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China-Africa ties and some western perspectives (Part 2)

By Zeray Hailemariam Abebe zazeha@gmail.com
Tigrai Online, November 11, 2013

Continued from part 1

While China’s rapidly expanding engagement in Africa is enthusiastically welcomed by African governments and some African intellectuals, China’s relations with Africa’s governments is often perceived among human rights NGOs and Western commentators as increasingly problematic for governance and human rights in Africa. China’s increasing presence in Africa has generated a flurry of Western media reportage and commentary, often with graphic headlines, the prevailing note of China bashing[i].  For example, during a visit to Zambia in 2011, the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urged African governments to subject investments from China to closer scrutiny and warned that reckless misuse of the continent’s resources amounted to a ‘new colonialism’. For its part, the European Union has rejected what it terms China’s toxic ‘cheque-book’ approach to doing business with Africa, in contrast to its own emphasis on good governance and transparency in its dealings with donor recipients and trading partners[ii]. 

China-Africa ties and some western perspectives (part 1)
China and Africa have enjoyed a long-standing friendship. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, China-Africa relations have developed continuously, as evidenced by a deepening cooperation in political, economic and cultural areas

Asked why China is labeled as new colonizer because of its engagement in Africa, Ambassador Seyoum[iii]  rejected the accusation as unfitting and misleading derogatory term citing examples that China’s huge involvement in Latin America, USA, Europe and Australia than in Africa but he said China is not accused in this regard. He argued that the accusations are illogical. “Europe approaches China to solve the debt crisis and USA owes trillions of US dollars to China. He revealed adding they see China as a solution to their crisis but standing to oppose China’s relations in Africa which he said is demonizing Africa. They have to correct their sick mind.  So why are too concerned about China’s presence in Africa, Seyoum exposed that the west are only fearing about their core interests as Africa’s’ abandon natural resources are key to their economic development. They cannot be more than Africans.  They are insulting African intellectuals. Africa knows what it is doing with China, he revealed. It is necessary to find the cause of such baseless remarks. It should also be noted that some westerners still like to think from a perspective of colonialism and observe the world with a Cold War mentality.  In their eyes, Africa is still their sphere of influence and other people should never set foot on the continent without their permission”.

Part 2

Data show that U.S. imports under AGOA are mostly energy products, but imports of other products have grown significantly. In 2009, Chinese-African trade, totaling $70.4 billion, surpassed that of U.S.-Africa trade ($62 billion), and reached id="mce_marker"27.3 billion in 2011, an increase of 1,423% over the 2000 level.  Africa’s share of global Chinese trade also grew over the past decade, from 1.9% of Chinese global trade in 2000 to 3.5% of China’s global trade in 2011. China is also Africa’s largest single source of imports, while the United States is its largest export destination. Oil also dominates Africa’s exports to the United States; crude oil made up about 75% of U.S. imports from Africa in 2011. A significant portion of U.S. trade with sub-Saharan Africa is with a small number of countries.  About 79% of U.S. imports from the region were from three SSA countries in 2011: Nigeria (47%), Angola (19%), and South Africa (13%).  Exports were similarly concentrated, with three countries receiving 68%: South Africa (34%), Nigeria (22%), and Angola (12%). All other countries accounted for less than 6% each of U.S. imports from the region making it unfair economic relation with the rest of African countries.  China entry to Africa fills the gap left by the west for Africa.[iv] 

Currently, the EU is China's largest trade partner; with bilateral trade volume of $567.2 billion in 2011.The US is the second largest trade partner with China, with bilateral trade volume of $446.7 billion according to the General Administration of Customs. But trade with Africa is expected to close the gap quickly." I expect China-Africa trade to see faster growth next year, as more Chinese companies’ have already been beefing up their business activities on the continent," said Wei, who is vice-chairman and secretary-general of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a high-level government think tank[v].

