Since their independence, african countries have received various types of assistance from their chinese counterpart. Their cooperation in education, public health, culture and other fields maintains a good momentum. In addition, both sides have strengthened cooperation in human resources development. Continuing to grant scholarships to African students every year to study in China, the chinese government hosts various study and training courses to help African countries forming professional contingents. Among which are classes of advanced-studies for both Chinese and African management personnel and the training courses for young and mid-aged African diplomats. In that view, Sino-African cooperation is visible on multiple levels. And as global economy continues to dig itself out of the recession, China has found a new reason to strengthen its relationships with Africa. Indeed, China’s economy – despite the recession – has been growing on a steady pace so that major players like the United States, Japan and the European Union (EU) are increasingly facing a vibrant competitor on various fronts and especially in the race to secure long-term energy supplies. With an averaged 9% annual growth, China’s booming economy requires massive levels of energy to sustain its growth. With the middle East oil market under the influence of Americans and Europeans, China has turned to Africa, an oil producer whose risks and challenges have always caused it to be overlooked and neglected economically.

Therefore since 2004, 85% of Africa’s export to China come from oil-rich countries like Angola, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and Sudan. And next in that line are Algeria, Chad Gabon and Nigeria. Furtheremore, from 2001 to 2008, cooperation between China and Africa has reached US$100 billions in investments. And China now ranks as the second-highest trading partner of Africa behind the United States and way ahead of Great Britain, Germany and France.

China’s way

China’s role in Africa has sparked many concerns. From Human Rights groups to African themselves, many are not fully satisfied with the way China does business. Africans are accusing chinese companies for many reasons: The competitive advantage chinese companies gain through deals made between chinese and african countries governments in shutting local companies out of lucrative business pools; the fact that chinese companies do not hire enough african workforce – up to 70% of the labor must be chinese – or when local labor is used, salaries received are worse than those paid by african entrepreneurs, among other considerations. As documented by Transparency International, the way China has found to successfully make its point of view respected is its willingness to pay bribes to african counterparts.

As a growing global power, China knows that the African continent is a territory already under huge western influence. Therefore, the  only way to successfully deal with African leaders is to find the right approach which allows both sides to do business without undermining the final goal of mutual benefits even when western counterparts challenge the moral aspects of such deals. That’s why the official foreign policy of China in Africa has been labeled ”noninterference in domestic affairs”.

Unlike Western countries in Africa, China doesn’t mix business with politics. And many western experts even agree with that official point of view. “The United States is highly selective about who we’re moral about,” says David C. Kang. “We support Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia – huge human-rights violators – because we have other strategic interests. China’s not unique in cutting deals with bad governments and providing them arms.” 

Unlike the United States, China doesn’t put rogue and unfriendly countries on one side; good and friendly countries on the other side. China is expanding its influence wherever it can, even beyond Africa. For example, in traditional american allies countries like Israel, China has found a new way to set up new relationships. In recent years, China has become increasingly influential economically, culturally and politically in many US backyards.

The way ahead

In 2007, Africa registered an averaged (per country) annual growth of 5.8%. Its highest level ever. Such results have been made possible in part thanks to Chinese oil imports from Africa and Chinese investments in african infrastructure, public health and education. Furthermore, China also contributes in peacekeeping with UN missions across Africa, including Liberia and Darfur. It has cancelled more than $10 billion in bilateral debt from African countries.

But, we have to be honest and as Africans keep an eye open. The same way western countries have set a foothold in Africa, China is increasingly investing in projects all around Africa because these projects are meant to build goodwill for later investment opportunities and stockpile world support for whatever contentious political issues that may occur in the short or long-term.

Overall, experts say, China’s involvement could jump-start change on the continent, but only if African governments become more assertive partners in their dealings with China. It is up to African governments to enact series of reforms – of basic market institutions, investment regulations, infrastructure, and tariffs – to reap the benefit of this partnership with this growing global power.

Tell us what you think. Is this relationship with China really going to help Africa solve its problems? 

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