For a decade, Africa, rich in raw materials, with a population primed for consumption, accelerating urbanisation and increasing regional integration, has been attracting the interest of the big emerging powers, headed by China. Of course, there are ancient links between the African continent and the Middle Kingdom, such as the maritime expedition of Admiral Zheng He, at the beginning of the 15th century in the Indian Ocean to the shores of present-day Tanzania.china Africa
For a decade, Africa, rich in raw materials, with a population primed for consumption, accelerating urbanisation and increasing regional integration, has been attracting the interest of the big emerging powers, headed by China. Of course, there are ancient links between the African continent and the Middle Kingdom, such as the maritime expedition of Admiral Zheng He, at the beginning of the 15th century in the Indian Ocean to the shores of present-day Tanzania.
But this revival of the links between China and Africa is nothing short of ‘spectacular’. As the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said in the course of a long African tour in May 2014, “the relations between China and Africa have entered a golden age •1.” In so saying, Li Keqiang was conﬁrming the increasing importance of Africa for Beijing.
The primary characteristic of trade between China and Africa relates to the dominant position of raw materials. In fact, if it is to maintain its long-term growth, China needs vast quantities of oil, gas and other fossil resources. Only the African continent •2 can offer a generalised supply even though China is also investing in Brazil, Australia and Central Asia.
It was at the end of the 1970s with China’s economic liberation that Beijing turned towards African raw materials to diversify its energy dependency, although relations between Africa and China had been created at the time of independence in the 1960s with the Non-Aligned Movement. At present, Africa provides almost a quarter of China’s oil supply. Nigeria, Angola and Sudan are its main suppliers. Africa is also supplying China with coal (from South Africa), platinum (also from South Africa), minerals from Gabon and copper and cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia.
Consequently, China can ﬁnd in Africa everything it needs for its industrial development and growth. Its doctrine of ‘going out’, which aims to expand its national companies into the raw materials sector abroad, means that it has a large presence in the African continent. Consequently, China has concluded many long-term agreements and contracts with oil-producing countries such as Nigeria and Angola. These relations continue to develop.
Africa is also a major trade partner for China. Since 2009, the Middle Kingdom has even become Africa’s top trade partner. China, with its established reputation as the ‘workshop of the world’, exports to Africa mainly articles produced by the manufacturing industry which makes games, clothing and shoes, but also plastics, cars and spare parts. Even the so-called ‘waxprints’, the printed fabrics to be found in the markets of Lagos or Luanda, are labelled ‘Made in China’. However, there is every reason to think trade will increase. China must ﬁnd new outlets for its products and the African continent will have two billion inhabitants by 2050 and a middle class that will increasingly consume products that have long been the preserve of the elite.
Although initially economic relations between China and Africa were strongly marked by the exploitation of raw materials, this paradigm is in the process of changing. Africa, which for 10 years has been experiencing average growth of 5% and offers signiﬁcant development prospects, is becoming a driver of growth for the Chinese economy. Beijing has a double interest in this relationship: diversifying its trade outlets to reduce its dependency on the Western countries (the United States and the European Union) and gaining a sustainable foothold on the continent of the future, at the very moment when the slowdown of Chinese growth is beginning to make itself felt.
Africa is also becoming a new area for Chinese investments abroad. China has vast liquidity supplies and the world’s greatest foreign exchange reserves (4,000 billion dollars). Its investments doubled over the period 2007-14 and reached 25 billion dollars in 2014 •3. Over 2,500 Chinese companies are investing in Africa. Trade between Africa and China rose from 10 billion dollars in 2000 to 210 billion dollars in 2014 •4.
The expansion of these exchanges has allowed the African States to diversify their trade relations, their sources of supply and escape the conditions attached to loans (particularly in social and environmental matters) put in place by the OECD member countries. As a result, in the case of raw materials Chinese companies have beneﬁted from Chinese State loans in order to support their internationalisation and can offer loans without attached conditions to the African States. Although initially Chinese companies worked mainly in constructing buildings, roads and bridges, they are winning more and more contracts in the water, petrochemical or telecommunications sectors •5.
In addition, Africa constitutes an ‘agricultural store’ that China cannot afford to ignore. In the highest estimates of yields from its farmland (i.e. a 50% increase in production by 2050), Beijing will need to import the equivalent of twice its annual rice production. The only two continents which still have enough unexploited arable land are Latin America and Africa. But at present only 8% to 10% of arable land is used in Africa •6 so that the potential of the African arable land reserves is huge. Zambia and Angola have reserves equivalent to those of Argentina. As for those of the DRC, they alone could feed two thirds of the population of China, one billion people •7. These agricultural reserves are theoretical in nature but they show the scale of Africa’s potential and the continent’s attraction for a Chinese Government with a burgeoning middle class which is consuming more. Beijing was not wrong, since some of its companies have begun to acquire arable land, especially in Senegal and Ethiopia.
