Beijing Safari: The Challenges of China's Growing Ties to Africa
About This Event

On November 3, Beijing will welcome more than forty-eight African heads of state to what it bills as "the highest-level, largest-scale meeting between China and African leaders since the founding of the People's Republic of China." This meeting is the latest in China's charm offensive in Africa, which has included Listen to Audio


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visits by both President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao this year. China has exchanged countless ministerial delegations, and Chinese companies are now operating in virtually every country and sector on the continent.

China is beginning to exercise its newfound influence. It has spent millions to wrest African diplomatic recognition from Taiwan, provided arms and low-interest loans to support such belligerent states as Sudan, and intervened directly to pick the winner of Zambia's September 2006 presidential election. Does China have a grand design on Africa? Is there any reason to expect China to find commercial success where others have failed in Africa? How do Chinese investments in African energy and minerals affect American interests? What does China's growing role portend for U.S. and European Union efforts to promote democracy and human rights on the continent?

At an AEI conference on November 1, panelists will answer these and other questions related to Beijing’s growing influence in Africa.

Agenda
8:45 a.m.
Registration and Breakfast
9:00
Panelists:
Carolyn Bartholomew, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission
Paul Hare, U.S.-Angola Chamber of Commerce
Walter Kansteiner, Scowcroft Group
Joshua Kurlantzick, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Moderator:
Mauro De Lorenzo, AEI
11:00
Adjournment
Event Summary

November 2006

Beijing Safari: The Challenges of China's Growing Ties to Africa

On November 3, Beijing welcomed more than forty-eight African heads of state to what it billed as "the highest-level, largest-scale meeting between China and African leaders since the founding of the People's Republic of China.” This meeting was the latest in China's charm offensive in Africa, which has included visits by both President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao this year. China has conducted countless ministerial delegations, and Chinese companies are now operating in virtually every country and sector on the continent.

China is beginning to exercise its newfound influence. It has spent millions to wrest African diplomatic recognition from Taiwan, provided arms and low-interest loans to support such belligerent states as Sudan, and intervened directly to elect the winner of Zambia's September 2006 presidential election. Does China have a grand design for Africa? Can China to find commercial success in a region where others have failed? How do Chinese investments in African energy and minerals affect American interests? What does China’s growing role portend for U.S. and European Union efforts to promote democracy and human rights on the continent? On November 1, panelists addressed these and other questions at an AEI conference.

Carolyn Bartholomew
U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission

Bringing China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) was a multilateral effort by the international community to subject the country to a rules-based system, open up its economy, and promote democratic reform. China’s involvement in Africa is central to gauging the country’s responsible participation in the international sphere. The country has shown no hesitation in supporting despotic regimes and has been eager to secure access to African oil reserves. Chinese military equipment sales, sizeable loans, and exportation of personnel to Africa have had detrimental consequences for the continent. Its habit of propping up corrupt regimes hinders America’s ability to stop rogue states, as well as American efforts to bolster open societies and liberal governments in the region. China’s strategic interests in Africa are based on its need to obtain vital natural resources from the region, its desire for leadership of the developing world, its continued efforts to isolate Taiwan, and its need for new markets for Chinese goods. China must balance its narrow self-interest with the long-term needs of the African people, as well as those of the international community. It should use its influence to end authoritarianism and genocide and lift the continent out of poverty. By changing its current practices, China can demonstrate its desire to play a responsible and positive role in the international community. If it does not, the country will send a chilling message of how it wants to shape the future.

Walter Kansteiner
Scowcroft Group

China’s interest in Africa is strictly commercial. The country’s sole desire is the acquisition of raw materials to feed its industrial base. China requires greater amounts of strategic minerals, hydrocarbons, iron ore, and timber than are available domestically to keep its industrial infrastructure expanding. Since 1993, bilateral trade between African countries and China has doubled annually. In order to obtain the oil that is critical to the state, China has implemented long-term contracts with African governments and regional companies.

The United States government is not as actively involved in Africa as its Chinese counterpart. However, America has become somewhat involved in asset investment on the continent through private enterprise and IPO purchases from African companies, offered in the European markets. 

Paul Hare
U.S.-Angola Chamber of Commerce

The Chinese presence in Angola controls a host of infrastructure projects, including the establishment of a chamber of commerce in Luanda. The Chinese premier visited Angola in June of 2006, and according to China’s deputy minister of commerce, bilateral trade will top $10 billion dollars this year, solidifying Angola as China’s largest trade partner. There is still much we do not know about relations between China and Angola. Undisclosed amounts of money pass under the table, and we do not know how contracts are rewarded. Intelligence is also unable to estimate how many Angolans are employed by Chinese companies. Similarly, there is no documentation of how many Chinese citizens are working in Angola. Chinese involvement in Africa is marked by an almost total lack of transparency.

The implications of this opaque relationship are vast. China gets secure access to oil in Angola, and Angola sees its devastated infrastructure rehabilitated. While Chinese investment diminishes the influence of other international actors, Angolans still want high-quality Western goods and services, and although there is growing resentment of the Chinese presence in Africa, specifically by Angolans, it is clear that China will remain in Angola as long as it continues to provide oil resources.

Joshua Kurlantzick
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

China requires a more diverse and secure group of resource suppliers. Chinese companies want to expand investment in Africa because it offers less competition from small- and medium-sized Japanese, European, and American companies than do other international locales. China also requires a growing number of allies within international organizations such as the WTO and the United Nations, which Africa can also provide. China is showing its ability to exert influence far from its own neighborhood.

China has a somewhat different model of development than the West, which it has been exporting to Africa with increasing success. For one, it is a state-directed model of economic reforms. In authoritarian or transitional regimes, this model has a growing appeal.  There is also an effort by China to forge relationships with isolated countries that are post-conflict societies or pariah states. Finally, unlike the United States, China does not push for political reforms as a trade-off for economic aid.

China has also developed a coherent strategy for lending aid. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce has begun to reach out to other nations to study their aid models and to establish a permanent aid agency. China has also become a major provider of commercial loans, amounting to nearly $7 billion, but it does not coordinate with other donors, choosing instead to exert direct control over lending packages. There is concern, however, that China exports poor labor policies and questionable environmental practices. Indeed, as China begins to have more substantial equity investment in Africa, there will be more direct involvement and interference with the domestic policies of African regimes.

AEI intern Benjamin Kramer prepared this summary.

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