China in Africa

Yesterday I found (surprise!) that Chinese foreign policy was a bit much to cover in 500 words. So today I’ll retreat to the only slightly more ridiculous idea of covering China’s role in Africa. As always now, this is a ‘getting my head round things’ post, not one actually worth reading.


##Ideological involvement
In the Communist past, China’s involvement in Africa was concerned with spreading revolution. When Chinese leader Zhou en-lai toured Africa in 1963-4, he was widely (mis-)quoted as saying that “Africa is ripe for revolution”, causing Western and African opinion to imagine Chinese influence in the continent as far larger than it was.
In fact, China did little more than lend half-hearted support to some political and militant movements – dabbling in the Congo, for example, and supporting the Sawaba movement in Niger. In the 70s, it involved support for the Angolan anti-colonial military group the FNLA.
##Trade
Now, money matters more than politics. In 2005, Chinese-African trade [leapt](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4587374.stm) by 40% or more.
Previously, this wasn’t the case. Even at its high-point in 1977, [China-Africa trade was worth only $817m](http://mondediplo.com/2005/05/11chinafrica), compared to well over $30 billion in 2005.
As I [mentioned yesterday](http://www.ohuiginn.net/mt/2006/06/china_oil_tibet_and_xinjiang.html#more), this is in large part about oil. Not entirely, though: China also needs gold and platinum from Zimbabwe, nickel, cobalt and copper from South Africa, and many other minerals..
Chinese exports to Africa were only slightly lower than its imports. Much of this export trade comes in the form of massive government-linked construction projects, as well as extensive military sales. This is the kind of trade China has been doing for decades, grand projects like the Tanzam railway
##Politics, just politics
Economic interests are now driving Chinese political activity in Africa. China has blocked UN action on the Darfur genocide in Sudan, because as the buyer of 50% of the country’s massive oil production it does not want to jeopardise relations with that government. In Zimbabwe China has provided military aid and even [designed Robert Mugabe’s latest mansion](http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0330/p01s01-woaf.html), its eye on keeping access to the country’s minerals.
China has flattered African leaders with a string of high-profile official visits, including for example one to Gabon by Hu Jintao, and a [tour of 6 African countries by China’s foreign minister](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/01/1d874ef7-9cfc-4e46-a3bd-769d4eb443f2.html) in January this year. It has even been willing to make economic concessions, such as [debt cancellation](http://www.warmafrica.com/index/geo/1/cat/5/a/a/artid/439).
## World Affairs
Africa doesn’t have enough political clout to matter much in terms of other international political issues. Still, China has [succeeded](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/01/1d874ef7-9cfc-4e46-a3bd-769d4eb443f2.html) in stopping some African states from recognising Taiwan as an independent state, and as necessary it has wooed African votes in international fora.
##The African response
Africa’s reaction to Chinese interest has not been passive. [These comments](http://www.fin24.co.za/articles/economy/display_article.asp?Nav=ns&lvl2=econ&ArticleID=1518-25_1939073) by Thabo Mbeki of South Africa are typical: pleasure at the opportunity for selling raw materials, combined with a concern over the nature of the trade. In the long run, Africa stands to lose out if its position is selling raw materials to China, and importing finished products which harm the development of industries within Africa.

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