Africa is also a diplomatic priority for Beijing and a potential ally in the new world governance. China has been interested in Africa since the Maoist revolution and the period when it led the non-aligned countries. The development of its relations with the African countries has also led the latter to break off their diplomatic relations with Taiwan (those countries which had them) and thereby reinforce that island’s diplomatic isolation. In exchange, they obtained from China in the United Nations Security Council votes more favourable to their interests…
With the creation in 2000 of the Forum on Cooperation between China and Africa (FOCSA), China demonstrated its desire for rapprochement with Africa. In 2006, Beijing organised the ﬁrst China- Africa summit •8, to the surprise of the Western nations. African leaders value China’s approach where nothing is conditional on good governance and an attitude of non-interference in their internal political affairs prevails. The Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, has also been keen to emphasise this: “I would like to conﬁrm to my African friends, with the utmost sincerity, that China has no intention of acting in an imperialist manner, as some countries have done before.”
The alliance between China and Africa is indeed based on a new vision of the world speciﬁc to the emerging countries. The alliance aims to challenge the old order established after 1945, and particularly Western domination, by promoting a multipolar world. The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, also clearly stated this when the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign policy was drafted in November 2014 •9. Regardless of whether it is a question of development issues, climate negotiations or strategic balance, both Chinese and Africans are united by a similar attitude to the world which aims to gradually loosen the Western stranglehold. This is all the more true because many African countries are acquiring the status of emerging country, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique and Ghana •10. China regards itself as the ‘big brother’ of the emerging nations, as the climate change negotiations to take place in Paris in December 2015 will show and where Beijing will lead the G77, the non-aligned group of countries. The development of South-South trade also proves it, with an annual growth rate of 7%, which is double the growth rate of world trade •11.
Africa is also beneﬁting from the economic expansion of the Middle Kingdom, despite the economic and social tensions which are currently emerging (slowing Chinese growth, fall in oil and gas prices, terrorism, etc.). Beijing is offering to build infrastructures for African governments where delays and non-investment on the part of the local authorities are most ﬂagrant. China is offering its credits ﬁnanced by public institutions: the China Development Bank and Exim Bank. Of the 114 billion dollars invested since 2005, 30% went into the energy sector, 29% into transport, 18% into raw materials, 11% into real estate and almost 8% into agriculture.
Having said that, such activism is not without its problems. The presence of at least 600,000 Chinese nationals in Africa •12, an imported labour force working mainly in the construction sector, is creating tensions with the indigenous populations, particularly in Mozambique, Kenya, Angola, Ethiopia and Namibia. Although the mass availability of low-cost Chinese goods (textiles, electronic equipment and mobile phones) has enabled some Africans to improve their daily lives, it is damaging to local businesses that are unable to meet the challenge of such competition. Furthermore, Chinese employers are not liked. According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, working conditions in the Chinese mining companies are more difﬁcult than those in Western companies: failure to respect labour law, contempt for safety regulations, very low salaries and legal working hours are not respected.
As a result, Zambia has experienced a violent backlash against the Chinese presence. Zambian trade with China rose from 100 million euros in 2000 to almost 3 billion euros in 2013 as a result of Chinese investment in the copper mines (Zambia is the 8th world producer of copper). However, China’s growing presence, together with the working conditions of the Zambian miners, led to violent riots in 2011-
13. The African countries, anxious to limit their dependence on China, to preserve the free choice of their trading partners and to diversify their growth drivers, are developing partnerships with other emerging powers such as Brazil (especially Angola and Mozambique), India (in relation to the African countries bordering on the Indian Ocean), Turkey, Israel or the Gulf countries. Others are trying to link contracts to technology and skills transfers (e.g. the ‘Angolanisation’ strategy of the oil sector in Angola) to permanent creation of jobs.
China needs Africa to continue its development and vice versa. This intertwined relationship should continue and expand at the same rate as long as Chinese growth mirrors the middle-income countries; African growth will beneﬁt, on the other hand, from the economic take-off linked to African urbanisation and industrialisation. But in its relations with the Middle Kingdom, Africa will have to ﬁnd a balance. Only a real ‘return on investment’ will enable it to beneﬁt in turn from Chinese growth and to develop without sacriﬁcing its political, diplomatic, economic and social interests.
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