China in Africa Part 1: Will China’s efforts in Africa impact the superpower’s international relations with the West?

By Leesha Hasrajani

 In November 2006, the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) saw China’s President, Hu Jintao, along with the leaders and delegates of 48 African countries, mutually issue an important statement regarding plans for a ‘strategic partnership’ as well as ‘a deepening of economic cooperation with African countries.’ China pledged to invest in Africa and build approximately 100 rural schools, 30 hospitals, and establish ‘up to five trade and economic cooperation zones across the continent.’ According to the Washington Post, Jintao declared that the level of aid going into Africa would double by 2009, and that China would donate ‘$5 billion in loans and credit’ to the continent.

Growth of a superpower
China has experienced tremendous economic growth over the past 30 years. It has transformed itself from being one of the least developed countries in the world, to one with the second largest economy in terms of GDP, behind the US, having reduced the proportion of people living in poverty from 53% to 8% between 1981 and 2001. China’s economy is still growing, with Trading Economics citing their Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2016 around $126 billion.  

China is also gaining respect from countries in Africa due to their willingness to invest in the continent, even though they are still developing their own economy. In The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa by Deborah Brautigam, one Nigerian diplomat said the eagerness to work with China is because ‘the Chinese have an advantage of not having a colonial hangover.’ This is reflected within African populations as there is a positive feeling about Sino-African relations.    

However, this era of Sino-African relations has become a source of concern and criticism in  the western world – in particular the US and UK.

Africa and the West
It is apparent the United States wanted to strengthen relations with Africa after the 2006 summit in Beijing, however, Sino-African relations have been ongoing for the last decade.

An article in The Guardian, published in February 2012, quoted then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, criticising China for its motives in Africa and warning countries to ‘be wary of donors who are more interested in extracting your resources than in building your capacity.’

This demonstrates the hostility between China and the US.

In addition, neo-realist scholars such as John Mearscheimer have argued that China’s rise in Africa will not be peaceful. In turn, this will cause other Western countries such as the US to collaborate with China’s neighbours, for example, Singapore, Vietnam and India – to ‘contain China’s power’.

Click here to read part 2.