194
 Alden, 191
 Shinn. 2013
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