China's confidence in its future African ties, Wei added, is also based on the forecast that the EU's economy will remain sluggish in the coming three to five years and that US economic growth would linger at a low level. Since the establishment of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in 2000, bilateral cooperation has been further boosted and expanded to investment, infrastructure, finance, tourism and other fields.

By the end of 2012, China's direct investment in Africa accumulated to nearly $20 billion, with75 percent going to such sectors as finance, processing and manufacturing, trade-related services, agriculture and transportation.

So far, more than 2,000 Chinese enterprises have invested in 50 African countries, with a large majority of their employees being Africans. In the meantime, Africa's investment in China has grown steadily, rising to id="mce_marker"2.9 billion by the end of 2011 and covering petrochemical engineering, mechatronics, transportation and communications. China has fulfilled its commitment to providing Africa with id="mce_marker"5 billion of concessional loans. In 2012, China pledged to provide $20 billion in loans over three years to support Africa's infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and development of small- and medium-sized enterprises.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasizes China's development aid to Africa, while also stating that China and Africa are making "joint efforts to maintain the lawful rights of developing countries and push forward the creation of a new, fair and just political and economic order in the world".  The PRC also passed the traditional African economic partner and former colonial power France, which had trade worth US$47 billion. There are an estimated 800 Chinese corporations doing business in Africa, most of which are private companies investing in the infrastructure, energy and banking sectors. Unconditional and low-rate credit lines (rates at 1.5% over 15 years to 20 years) have taken the place of the more restricted and conditional Western loans. In this regard, prominent African leaders’ view is regularly consistent[vi].

 “On behalf our organization and people, I would like to express  our gratitude to the communist party of China and India congress party who bequeathed us great assistance before consummating their effort to lift their own people from poverty. I would like to assure u that we will never forget your generosity as you have given us much from your people that are not yet fully freed from poverty”.  It is not only Ethiopia felt happy of Chinese involvement but also others nations who were tired of the west imposed relations. These show that how most Africans are happy of getting alternative trade partner and mutual respect relations, Meles concluded[vii].

China, as the biggest developing nation, extended assistance to the Central African Republic in times of hardship, Bozize said. The stadiums, hospitals, schools and broadcasting stations China helped build in Central Africa have brought tangible benefits to its people, said Bozize. Expressing admiration for China's economic and social achievements, Bozize said his government would learn from China's experience in promoting the welfare of his countrymen. Africa is very proud of its relations with China, Sudanese Ambassador to the United Nations Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad told Xinhua in an exclusive interview on Sunday.

Mohamad made the remarks at the sidelines of the 14th African Union (AU) summit here in the Ethiopian capital. The trade volume between China and Africa has soared from a little over USid="mce_marker"0 billion in 2000 to USid="mce_marker"66.3 billion in 2011 and reached US$200billion.  China’s investment in Africa of various kinds exceeds US$40 billion, among which USid="mce_marker"4.7 billion is direct investment.  There are over 2,000 Chinese enterprises doing business in nearly 50 African countries, covering a wide range of areas such as mining, financing, manufacturing, construction, tourism and agriculture. So far, China has offered more than 20,000 government scholarships to African students, trained over 30,000 African professionals and sent to Africa, and More than 350,000 technicians, young volunteers and agricultural experts. With Chinese language enjoying rising popularity in Africa, Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms have been set up across Africa. In South Africa alone, there are 3 Confucius Institutes and 1 Confucius Classroom.

China has pledged $20bn (£12.8bn) in credit for Africa over the next three years, in a push for closer ties and increased trade. President Hu Jintao made the announcement at a summit in Beijing with leaders from 50 African nations. He said the loans would support infrastructure, agriculture and the development of small businesses.

The Economist online had to add this. “The Chinese are coming...to Africa The increasing importance of Chinese investment in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of its people are not happy about it, as our briefing reports, but business is booming in Africa thanks mostly to the Chinese. Trade between the two surpassed id="mce_marker"20 billion in 2010, and in the past two years China has given more loans to poor, mainly African countries than the World Bank. The Heritage Foundation, an American think-tank, estimates that between 2005 and 2010 about 14% of China's investment abroad found its way to sub-Saharan Africa. This has brought increased employment and prosperity to the region, but also allegations of damage to local businesses, corruption and the hoarding of natural resources”. It is to be recalled the Economist labeled Africa as ‘hopeless continent’.

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)[viii], which is considered as ‘Marshal Plan for Africa’ is African leadership’s latest vision for African economic development. The founding document on NEPAD highlights the requirements for development of which are Infrastructure, ICT, human development with focus on health, education, and skill development, agriculture, and diversification of production and exports, with a focus on a market access for African exports to industrialized countries are the main targets. Evaluated from this angle, Chinese involvement in the infrastructural sectors is consistent with African basic demand for development.

In African context, argues Dr Fasil Nuhom,[ix] development has to mean a markedly qualitative improvement of life enabling African Peoples to realize dignity and fulfillment.  “Development is a process of change that brings together the exploitation of natural resources, the orientation of technological development, the direction of investments, and institutional changes that harmoniously enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs And aspirations. Again enhancement of public awareness, appropriate regulatory measures and strengthening of regional and global cooperation is essential”.

Adding, Dr. Fasil Nuhom reiterates “In Africa three interrelated factors fundamentally and negatively affect the enjoyment of human rights. These are poverty, conflict and culture. To speak of and fight for human rights in situations where one cannot feed, vaccinate or educate ones child is a desperate and losing battle. There is no question that poverty is the major, major obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights in Africa. To fight against poverty is to fight against human rights. More than ever and more than any other parts of the world, Africa needs development”.

Ultimately, it is up to African people to choose their destination. Former Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin and Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia Xie Xiaoyan refute the assumption of the west that China is harming human rights and democratization process by putting development first. Both argues that China and Africa know what they are doing as their relation is based on discussion and understanding!  “Development and democracy go hand in hand” The African economy as a whole has rebounded in recent years with projected 5.2% growth rate in 2011 thanks to Chinese economic involvement (AfDB), 2010).

Let me conclude with Deborah Brautigam’s own words[x]“Ultimately; it is up to African governments to shape this encounter in ways that will benefit their people. Many will not grasp this opportunity, but some will. The West can help by gaining a more realistic picture of China’s engagement, avoiding sensationalism and paranoia, admitting our own shortcomings “At the end of the day, we should remember this: China’s own experiments have raised hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty, largely without foreign aid. They believe in investment, trade, and technology as levers for development, and they are applying these same tools in their African engagement, not out of altruism but because of what they learned at home. They learned that their own natural resources could be assets for modernization and prosperity. They learned that a central government commitment to capitalist business development could rapidly reduce poverty”. What is wrong if Africans learn from such experiences be it from the west or east then? Nothing!

[i]TERRENCE McNAMEE, “THE MANY FACES OF CHINA IN AFRICA COMPETITOR, COLNIZER OR DEVELOPER”? Paper prepared for the ANU conference, 4-5 September 2012, Canberra, Australia

[ii] ibd

[iii] Seyoum Mesfin is among the prominent freedom fighters who ousted the communist dictator regime of Mengstu Hailemariam whose arm was the largest in Africa and put democracy and equality of nations and nationalities in place a reason for the current growing ever Ethiopia. He served as foreign minister for 15 years and currently is Ambassador to China and accredited to many around. The interview was conducted in Beijing with author of this article.

[iv]Documents of AGOA

[v] Interview with Chinadaily newspaper 2012

[vi]Document from China-Africa forum 2012

[vii]The late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi speech during the 8th congress of EPRDF held in Adama, 2011

[viii] Documents from AU, 2008

[ix] Dr Fasil, prominent Ethiopian law scholar, is law advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister. “The transforming Africa a book details about Africa situation Fasil (2009)”.

[x]Deborah Brautigam, oxford University scholar, who has done extensive researches about Chinese engagements in Africa for the last 30 years. In his book of 2011“The Dragon’s gift the real story China in Africa”.