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«Jing GU and John HUMPHREY Institute of Development Studies Brighton, UK. 1 1 Introduction No-one can doubt the increasing importance of China in ...»

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The Impact of Africa on China

Jing GU and John HUMPHREY

Institute of Development Studies

Brighton, UK.


1 Introduction

No-one can doubt the increasing importance of China in Africa, or the impact that its

growing presence has had on both African politicians and also aid donors. The

presence of so many African leaders at the November 2006 Beijing Summit is proof

of the former. The impact on donors arises from the rapid rise in China's trade with

the continent, the increasing activity of Chinese companies and the challenges that China's Africa policies have posed for Western development strategies and priorities.

All too often, the image presented, by Africans as well as outsiders, is that of a strong and strategic China facing a weaker and less coherent group of African states. A western expression of this view was provided by The Economist: "China knows what it wants from Africa and will probably get it. The converse isn't true" (The Economist 2006). A similar African view was provided by a participant at a joint workshop of IDS Nairobi and IDS Sussex in June 2006: "China seems to have a strategy for Africa, but Africa does not seem to have a strategy for China".

The reasons for this perception of relative strength and relative weakness are not hard to find. China's rapid growth, expanding global footprint, competitiveness and success in reducing poverty (notwithstanding some serious issues of rural poverty and rising income inequality) should impress developed and developing countries alike. In 1966, China's per capita GDP was lower than that of countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe. By 2000, China's GDP was substantially greater than all of these countries, and the gap has increased with continuing strong growth in China since then. Furthermore, China has behaves like an important player in the global economy and global politics, actively participating in global institutions in a way that only South Africa from the African continent can begin to match.

Obviously, China is having a big impact on Africa. In terms of the Asian Drivers typology of impacts, these are both direct (bilateral relationships) and indirect; they involve both complementary and competitive relationships; and they happen through a variety of channels. The potential inequality in the relationship is also clear. China is increasingly economically important for Africa, but Africa accounts for only 3% of China's international trade (Chan 2006: 18). Not surprisingly, much of the policy discussion about China in Africa concerns how African countries should adapt to this increasing Chinese interest in and impact on many countries across the African continent.

Nevertheless, it is important to turn this question round. If African countries are to maximise the benefit of engagement with China, it is important to ask the question "How can Africa — as a whole and as individual countries — change China's policy stance to Africa so that more benefit accrues to Africa from the relationship?" Here, the critical issues relate to Chinese policy towards Africa and how African policy and African engagement with China might influence the policy decisions made in China that have direct impact on African countries. Given the continued strong role of the Chinese government (at both provincial and national levels) in its economy and in the behaviour of its companies and investors, the range of policy questions is broader than might be the case for other investors in Africa.

This paper explores these issues by examining the motives of the Chinese government and Chinese companies for trading and investing in African countries. It identifies 2 some of the areas where China's existing policy has run into problems in Africa and where Africans and African governments may have the potential to change Chinese policy (and also those where changes are unlikely) so that the benefits of engagement with China are increased. It identifies the factors that might increase the likelihood of Chinese actors listening to and responding to the messages they receive from Africa.

2 The importance of Africa for China The increasing importance of Africa for China is clearly evident in the intensified Chinese diplomatic activity of recent years. Since 2000, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have between them made eight visits to Africa. Of even more significance perhaps is the extensive Chinese Government support encouraging greater Chinese investment in Africa. This is evident in the work of the China-Africa Business Council (CABC) established in 2005 for the purpose of strengthening business ties between China and Africa. The CABC is a non-governmental organization and is jointly founded by the China Society for Promotion of the Guangcai Programme, the United Nations Development Programme and the Ministry of Commerce/China International Centre for Economic & Technical Exchanges.

Africa’s rise up the political and economic agendas of the Chinese government results from three main considerations: political-strategic considerations; national interests (particularly economic); and the politics of the triangular relations between China, Africa and the West.

2.1 Political-strategic considerations China has long sought diplomatic support in Africa, as highlighted by Luo (2006), Tull (2006, p. 460-61) and Jiang (2006). Africa's large numbers of countries provide support for China's broad diplomatic interests, most notably the One China policy.

China looked to Africa for support in the 1960s, promoting the Third Way as an alternative to both Soviet and US influence. This culminated in China's accession to the UN in 1971, which was strongly supported by African states (Jiang 2006: 7-8).

More recently, both Tull and Jiang trace the diplomatic offensive in Africa to the period after Tiananmen Square in 1989, when China was isolated and under pressure from the West. Thereafter, the emphasis upon South-South dialogue and cooperation increased as part of a deliberate policy to engage with states that were less critical on human rights issues and were held, publicly at least, to have shared experiences of Western colonialism and post-colonial human rights criticism. For one observer, “Relations with Africa are still the most important and reliable part of China’s foreign relations. China and Africa relations are the base-point of Chinese diplomacy” (Zhang 2007). Clearly, the Taiwan issue is also central here historically, with the Beijing Government repeatedly harnessing African diplomatic support to block Taiwanese membership of organisations such as the WHO. Such support has also been important in the constant political battle to reject UN motions critical of China’s human rights record, in general and with respect to Tibet.

2.2 National economic interests These political-strategic motives have existed for a long time. More recently, they have been bolstered by economic motives. First, China's economy needs raw materials and energy. With respect to energy, in particular, Africa is one of the areas 3 of the world with newly-developing oil resources that have not been tied up by Western countries. China's imports from Africa are overwhelmingly resource-based.

