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China-Africa

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China-Africa

What do China and Africa have in common? Very little, and that might just be a good thing (depending on whom you talk to)! Almost all African countries were colonized by European countries, so Africa ended up with European-style governments, economies, educational systems, and speaking European languages. Not all bad, but the legacy of colonialism has also been economic and social wreckage, political problems, and resentment.

China has no such history or 'baggage' with Africa- it did not have a colonial empire, never invaded or staged a coup in an African country, and limited its relationship to the spheres of diplomacy and trade. Now, with China on the cusp of superpower status, it is all about trade. China needs what Africa has (raw materials), and Africa needs what China has (capital and expertise). Critics say that China's treatment of Africa will be no different, or even worse than Europe's during colonialism- read on to find out whether or not this is true.

Chinese Investment in Africa

Africa is a resource-rich continent. However, most of the economies on the African continent are still developing and dependent on foreign countries. China, an emerging superpower, has taken this opportunity to access these natural resources to satisfy its growing production and consumption needs. China has developed strong economic relations with many African countries in return for building their infrastructure and providing them development loans. In 2009, China surpassed the US as Africa's biggest trade partner. To help visualize the development of this relationship, in 2000, trade between the two accounted for US$10 billion, compared to US$220 billion in 2014. In 2021, China-Africa trade reached $254 billion.1

China, Africa, and Colonialism

All of Africa other than Ethiopia and Liberia was colonised by European imperial powers from the 1400s to the 1900s. Genocides, the slave trade, and natural resource extraction (rubber, ivory, timber, and metals such as gold, for example) were dominant destructive forces.

Following World War 2, during the first three decades after the creation of the UN, African colonies mostly gained independence. However, the transition to independence was difficult after centuries of exploitation and often resulted in political instability. This hindered the development of functioning infrastructure, governments, and economies of most former African colonies. Consequently, they came to rely on aid and assistance from IGOs and foreign governments, usually their former colonisers.

China-Africa world map StudySmarterFigure 1: Map of the world after WWII shows the extent of Africa still controlled by Europe - Supertask, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Thus, neocolonialism resulted. This means that the former colonies of French West Africa continued to be closely connected to France economically, culturally, and militarily. The UK continued to have strong relationships with many of its former colonies. Portugal was connected to Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and others. The US also intervened, having never been a coloniser in Africa, but nevertheless seeking military allies and sources of raw materials. The USSR, countering the US, also provided aid.

The result was continuing dependency on foreign aid and a continent submerged in poverty, foreign debt, and chaos, with the lowest human development indicators on the planet. China, also a developing country with its own problems, largely stayed on the sidelines. After the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, the West had a less strategic interest in Africa, and African countries became warier of European neocolonialism.

China stepped in because its booming economy desperately needed sources of raw materials.

China-Africa Relations

Africa is home to 30% of the world's mineral reserves, 40% of the world's gold, and 90% of the world's platinum and chromium2. These valuable resources are extracted by Chinese-owned companies in countries such as Zambia and Mozambique.

China now exploits African resources for economic gain and sets up Chinese schools to exert its cultural influence. China, as well as African beneficiary governments and populations, argue that this is a mutually beneficial relationship, but Western critics charge that China's scheme is to ensnare African governments in debt and seize African resources for next to nothing.

Africa-China chromium StudySmarterFigure 2: Chromite, the ore from which chromium is derived - Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Chinese companies allegedly treat their African workers poorly and pay them little. Many jobs, especially managerial roles, are given to Chinese workers coming to Africa. Chinese goods and services, which are cheaper than local alternatives, push local products and businesses out of the market. To balance this perspective, this is not very different from what happened during colonialism and in many neocolonialist schemes.

Another serious charge is that China does not encourage transparent accounting or good governance, meaning the general public of these countries may not benefit due to the corruption of the political elite. Many alleged human rights abuses have occurred, even leading to riots in a Chinese-owned Zambian mine, as you can read below. Furthermore, negative environmental impacts such as air and water pollution occur, which is the case for the leather industry in Ethiopia, in which China has invested.

Again, what is happening appears similar to neocolonial and colonial schemes. A modern-day difference is the insistence of some foreign governments and IGOs on good governance, prevention of corruption, and protection of human rights as a prerequisite for receiving aid.

Chinese Aid to Africa

Chinese companies and banks such as China Railway Group (CRG) and the Export-Import Bank of China (China Eximbank) have been providing a workforce and funding for large infrastructure projects needed to develop African economies. The intranational and international transportation infrastructure is inadequate, so many railway projects have been constructed and proposed. For example, China Eximbank and CRG helped fund and build the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway in 2016, costing US$4 billion, and now serving as a backbone of the new Ethiopian railway network, giving the country access to the sea. It has a capacity of over 24 million tonnes of freight annually.

Accompanying its economic programme, China has been exerting its cultural and political influence by building schools that teach Mandarin. The Confucius Institute, which seeks to spread Chinese culture and language, has partnered with African universities and now has 48 centres on the continent. In addition to helping China project its soft power in the region, Africans become prepared to work in China.

Ultimately, like all foreign aid, this financial assistance is used to benefit the donor, and this is seen as controversial due to the large amounts of debt African countries now owe China. To be precise, African countries now owe China over US $140 billion. Furthermore, the trade-off has been Chinese accession to mineral rights and land for agricultural production, which is not unlike Western neocolonial projects in the region.

