China’s Presence in Africa
China has long been known as a nation that has been a part of every history of each country around the globe. The nation has been known as a friend to many especially in the field of trade and business. They have introduced Western nations to rare and exquisite Eastern culture, cuisine and resources only one can find in the region. For the Eastern nations it has worked with, it was the Chinese who have introduced Western merchandise and traditions. At present, the country is slowly becoming famous not only for its economic boom but also due to its rapidly increasing power of its influence in other countries. In the case of the United States, this particular influence of China raises alarm to some experts and lawmakers as it would affect not only the US influence but also the economic sector of the country. With the visible presence of China in one of the most highly impoverished region Africa, many argue that Africa will also be affected by the continuous entry of Chinese workers in the country. China’s visible presence in Africa would cause problems not only for the Africans but also for the Americans in terms to its influence in Africa’s political, economic and social norms.
China’s presence serves as a threat mostly for the African population as the Chinese are starting to monopolize the labour and resources Africa could have used to their advantage and provide work for the people. In an article written by Baah and Jauch (2009). China’s trade volume Africa has reached up to $29-46 billion which continuously increases each year. Imports from Africa are worth $15.6 billion in amount, 90% higher than previous years. Many have noted that China’s presence in Africa is due to its oil and natural resources which are then reasons why it continues to have trade relations to selected African countries. Their trading partnership is also a little imbalanced and more partial to the side of the Chinese rather than for the Africans. One such example in this imbalance is in the case of South Africa. At present, China is the 5th biggest trading partner of the country and is the country’s source for machinery, equipment and electrical items. But considering what South Africa is trading to China, namely metals and chemicals, this seems to be a very imbalance trade that China is exploiting. By 2007, South Africa has lost almost $3-4 billion worth of revenue and items because of their trade relationship with China. Aside South Africa, other African countries such as Angola, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, Botswana and Namibia are also considered as important trading partners to China due to their oil resources. Most of China’s oil imports came from Angola while Angola receives 30% of crude oil from China as part of their trading deal. But despite this mutual agreement between resources trading, there are still reported trade deficits that has stemmed from the trade partnership between China and their country. Nigeria is another example to this trade imbalance with China and the Nigerian market now has a monopoly of Chinese cheap mobile phones which then displaced most of the durable brands from the OECD countries which the Nigerian public has used before. The table below shows the other countries that have created a trading agreement with China and the losses they have received because of it.
Figure 1. African Countries with Trade Agreements with China. This table shows the countries that have a trading partnership between China and how much they have lost and gained.
China’s desire to take a hold of Africa’s oil resources has some grounds as its economic growth cannot sustain its oil demand. Since 2003, China is the largest oil consumer after the US and has used an estimate of 6.8 million barrels. Should China cannot find an alternative fuel source, by 2025, their oil imports will become 13 million barrels per day and become in equal terms with the US as the largest oil consumer in the world. With Africa in trading terms with the country, China will have no problem in securing its own source of oil and at the same time install some of its companies in the region to locate more oil reserves hidden in the country. Africa is also rich with other minerals such as zinc, nickel, copper and aluminium which are just some of the important minerals China uses in most of its items. Tropical woods are also being exploited by Chinese companies due to their rarity and use in most Chinese production. Their government had companies engage into logging in Africa since the 1990s and has continuously logged most of the timber in the country at present. Many have argued that China’s continuous logging in the African region is against the environmental policies implemented in Africa and they are logging without a license. Some of the arguments also presented that China’s logging methods are very harmful to the ecosystem in the virgin forests around Africa and recovery methods may no longer restore the same balance entirely. Due to illegal logging, China has managed to gain 70% worth of timber from Africa. Many experts believe that if this particular trend of China’s continuously unchecked resource gathering in the region, it would be possible that Africa will lose its natural resources.
In terms of labour, China has overtaken the job openings that Africans could have benefited more now that China has been investing more in the country. Some Africans see that with the Chinese worker groups slowly getting employed in the country, they could only benefit from this as it would generate more foreign investment in exchange from the slowly dwindling resources of the region. Some have noted that since the African resources are no longer processed in the region itself, the continuous employ of Chinese workers in Chinese funded projects in the region seems to be a little questionable. One such example raised in the study of Accra and Windhoek (2009) is the Shanghai Construction Group, developer of the Sekondi-Takoradi Stadium, which employed 150 Chinese workers to complete their 230 worker requirement, a number that could easily be covered by the Ghana unemployed force. This is also seen in Angola wherein 25,000 Chinese workers are taking part in most projects in the country. Angola’s case not only concerns the jobs being taken by Chinese workers that could have benefited most of Angola’s working sector but it also concerns how many Chinese nationals have already immigrated to the country to gain work.