The most important trading partners for China in Africa are exporters of oil and minerals, with the five largest exporters to China being Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa and Sudan. Even South Africa's exports to China are now overwhelmingly mineral-based (Tull 2006, p. 472).

Second, Africa provides a small but important outlet for Chinese business. We can hypothesise that whereas Chinese exports to the United States are overwhelmingly channelled through transnational companies (Asian as well as European and North American) that have assembly operations in China, exports to Africa provide outlets to Chinese-owned companies. The China-Africa Business Council states that it receives hundreds of inquiries about opportunities in Africa from Chinese firms every week. Similarly, the pronounced presence of Chinese construction companies in Africa — not only working on projects tied to Chinese aid, but competing for construction projects more generally — is linked to market diversification and internationalisation strategies promoted by the Chinese government. At the November 2006 Beijing Summit the Chinese authorities endeavoured to imprint Africa on the Chinese imagination by having a two-day fair with over 170 enterprises from 23 African countries. The idea of this exhibition was not only to promote imports from Africa, but also to stimulate Chinese business to invest more. This is a government objective linked to China's image in Africa. Increased investment by Chinese firms is often presented by Chinese business people and politicians as designed to promote African development (Marks 2007: 4). This has a good side. China offers a one stop approach, where the government can coordinate extractive contracts, construction contracts, soft loans and rural development projects – tied into visits of top government officials (Marks 2007: 7).

As is well-known, China presents this engagement with Africa as being substantially different to the engagement of the Western powers. While references are made to colonialism, the critique of the Western powers is based on the current and recent policies and extends to countries that were not colonisers in Africa, notably the United States. The "colonial" jibe is about mentality rather than history. The Chinese claims

to a distinctive approach are based on:

1. Complementarity of interests. The Chinese government White Paper, China's Peaceful Development Road, issued by the State Council Information Office in December 2005 argues that China sees its economic growth and increasing participation in world trade as being in harmony with the globalisation process.

He states that China makes a huge contribution to world prosperity by being the world’s third largest importer. It wants world society to see itself as in a “winwin” situation with China. China presents itself as engaged in complementary trade. The White Paper states that "China’s foreign trade is mutually supplementary with many countries. About 70% of China’s exports to the US, Japan and the European Union are labour-intensive, while 80% of its imports from there are capital intensive and knowledge intensive. In the new structure of international labour division, the country has become a key link in the global 4 industrial chain" (Section IV, page 11).1 While Africa is not mentioned, it is clear that China-Africa trade is also seen as complementary: manufactures exchanged for resources. This trade is seen as beneficial to both partners, irrespective of the composition of the trade flows.

2. China as a developing country. It claims to have sympathy with other developing countries and to understand their interests. This implies that China's trade, aid and investment, and the principles that inform them, are more appropriate to the needs of other developing countries than the trade aid and investment originating from OECD countries. In its competition with the Western powers for influence and prestige, China presents itself as anti-colonial,

as argued by Scott Zhou:

"By blaming Africa's underdevelopment on colonialism, Beijing believes it has established the moral high ground. From training "fighters for freedom" in the revolutionary 1960s and early 1970s to providing scholarships to children of African elites, China has been exporting its values for years. By successfully linking neo-colonialism with the neo-liberalism of Western countries, China has been able to win the hearts and minds of African elites" (S. Zhou 2006).

The corollary of this is that China reacts very sensitively to arguments that it is another colonial power. As Scott Zhou and others have noted, on the eve of the FOCAC summit, its State Council issued Nine Principles to Encourage and Standardise Enterprises Overseas Investment. These "require Chinese companies, most of which are state-owned enterprises, to abide by local laws, bid contracts on the basis of transparency and equality, protect the labour rights of local employees, protect the environment, implement corporate responsibilities and so on" (S. Zhou 2006).

3. The "moral high ground" is encapsulated in the Bandung principles. China repeatedly asserts the importance of the five principles adopted at the 1954 Asian-African conference in Bandung: mutual non-interference in internal affairs; mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual nonaggression; equality and mutual benefit; peaceful coexistence. Of these, the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states has been the most noteworthy because of its implications for both aid conditionality and China's relations with Sudan and Zimbabwe. This principle is important for Chinese policy, in part but not exclusively because of China's own sensitivity over Western questioning of its human rights record. It also relates to China's strong cultural belief in 'minding one's own business' as a way of avoiding conflict and maintaining mutual respect in personal relationships. It leads to the belief that China's bilateral relations are solely the concern of the countries directly involved. At the present time, these concerns are reinforced by anxiety over a developing Western, particularly US, doctrine of the right of states to interfere in other countries in support of human rights, and the framework within which such interventions might be permissible under international law. While 1 The full English version of this document can be found in the People's Daily Online, for 22 December 2005, available at http://english.people.com.cn/200512/22/eng20051222_230059.html. It should be noted that this document has only three references to Africa in it — one referring to the 15th century voyages of Admiral He Zheng and a further two listing Africa in the context of trade agreements and internationa fora, placing the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) alongside APEC, ASEM, and groupings for the Arab and the Mekong countries.

5 China has become involved in peacekeeping in Africa, this is very much within the framework of established international law.

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