Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Crouching Dragon on Safari – Chinese Diplomacy in Africa

China has seen phenomenal changes over recent decades, not only in its economic growth but also in the demographic of its population.  With the considerable development of their manufacturing sector and an ever growing population (including the exponential rise of a middle class) China has had to struggle to secure enough resources to meet the needs of their economy and citizens. This has resulted in China’s interest in the Africa region as a source of oil and other raw materials in order.

This blog is about China’s presence in the African region and what does it do there, why they do it. It is also about how China’s ties to Africa has the potential to improve the standard of living of the many Africans living in poverty but because of the Chinese Government's policy of not interfering in the domestic polices of other countries (a diplomatic way of saying that they will not take a stand on Human Rights violations, poor governance and lack of environmental standards) is actually doing real harm to this region.

Despite Africa’s abundance of natural resources many countries face difficulties in meeting the most basic needs of its citizens as well as to meet the Millennium Development Goals. These are 8 international developments goals created by United Nation members to raise the standard of those living in poverty and it could be argued that these goals were partly developed with Africa in mind.

Africa’s current food crisis highlights how much the continent struggles in meeting the most basic needs for its people. Although there has been millions of dollars of Aid poured into the region, the statistics are still shocking: 380 million people living on less than $1.25 a day for example, 70% of Democratic Republic of Congo Citizens exist below the poverty line (Raine, 2009). 

But Africa has been the focus of the international community for many hundreds of years and the MDGs are the latest chapter in external influence in this region.

While much of this involvement by the international community has had a negative impact on the region, the West’s tradition of linking aid money to progress in transparency, human rights and good governance can only be seen as a positive.   

What is China’s involvement in Africa?

Since China has been going through a period of immense expansion, it has required massive natural resources to support their growth. As Peter Goodman wrote in a Washington Post article, ‘Oil demand is exploding in China as people embrace automobiles, and as factories, apartment towers and office buildings proliferate’ (July 2005).

One way is to increase the supply to fuel this growth was to develop ties with oil rich region such as Africa.  Technically, this should also benefit the African economy and fund infrastructure projects and the provision of public services.

But this relationship is undermining the work that the international community (such as North America, the EU and other countries such as Australia) is doing to improve the living standards of the African people.
What China has done in Angola is a good example.

Angola is no stranger to civil war and to destructive governance. After a particularly bloody power struggle between the government and rebels, many western nations discontinued the provision of aid and the subsequent imposition of sanctions.

As a result of this period of unrest, as well as the regular draining off of oil by the Angolan elite, the country struggled to provide even the most basic of services for its citizens,  many of whom live on less than two dollars a day while the ruling class lived in luxury (Lee and Shalmon, 2008; Kurlantzick, 2007). 2002 saw truce and a resumption of development assistance by the international community, including the International Monitory Fund (IMF).

By 2005 an agreement appeared to near but at the last moment, China offered the Angolan Government what they thought was a far superior deal. This offer included ‘loans and credits for reconstruction that may be worth as much as $6 billion. The Chinese money came with no conditions for accountability – only an agreement to use Chinese firms for reconstruction’ (ibid). This highlights the difficulty that the international community has in dealing with the situations like this.

At more of an individual level, the Chinese focus on capacity-building may be counter-productive rather than actually ensuring that Africans young people are equipped with the skills necessary to make a difference in their country.

Many African Students are attending Chinese institutions in an attempt to build the capacity of African professionals but anecdotal evidence (Dan, 2010; Wong, 2009; and Zhu & Yong, 2011) suggests that China is more intent on developing an impressing large educational system than a quality one. While this sounds like an excellent idea, the process becomes a wasted exercise as the standards are so low, African students are denied a quality education and return home with a qualification that is worth little.

This is a real shame because Africa desperately needs skilled professionals that can facilitate change and improvement and not people who have survived the conveyor belt of Chinese  education in order to support Chinese growth.

It would be much better to see the Chinese fun African educational institutions to run programmes locally as a solution to local problems. But maybe I'm dreaming.  

In conclusion, this paper has shown how China’s massive economic expansion has required them to look for new sources of oil and other such resources. With its abundance of natural resources, Africa has met this need. It is a moot point whether China trade and investment really benefits the African region. The China in Angola example shows that their investment there does undermine the work that the international community is doing to improve good governance, transparency and human rights record in the region. It will be interesting to see the long term effect that China’s lack of requirements will have in Africa and hopefully Chinese investment and trade will trickle down and improve the living standards of the citizens of the continent.  

List of References
Goodman, P. S. (2005, July 13). Big Shift in China's Oil Policy. The Washington Post . Washington, DC, United States of America.
Kurlantzick, J. (2007). Charm Offensive: How China's soft power is transforming the world. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lee, H. a. (2008). “Searching for oil: China's Oil Strategies in Africa”. In R. I. Rotberg, China into Africa: Trade, Aid and Influence. Washington D.C: Brookings Institution Press.
Raine, S. (2009). China's African Challenges. New York: Routledge.
Wong, S. (2009, November 25). In China, an easy route to academic glory. Retrieved August 28, 2011, from Asia Times:
Yu, G. T. (2010). “China's African Policy: South-South Unity and Cooperation”. In L. Dittmer’s China, the Developing World, and the New Global Dynamic. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Zhu, L. & Yong. (2011, June 23). Is China producing too many PhDs? Retrieved August 28, 2011, from Nature International Weekly Journal of Science:

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