China-Africa Development: Conflict Areas

Tensions are fierce over access to resources in Africa, especially water and energy.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), located along the Blue Nile, started construction in 2011. It is projected to cost a total of 7% of the country's gross national product, or US$5 billion. China Eximbank has funded US $1 billion of this. This dam has created tensions between a Chinese-aligned country, Ethiopia, and an American ally, Egypt. Egypt relies on the river's water and demands the construction cease, and has undergone diplomatic engagements to undermine support for the dam. Tensions between the countries continue to rise with the construction of this dam.

China-Africa Relative locations ethiopia china StudySmarterFigure 3: Locations of Ethiopia and China - PD-Self, Wikimedia Commons

A further source of strain in the region is China's first overseas military base, the Chinese People's Liberation Army Support Base, which started operations in 2017 and is under the control of PLAN, China's navy. It is located in the tiny country of Djibouti and was seen as the start of Chinese projection of hard power to protect its many investments on the African continent.

Case Study: Collum Coal Mining Industries

Collum Coal Mining Industries is a private Chinese firm supplying fuel to the copper and cobalt mines of Zambia3. An incident happened in 2011, in which Chinese managers shot at African workers. This took place during a protest against substandard working conditions. The following year, a Chinese manager was killed over pay disputes. Finally, substandard conditions led to the mine's seizure by the Zambian government. Zambian ministers also claimed that the private Chinese firm running the mines failed to declare the total production of coal accurately and avoided paying tax as a result.

China-Africa Zambia supreme court StudySmarterFigure 4: Supreme Court of Zambia, a former colony of the UK - Brian Dell, PD-Self, Wikimedia Commons

China-Africa - Key Takeaways

  • China is a major player in African economies, relying on Africa for raw materials, particularly minerals, while in return providing aid and development assistance in the form of loans and infrastructure
  • China was not a colonizer or a neocolonial power in Africa, but its current actions there, while beneficial according to some, are often seen to have similar damaging effects on society and the environment
  • China projects its soft power in Africa through cultural initiatives that include schools that teach Mandarin, which is also a way of preparing Africans to work in China
  • China is involved in funding controversial infrastructure projects in Africa, such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  • The Collum Coal Mining Industries scandal in Zambia highlighted poor working conditions, human rights abuses, and alleged corruption perpetrated by Chinese private investors

References

  1. https://qz.com/africa/2123474/china-africa-trade-reached-an-all-time-high-in-2021/#:~:text=China%20is%20Africa's%20largest%20trading,Chinese%20exports%20to%20the%20continent
  2. Mapping Africa's natural resources, Aljazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/2/20/mapping-africas-natural-resources, 2022
  3. Collum Coal Mining Industries, Global Energy Monitor, https://www.gem.wiki/Collum_Coal_Mining_Industries, 2021
  4. "Relative locations," https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ethiopia_People%27s_Republic_of_China_Locator.png
  5. "Supreme Court," https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zambia_Supreme_Court.JPG
  6. "Map of the world," https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colonialism.jpg
  7. "Chromite," https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chromite.jpg

Frequently Asked Questions about China-Africa

Chinese loans to African countries exceed US$140 billion. This is mainly given for large infrastructure projects and the debts are often paid in raw materials that are extracted by China in Africa.

They have a strong economic relationship, whereby China provides loans and helps build major infrastructure projects, in return for the rights and ownership of the extraction of minerals and other natural resources in African countries. Some argue that the relationship is neocolonial.

China did not colonise any countries in Africa, although they have used soft power and indirect means of exerting their control and exploitation of independent African countries.

China does not own any countries in Africa. They do have ownership stakes in mining companies and raw materials, however.

Final China-Africa Quiz

Question

What is China's main motivation for its relationships with African countries?

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Answer

China is seeking to expand its influence to supply its growing demand for raw materials.

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Question

What is neocolonialism?

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Answer

Neocolonialism refers to continuing economic and political exploitation of former colonies.

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Question

Which country hosts China's first overseas military base?

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Answer

Djibouti

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Question

What are some negative impacts of China's companies running mines and infrastructure projects in Africa?

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Answer

Chinese companies allegedly treat African workers poorly with low pay; many jobs are given to Chinese workers coming to Africa; Chinese goods and services push local products and businesses out of the market; human rights abuses; pollution.

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Question

Name one way China is trying to expand its cultural influence in African countries

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Answer

China builds schools and centres that teach Chinese culture and language

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Question

A Chinese-funded dam on the Blue Nile is causing conflict between which two countries?

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Answer

Ethiopia and Egypt

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Question

What were three types of negative effects of colonialism on Africa?

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Answer

Genocide, the slave trade, and resource (raw material) extraction

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Question

What does "dependency" mean in the context of this explanation?

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Answer

"Dependency" signifies the over-reliance of countries such as those in Africa on foreign aid, and is a typical feature of neocolonialism.

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Question

Of what did Zambian ministers accuse a private Chinese firm?

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Answer

Tax avoidance, as they failed to declare accurate total production of coal.

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Question

What was the total cost of the  Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway?

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Answer

US$4 billion

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Question

What is the freight capacity of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway?

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Answer

Over 24 million tonnes of freight annually 

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Question

How much of the world's mineral reserves are found in Africa?

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Answer

30%

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Question

What percentage of the World's platinum and chromium is Africa home to?

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Answer

90%

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Question

What was the total amount of trade between China and Africa in 2014?

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Answer

US$220 billion

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Question

What was the total amount of trade between China and Africa in 2000?


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Answer

US$10 billion

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