Many critics have noted that China’s questionable actions as they continuously disregard the human rights norms and environmental policies in the region. They also are not punished legally for it. In the environmental violations the African-based Chinese companies, some have been noted to release toxic chemicals in important bodies of water that the Africans use as a source for the drinking and other livelihood activities. One example to this is the Chinese company WEMPCO which has been accused of discharging effluents in the Cross River. Mozambique also has a similar case as a Chinese vessel was caught with four tonnes of shark fin. Other violations also deal with human rights as many NGOs and Western groups have undermined that China’s continuous weapons support to some African nations are slowly threatening the peaceful democracy of the region .
In the case of the United States, it has been a forerunner in the development and recovery of the region. The region is also one of the United States’ best trade partners and supporters when it comes to decisions for the international community decisions on important regional policies and agendas. But with the Chinese involvement in the region and its image as a country that would open up new assistance projects in the region, it may undermine the political and foreign strategies for the United States. According to Oloo (2011), America‘s political goals that is very important for their foreign aid strategies would be changed with China’s no strings attached aid opportunities. With Africa totally into the Chinese aid, they may allow China to influence most of its governance policies and how the African countries would decide on important international agreements. America also sees China’s aid to continuously put poor countries in the region to succumb in debt and most of the western donor governments who have opened their programs for the region in terms of loan, may no longer be able to sustain their projects and would cause families to locate another form of loan from another company and start over in payment.
The United States is also alarmed with China’s association to some of the region’s most powerful tyrants and their continuous role as the main arms dealer in the region. In the case of its association to most governments such as the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe and Omar al-Bashir’s National Islamic Front in Sudan is a way to show that China is against the democratization of the region. China has been known as the protector of these two governments and they have even vetoed against any sanction proposed by the UN Security Council. This then gives these regimes a means to have a bargaining influence in the decisions posed by the international community onto them and have a reason to refuse all forms of reform from the Western world. America sees this as a problem in the long-term development of the region. In the case of arms trade and sales in the region, it has been the main supplier to the region since the start. Despite China’s declaration in 1996 that they have not done any sales in the country, many reports by the US Congressional Research Service notes that China’s total arms sales in the region have reached to 10% of all the arms trade in the region since 1996. China’s notable presence in some of the civil wars and their role in providing weapons for each side are also noted by the US. One example they have noted is the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in1998, China sold weaponry for each side despite the on-going arms embargo in the region.
In the article written by Elwell and Labonte (2007), in terms of the economic effects of China’s presence in Africa to the US, most policymakers in the Congress have noted that should China continue its dominance over most of the African markets, China may take over in the role as the world’s most dominant trading partner, a title the United States has kept for decades. It may also cause the United States to become the second largest economy as China would take its spot as the largest economy in a few decades. This particular change in China’s economic strategies is also noted as the US’s rapidly declining economy. Many are also concerned with the large trading deficits the United States is slowly losing because of China’s unjust trading practices. Some of these trading practices have made it possible for cheaper and fake merchandise of most Chinese companies to enter in the mainstream US market and entice Americans to support their products and not their own merchandise. With this entry of Chinese merchandise, many companies are forced to lay-off their workers and take out the benefits they are offering to keep up with the competition. As response to this threat, many bills and policies have been introduced by Congress to impose sanctions to China and its products.
Finally, China’s interest with Africa’s natural resources is causing some dispute with the United States. In a study written by Brookes and Shin (2006), China’s attempt to control over Africa’s oil and energy usage is creating problems for the United States as Africa is one of America’s top oil sources. With America’s continuous conquest to support its own consumption, China’s influence over most of these African sources will hinder them from supporting their usage of these important materials. The authors note that America must press on to the African countries to open up their markets in oil and energy source and create a dialogue on how this can properly be regulated and enable Africa to gain more from the venture.
Whether or not China’s presence in the African region would raise some alarms in the Western community and for the African region itself, it is crucial that the effects of this presence is slowly developing the region to enable it to sustain the millions who have been impoverished since the beginning and enable them to seek out developmental strategies that would help the region stand up and compete with the other developing countries around them. Many have noted that this presence of China in the region is not to be exaggerated. Nevertheless, if China’s actions is not closely monitored, checked and regulated; the hunches of both the concerned Africans and the United States may become reality and it may harm these two concerned groups more than what they have estimated. Africa is still a region that is slowly developing and raising more problems in the region may just affect Africa’s development and improvement, causing more people to be put in debt.
Accra, J., & Windhoek, H. (2009). Chinese Investments in Africa: Opportunity or Threat for Workers? Ghana: African Labour Research Network.
Baah, A., & Jauch, H. (2009). Chinese investments in Africa: A Labour Perspective. Ghana: African Labour Research Network.
Brookes, P., & Shin, J. H. (2006). China's Influence in Africa: Implications for the United States. Washington: Heritage Foundation.
Elwell, C., & Labonte, M. (2007). Is China a Threat to the U.S Economy? Washington D.C: US Congressional Research Service.
Oloo, A. (2011). China's threat to America in Africa. Doha: Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies.