Webcast: China’s Development Path As a Role Model for Africa?
How has China’s presence in Africa changed over the last decades? Is China’s engagement a good alternative to Western aid? And to what extend does the coronavirus outbreak impact current relations? Watch the webcast with China Africa Project's Eric Olander and The Singularity Group's Aleksandra Gadzala.
Our Key Takeaways
China is Africa’s largest trading partner country, with 70% of its trade focusing on the oil, mineral and timber sectors with mainly ten African countries. In terms of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), however, China is not the leader, with the U.S., France, and others ahead of China. Most Chinese infrastructure projects in Africa are not investments but financed by loans. In this sense China offers an alternative to traditional charity and aid from European, the U.S. and other countries.
Eric Olander and Aleksandra Gadzala emphasize Africa’s agency in engagements with China. One needs to look at both, the good and bad sides of China’s undertakings. Otherwise, we get a one-sided picture of China as the driving force potentially harming African countries, as is often depicted through e.g. the debt trap*. According to Eric Olander, there is no evidence of the debt trap narrative as it has been laid out by the U.S.. China’s deals with African countries may often not be in Africa’s favor – but that’s the same as for example the relationship of the U.S. and France with some African countries.
*claims that China intentionally extends excessive credit to a debtor country with the alleged intention of extracting economic or political concessions as soon as the debtor becomes unable to honor its obligations
When looking at the technology sector, China, like no other country, can offer tailor made solutions to many African countries and has the lead in developing technology on the continent (e.g. 70% of 4G networks has been built by Huawei).
Africa’s value to China lies in their support for national core interests e.g. through getting votes in UN and other multilateral organizations, to support the “4THKXJ” matters as Eric Olander puts it: Taiwan, Tibet, Tiananmen Square, The Communist Party, Hong Kong, Xinjiang. Through its incredible development path and lead in the technology sector, increased engagement in military affairs and relations with African governing classes (leaders, media, parties), China has built up an enormous soft power for its political agenda. China is the largest contributor to peace keeping troops in Africa of any permanent member of the UN Security Council; also China intensifies its military relationship e.g. through the Djibouti military-base and increasing sales of arms.
For many developments in other parts of the world, it is worth looking at the China-Africa relationship, as China often uses Africa as its test bed to see what it can roll out in other countries around the world. China’s relationship to Africa is changing very fast, especially now under the current coronavirus crisis.
Eric Olander is the co-founder of the China Africa Project (CAP), an independent, non-partisan media initiative dedicated to exploring every facet of China’s engagement in Africa. Eric is also the co-host of the weekly China in Africa podcast that is now among the top-10% most downloaded shows worldwide. Eric is a fluent Mandarin-speaker and a longtime China-watcher with more than 25 years of journalism experience at many of the world’s leading media companies including CNN, the BBC, and FRANCE24 among others. He received his undergraduate degree in East African History from the University of California at Berkeley and holds a master’s degree in Chinese Public Affairs from the University of Hong Kong.
Aleksandra W Gadzala is Head of Research at The Singularity Group, Senior Nonresident Fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, and a lecturer in international relations at the University of St. Gallen and the University of Zurich. She is author of the acclaimed book, Africa and China: How Africans and Their Governments are Shaping Relations with China, and Founder of Magpie Advisory, a political risk and global foresight research and advisory firm. She holds a PhD and M.Phil in Politics from the University of Oxford, and a BA from Northwestern University.