China is Not Colonizing Africa

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( — January 18, 2015) Beijing, Beijing — This Economist piece below starts out okay by debunking recent Western AND certain African portrayals of China’s decade-long engagement with Africa as somehow “neo-colonialist”, “neo-imperialist” or China’s “second continent” as Howard French, the former New York Times China correspondent, titled his new book. But, it seems to confuse Chinese state policy toward Africa such as the China-Africa forum and the many state visits bringing investment and aid with the hundreds of thousands of small-time Chinese businessmen who have been going to the continent in search of business opportunities since the early 2000s. Many intend to stay over the long haul and have made Africa their new home.

The piece is right about the many international players that are now there (in part because of China’s dual challenge of state policy and investment and small business inroads) and China’s explicit rejection of a colonial agenda. China has no troops on the ground aside from UN peacekeepers and it hasn’t any colonial-style administrations in the many countries it deals with. And it doesn’t treat the local people like children needing their governance.

Unlike hypocritical Western countries, China deals with all African countries that want to strengthen ties so China builds railroads in Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia and Kenya; searches for oil and builds refineries and pipelines in the two Sudans and Angola, and provides over $122 million dollars in medical and financial aid as well as dispatching hundreds of medical personnel to Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa. In short, neither the Chinese state nor its businessmen harbor any dreams of colonial conquest and overlordship in Africa.

However, the Chinese government and state corporations do want resources in exchange for investment and infrastructure building. They also want to help create vibrant markets in Africa. Enlightened self interest works for both sides. If their presence is no longer welcomed, and that won’t come to pass, they can easily find willing partners on other continents such as in Latin America, the Arab world, Eastern Europe, and even parts of North America, notably Mexico. The Chinese government is smart enough to develop a multi-pronged strategy that assures it does not have all its eggs in any one basket. Even if problems do come to a boil, will the West and other countries such as India pick up the slack? Don’t hold your breath.

And what about the legions of small entrepreneurs that opened businesses and factories, set up shops, tilled fields, or otherwise engaged in trade with the continent? It’s about making a living and should circumstance allow, even get rich. If the going gets too tough businesswise or there is too much political backlash, they’ll simply pack up and head for greener pastures and there are many to go to. Should that comes to pass, and it won’t, it will be a loss for Africa, indeed.

China has become by far Africa’s biggest trading partner, exchanging about $160 billion-worth of goods a year; more than 1m Chinese, most of them labourers and traders, have moved to the continent in the past decade. The mutual adoration between governments continues, with ever more African roads and mines built by Chinese firms. But the talk of Africa becoming Chinese—or “China’s second continent”, as the title of one American book puts it—is overdone.

The African boom, which China helped to stoke in recent years, is attracting many other investors. The non-Western ones compete especially fiercely. African trade with India is projected to reach $100 billion this year. It is growing at a faster rate than Chinese trade, and is likely to overtake trade with America. Brazil and Turkey are superseding many European countries. In terms of investment in Africa, though, China lags behind Britain, America and Italy (see charts).

If Chinese businessmen seem unfazed by the contest it is in part because they themselves are looking beyond the continent. “This is a good place for business but there are many others around the world,” says He Lingguo, a sunburnt Chinese construction manager in Kenya who hopes to move to Venezuela.

A decade ago Africa seemed an uncontested space and a training ground for foreign investment as China’s economy took off. But these days China’s ambitions are bigger than winning business, or seeking access to commodities, on the world’s poorest continent. The days when Chinese leaders make long state visits to countries like Tanzania are numbered. Instead, China’s president, Xi Jinping, has promised to invest $250 billion in Latin America over the coming decade.

The growth in Chinese demand for commodities is slowing and prices of many raw materials are falling. That said, China’s hunger for agricultural goods, and perhaps for farm land, may grow as China’s population expands and the middle class becomes richer.

For the article in its entirety see: