China Policy Institute: Analysis


Sino-African relations

China’s new commercial media is complicating the Party’s good news narrative about Africa

Written by Xiaoling Zhang.

Since the Chinese government started introducing economic reforms in the early 1980s the Chinese media has experienced widespread decentralisation and commercialisation. It has become huge, dynamic and at times contradictory.

Although all media outlets are under the control of the Communist Party-led state, the market economy has given rise to an unprecedented proliferation of media outlets. This has, to some extent, undermined the party media system. While some papers such as the People’s Daily still operate purely as state mouthpieces, commercial media outlets are guided by commercial imperatives as well as political duties. Continue reading “China’s new commercial media is complicating the Party’s good news narrative about Africa”

São Tomé and Príncipe drops Taiwan, embraces China

Written by J. Michael Cole.

The African nation of São Tomé and Príncipe on December 20 announced that it was severing diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and establishing ties with the People’s Republic of China.

Following the news, Taipei announced that it was immediately severing diplomatic ties with the African country and withdrawing all diplomatic and technical personnel.

Taiwan now has 21 official diplomatic allies worldwide, and just two in Africa—Burkina Faso and Swaziland. Continue reading “São Tomé and Príncipe drops Taiwan, embraces China”

Refuting the racist Chinese narrative

Written by Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong.

One of our research areas focuses on the links between China and Africa links. An often-raised issue about that interface concerns the place of “race.” We have responded in studies based on surveys we conducted in China and Africa about how Chinese and Africans perceive each other; in analyses of myths that Chinese firms in Africa bring prisoners to labour or refuse to hire Africans; and on the racialization of the Chinese presence in our field site country Zambia by local political elites. Most recently, we have written about how racialization of labour in Chinese firms in Africa is misconceived as resembling that of Western firms operating in developing countries. Continue reading “Refuting the racist Chinese narrative”

How and why China became Africa’s biggest aid donor

Written by Kafayat Amusa,  Nara Monkam and Nicola Viegi.

The foreign aid arena in Africa has traditionally been dominated by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. However, over the past three decades non-traditional donors such as China, have emerged.

The increasing importance of non-traditional donors has meant that the economic and political stronghold of western countries in sub-Saharan Africa has gradually ebbed. China is now the largest non-traditional contributor of aid to sub-Saharan African countries.

In the 1960s Africa provided China with an opportunity to increase its political and diplomatic reach. Chinese interest in the continent came about in part as a result of political tensions between China and the Soviet Union as well as increased American and Japanese competition in Asia. In addition to political motives, Africa presented China with economic opportunities. While the initial motive for Chinese aid was to strengthen diplomatic ties, the resource motive became an important factor.

China’s aid policy

At the onset, China’s aid policy was premised on equality between partners, mutual benefit, respect for sovereignty, respect for obligations and enhancing the self-reliance of Chinese aid recipients. According to China’s 2011 white paper on foreign aid:

The main areas of support for China has been in projects in agriculture, industry, economic infrastructure, public facilities, education and medical and health care, with the intent on improving recipient countries’ industrial and agricultural productivity, laying a solid foundation for their economic and social development, and improving basic education and health care.

China’s aid policy in Africa underwent major reforms between 1994 and 1995. These were effected in three main ways:

  • New instruments that linked aid, trade and investment between China and Africa were introduced and implemented,
  • Programmes that combined foreign aid with economic cooperation were developed and financed, and
  • China refined its portfolio of tools to aid domestic restructuring.

The restructuring also saw the creation of three policy banks. These were China’s development Bank, China Export-Import bank and China Agricultural Development bank. They were all state owned and enabled the government to provide targeted finance. The new policy opened the door to an economic and trade strategy. It enabled Chinese investments in manufacturing and agriculture, and growth in Chinese assembly factories. It also created increased demand for Chinese exports and allowed China’s incursion into the exploration and investment in minerals and forest resources in Africa.

Resources as a driver

By 1976 Chinese resource interest was apparent in numerous sub-Saharan African countries.Examples include the construction of the Tan Zam railroad in Zambia in part to facilitate China’s access to copper. There was also the construction of roads in countries like Ethiopia to assist the movement of cotton exports to China. China’s view of the resource possibilities in sub-Saharan Africa continues today.

Since 2001 the need to boost Chinese domestic economic growth has further driven China’s interest in sub-Saharan Africa’s natural resources.

Examining what drives Chinese aid allocation to sub-Saharan Africa, empirical evidence suggests that China provides more foreign aid to oil-rich sub-Saharan African countries than those that are not oil rich. Almost half of the top ten recipients of Chinese aid in the past ten years gave access to oil wells and granted first rights to prospect for oil in return. Examples include Angola and Nigeria.

Providing billions in debt relief

From 2000 onwards China further cemented itself as a major aid role player in Africa. It established the forum on China–Africa cooperation (FOCAC) which included 44 African countries. It undertook to provide financing for debt relief, training programmes and investments. The China-Africa Business Council was also established, which negotiated the cancellation of US$1.2 billion in debt.

A number of developments made 2006 a watershed year. These included:

  • the publication of a white paper on African policy,
  • the announcement that debt of $1.4 billion would be cancelled,
  • the creation of a $5 billion fund made up of soft and commercial loans;
  • an undertaking to double aid by 2009, and
  • an agreement to build 30 hospitals and train 15,000 people.

Between 2000 and 2012, China undertook more than 1,700 projects in over 50 African countries amounting to upwards of $75 billion. While this amount is less than the $90 billion committed by the US in the same period, it still represents a significant alternative source of aid financing for the continent.

Where the money goes

China’s aid in sub-Saharan Africa is varied and can be found in almost all sectors from telecommunication to health. The largest amount of aid funding goes towards the transport, storage, energy and communications sectors. A significant share, about 70%, is geared towards infrastructure development.

Chinese aid in infrastructure outweighs that of other donors. It accounts for over 30% of total value of infrastructure projects in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa’s education and health sectors have also benefited significantly. But the amount committed to these two sectors lags behind others such as transport and energy. This is possibly due to the fact that a significant amount of western aid is focused on these two sectors (see table 1).

Table 1: Foreign aid.

In terms of the largest sub-Saharan Africa recipients of Chinese aid, Nigeria, Ghana and Sudan have been the top recipients in the past decade. The three countries combinedreceived about $250 million in aid. The majority goes to energy infrastructure such as oil pipelines.

Governance myth debunked

Prominent in the aid debate is the notion that western donor countries are more concerned about the degree of governance in recipient countries. Their Chinese counterparts are assumed to overlook the level and type of governance.

At first glance this might be seen to be true. But it is not necessarily the case.

For both types of donors, recipient country governance is important. This conclusion is drawn from looking at the determinants of American and Chinese foreign aid to 31 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In the case of the US, both political rights and civil liberty are considerations in its aid allocation decisions to the region. For China, political rights are more important than civil liberty in influencing who receives aid.

Although the benefits of Chinese aid in sub-Saharan Africa are clear in health and infrastructure projects, including the provision of medicine, the training of health workers as well as the construction of transport infrastructure, there are some drawbacks to the aid. While China provides aid for different projects over a wide spectrum, for the most part it is focused on a few specific sectors. As a result pertinent issues that enable domestic resource generation in the region are not necessarily addressed. This suggests that there is a need to re-assess the type of Chinese aid sub-Saharan countries accept and to make sure that the aid ties in with these countries’ development agendas.

Kafayat Amusa is a Lecturer in Economics at the University of South Africa, Nara Monkam is a Research Director at the Africa Tax Institute at the University of Pretoria and Nicola Viegi is a Professor of monetary economics at the University of Pretoria. This is an extract from a working paper titled “The political and economic dynamics of foreign aid: A case study of United States and Chinese aid to Sub-Sahara Africa”. [Kafayat Amusa, Nara Monkam and Nicola Viegi]. This article was first published on the Conversation and can be found here. Image credit: Wikipedia Commons.

The Rise of Chinese Soft Power in Africa

Written by Adams Bodomo.

Is there Chinese soft power in Africa, and how does this compare with American soft power? Most people often begin discussion on soft power with the definition first put forth by American scholar, Joseph Nye. For me, soft power comprises the positive socio-political and socio-cultural influences a polity and its citizens have on another polity and its citizens without the threat of gun-boat diplomacy or even outright blind violence.

Seen in this way, I want to compare the US and China, the two most prominent soft power brokers in the world. I will claim that the US used to have a strong soft power in Africa but it is waning while China is beginning to register a rising soft power in Africa.

Socio-politically, the American political system does not seem to inspire as many people in Africa as it used to do, say in the 1980s and 1990s, especially under Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Washington now appears to be supervising over a dysfunctional democracy. President Barack Obama, being someone of African origins, used to inspire Africans in the early years of his presidency but he has now become a man of sweet smelling but empty words as he has not been able to build on the hope that he promised at the beginning of his presidency. Africans have realized that Washington doesn’t have much further to offer them in terms of socio-political capital, with very few socio-political lessons to emulate. If Africans are not talking in loud tones and tunes against Washington it may be because we are uncomfortable with their hard power, we live in fear of Africom, of deadly drones, and callous imposition of sanctions.

On the contrary, China is having positive socio-political influences on Africa, African leaders, and ideologically literate Africans on the African streets. Many Africans now realise that the Chinese way of handling its political economy is far better than that of the fiscally irresponsible American and western governments in general. China and other prudent Asian economies bailed the world out of the banking disaster induced by some greedy western leaders and businessmen that caused untold hardships on Africans since 2008.

China, along with Russia, India and Brazil, is behaving towards Africans in a far better way than the US and its western allies, some representatives of which are often arrogant and haughty at international meetings within the UN system and beyond. America, Britain, and France often resort more to hard power, more to military invasion and gun-boat diplomacy, than soft power to convince Africans at international fora whereas China uses more of pragmatic and mutual self-interest diplomacy – more of soft power – to convince Africans at international fora, though of course we must mention that the rumoured building of a military base in Djibouti is an unfortunate attempt to emulate the hard power options used by western powers – and a step in the wrong direction by Beijing, if this rumour is proven right.

Socio-culturally, US soft power is waning in Africa whereas China’s soft power is increasing. The use of English in Africa is not – or no longer  – an example of American soft power, but the increasing learning of Chinese is an instance of growing Chinese soft power. Young people in Africa don’t think well of America and Britain as a land of milk and honey when they open their mouths to speak English, but young people in Africa learning Chinese do think of China as a land of opportunity with which they hope to trade or engage in other ways after successfully learning the language at the 50 or more Confucius Institutes springing up everywhere in Africa – great symbols of Chinese soft power in Africa.

Hollywood films and popular music have often been mentioned as symbols of American soft power in Africa but this is getting anachronistic. Africans are not looking at Hollywood and seeing good things in the American socio-cultural system and getting awed about it. Africans are looking to Hollywood to emulate good examples from their fellow Africans, from their brothers and sisters there, even if Hollywood itself appears to be tone-deaf about diversity. There are many successful Africans in America and Europe and Africans look to these people for inspiration, not to the racist socio-cultural constellation that is called America, where a Black man is gunned down almost on a daily basis. On the contrary, Chinese socio-cultural soft power aspects are rising in Africa. When young Africans practice Bruce Lee Kunfu styles they think positively of Chinese culture, this is soft power at the socio-cultural level. 

Research by myself and the Korean scholar, Eun-Sook Chabal, is showing that Africans in the diaspora are beginning to enjoy Asian popular music, particularly the cultural consumption of the Korean wave items like music and Korean TV drama series. When Africans consume these they consume Chinese and general Asian soft power products. Asian soft power is rising faster in Africa than American and general western soft power.  Chinese herbal medicine, particularly herbal tea in the middle class African living room, is fast becoming a popular Chinese cultural consumption item in Africa by the middle class. A lot of research still needs to be done here.

On a personal note, as someone who has attended many fora in China, America, Europe and met with many African, Chinese, and western diplomats and academics, on the whole the Africans are often more at ease, more relaxed with the Chinese side than with the western side. There appears to be more symmetry among Africans and Chinese and more asymmetry among Africans and westerners at such meetings. And symmetry has a solid, strong connection to soft power, as the title of one of my articles – “Symmetry, soft power and South Africa” –, a pioneering study on symmetry and soft power in Africa – China relations, shows.

There is Chinese soft power in Africa – and it is rising!

Adams Bodomo, a native of Ghana region of Africa, is professor of African Studies at the University of Vienna, where he directs the University’s Global African Diaspora Studies (GADS) research centre. Image credit: CC by European External Action Service/Flickr.

“Chinese Neo-Colonialism in Africa”: a Bien-Pensant Political Ploy

Written by Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong.

Some US politicians try to endear themselves to voters by kissing babies. If another country’s leaders said these politicians are sexual abusers of children because both they and pederasts kiss children, the charge would be derided as illogical and politically-based. The same should apply to Western elites’ political ploy of “Chinese neo-colonialism in Africa.”

Most such claims are based on Africa exporting raw materials to China, while China exports manufactured goods to Africa. That trade pattern was first forced on Africa as part of European colonial underdevelopment of the continent.1 Compelled underdevelopment continues and Africa still exports few manufactured goods. Indeed, the key African textiles and clothing industry was eviscerated in the late 20th Century, by used clothing exports from the US and Europe, before the onset of large-scale Chinese exports to Africa.2

Developed countries also mainly trade manufactured goods for African raw materials, but that trade pattern alone cannot make a relationship neo-colonial. If it did, Canada, Australia and India would, absurdly, be conceived as “Chinese colonies,” as they too mostly sell raw materials to and buy manufactured goods from China. In contrast to what colonialists did moreover, Chinese build Africa’s hard and soft infrastructure, the precursors of industrialization.3 There is also growing Chinese manufacturing in Africa. Our database of some 600 Chinese enterprises indicates an average 85% of their employees are Africans, with many learning industrial skills.

The Essence of Colonialism Ignored

The key characteristics of colonialism and neo-colonialism in Africa are irrelevant to the Chinese presence in Africa. We have shown in detail elsewhere that modern colonialism has typically been a relationship in which alien rulers

in subdued overseas lands, practiced exclusionary authoritarian rule; imposed an explicit racial hierarchy; enriched metropolitan and colonizing elites by monopoly exploitation of colonies’ natural resources, labor and trade, and often depleted and impoverished native peoples, while extirpating the cultures of the most vulnerable among them.4

Colonialism involved a full-scale loss of sovereignty and often an almost total exclusion from power of local elites.5 Europeans ruled Africa, making key decisions and waging wars of suppression: the Congo at independence in 1960 had 10,000 Belgian officials6 and under Belgian rule, some 10 million Congolese — half the country’s population — perished.7

The Ghanaian independence leader who popularized the concept of neo-colonialism stated that its essence “is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” Post-independence administrations of African states termed neo-colonies have had policy-making officials and troops from and beholden to France.8 Western-headed international financial institutions, through structural adjustment programs, have exercised immense leverage in African states.9 US hard power in Africa includes one large and several smaller military bases from which wars are waged and, the US mainly arms African authoritarian regimes, while most Chinese arms sales go to African liberal democracies.10

China is not fighting anywhere in Africa, no Chinese administers any African country and no Chinese government determinative influence has been shown to exist anywhere on the continent.

A UK business journal reported in 2015 that “Chinese immigrants in Africa chuckle at the idea that they could lord it over the locals.” Scholars’ studies show African elites exercise agency in relation to China;11 for example, they mainly call the shots on investment.

It is not even clear that Chinese companies as a whole are profiting in Africa, as “65% of Chinese foreign direct investments make a loss; compared with a 50% international norm.” Chinese firms must accommodate African laws and rules, leaving no possibility that Chinese, unlike the colonialists, could impose a formal racial hierarchy on African societies. The growing interest in Chinese culture in Africa is not at all comparable to Western cultural hegemony or even soft power.12 The degree of Chinese sway in most spheres of African life has been hugely exaggerated,13 while the Chinese/locals gap in standards of living is much less than that between Westerners and Africans.14

US and EU elites only speak about what they are giving to Africa; Chinese scholars argue that “China needs Africa more than Africa needs China.” China’s leaders appear to concur: Chinese official development aid (ODA) does not go disproportionately to African states with corrupt, authoritarian governments, but to those states that align with China at the United Nations.

Actions Incompatible with Neo-Colonialism

Chinese officials must take African interests into account in making decisions that affect both Chinese and African interests. State-owned enterprise leaders, for example, have adopted policies their Western counterparts cannot contemplate. During the Global Financial Crisis in 2009, Switzerland- and UK-headquartered copper mining firms in Zambia dismissed some 15,000 workers. China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Co. (CNMC) adopted a “three no’s” policy of no lay-offs, no investment cutbacks and no abandoning of Zambia operations expansion plans.

Instead, CNMC hired 2,580 more locals. In 2014-2015, with civil war raging in South Sudan, its government asked Chinese oil firms there to keep their workers on the job, which they did. During West Africa’s Ebola crisis, Chinese SOEs maintained their personnel in danger zones. China’s ambassador to Ghana said in 2015 that “In face of the temporary economic difficulties in Ghana, Chinese enterprises do not withdraw investment, do not stop production, do not lay off workers and do not diminish social responsibility.” Such actions are in contradiction to the one-sided, self-serving actions of states that have engaged in neo-colonialism.

If Not Neo-Colonialism, then What?

Some claims of Chinese neo-colonialism in Africa reflect ignorance of colonialism’s nature. Top politicians and journalists should know concepts and facts. Because however they conceive China as an authoritarian challenge to liberal democracy or a strategic rival – ideas Chinese leaders eschew – these elites often disregard evidence that contradicts their views of China.15

That China is not neo-colonialist in Africa is not to say that the global system is just, that Chinese companies, like others, do not exploit African labor and resources or that all is well with Africa-China relations. It means we should instead focus on root causes of global social and economic inequality, including how the Chinese presence in Africa fits into that.

Little is added to the conversation by the Chinese government assertion that “win-win cooperation” is practiced in Africa. Mutual benefit among states is often less than symmetrical and elites benefit more than non-elites. A more convincing view is that Chinese practices have commonalities with those of other external actors. A study has found for example that Chinese foreign direct investment — whose stock is only 4% of Africa’s total – is not mainly in natural resources and not more so than for Western investment. Services and manufacturing predominate and are more concentrated in politically stable and skill-abundant states. They also concentrate in capital-scarce states, the tougher parts of the continent that Western firms shun.

A key issue then is just how imbricated Chinese entities are in the neo-liberal system that grows inequality through privatization, austerity, deregulation, and weakening popular agency. The Chinese state long ago abandoned its storied anti-imperialism and now participates in most institutions that serve transnational capital’s global expansion. Although it does not present an alternative, China is not necessarily a “sub-imperialist” however; for if “every country that follows the neoliberal economic paradigm, and seeks markets or an avenue for capital export to a neighboring country [is a] sub-imperialist,” then almost no country is not one.

Even as a large capitalist economy, China can only rise so far in the global system. Countries formerly could equal and displace the hegemon, as the US did Britain. That is much harder in the era of neoliberal globalization, due to US militarization, the legacy of colonial-era inequality among states, and limits on the Earth’s resources. Thus, even a state that does not fully align with the hegemon and narrows its gap with it can at most become what China is today — a semi-autonomous subaltern in a hierarchical system whose claim to irreplaceability it does not dispute. Such a state thus remains part of the problem, even if it has some practices more convivial to the interests of peoples in the world’s periphery than the actions of colonialists and neocolonialists.

Barry Sautman is a professor with the Division of Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. YAN Hairong is Associate Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Image credit: CC by 2010 World Cup – Shine 2010/Flickr.

1 Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington: Howard University Press, 1981).
2 Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, “Friends and Interests: China’s Distinctive Links with Africa,” African Studies Review 50:3 (2007): 75-114.
3 David Benazeraf, “The Construction by Chinese Players of Roads and Housing in Nairobi,” China Perspectives 2014:1: 51-59.
4 Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, East Mountain Tiger, West Mountain Tiger: China, the West and ‘Colonialism’ in Africa (Baltimore: University of Maryland Series in Contemporary Asian Studies, 2007): 21.
5 D.K. Fieldhouse, “The Economic Exploitation of Africa: Some British and French Comparisons,” in Prosser Gifford and William Louis (eds.), France and Britain in Africa: Imperial Rivalry and Colonial Rule (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971): 593-662 (660-661).
6 David Renton, et al. The Congo Plunder and Resistance (London: Zed Books, 2007]: 60.
7 Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (New York: Mariner Books, 1998).
8 Alexander Keese, “Building a New Image of Africa : ‘Dissident states’ and the Emergence of French Neo-Colonialism in the Aftermath of Decolonization,” Cahier d’Etudes Africaines 48: 191 (2008): 513-530.
9 “The Neoliberal Agenda and the IMF World Bank Structural Adjustment Programs with Reference to Africa,” in Dip Kapoor (ed.), Critical Perspectives on Neo-Liberal Globalization, Development and Education in Africa and Asia (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2011): 3-14.
10 Indra de Soysa and Paul Midford, “Enter the Dragon!: an Empirical Analysis of Chinese versus US Arms Transfers to Autocrats and Violators of Human Rights, 1989-2006,” International Studies Quarterly 56 (2012): 843-856.
11 Aleksandra Gadzala (ed.), Africa and China: How Africans and their Governments are Shaping Relations with China (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).
12 Lukasz Fijalkowski, “China’s ‘Soft Power’ in Africa”,” in Ian Taylor, et al. (eds.), China’s Rise in Africa: Perspectives on a Developing Connection (London: Routledge): 95-104.
13 Deborah Brautigam, The Dragon’s Gift: the Real Story of China-Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
14 Samantha Spooner, “Why Africans Need to Bash Chinese Migrants Less,” Mail &Guardian (South Africa), February 8, 2015.
15 Emma Mawdsley, “Fu Manchu versus Dr. Livingstone in the Dark Continent? Representing China, Africa and the West in British Broadsheet Newspapers,” Political Geography 27 (2008): 509-529.

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