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Chinese Imperialism: African Economy on Edge

Chinese investments have been rapidly increasing in Africa since their first involvement in 1990s, and by the early 2009, Africa became the largest trading partner with China. Their economic relationship was mutually benefitting, according to strategic experts and economists. Since 2009, China has expanded their budget for development in Africa. In early 2012, China pledged to invest over $20 Billion USD in Africa, along being the largest investor in Africa, due to their cheaper exchange rate as compared to currencies in the west, China has become Africa’s favourite. In return, China has been able to purchase raw materials such as oil, coal, and land, from key African countries and has been sealing Chinese products in the African markets. However, that’s not it, Chinese rapidly expansion in Africa has concerned most of the Middle East and their relationship, on many accounts, have been termed “controversial”. China has been actively criticised for interfering in nation’s internal matters, and have been accused of providing military assistance to some nations, where, this interference continues to grow. Besides this, many Africans do not seems to see Chinese eye to eye on the local and regional levels. The relationship between the rural population and the Chinese seems to get worse, as many labourers complained against mistreatment and misbehaviour from the Chinese businessmen. Many local traders consider the sudden “hijack” of African markets to be “dangerous” and unstable especially with respect to the Chinese products at a lower rate. One of the most concern issue is the independence of African free market and economy, which will be severely hampered if the Chinese intervention do not stop. Experts began to see this as Beijing “neo-colonial policy” in Africa. Hence, it is important for policy makers in the UN and global leaders to understand the “true” nature of relationship between China and Africa, to prevent Africa from Chinese influence along with any threat to its sovereignty and independence while ensuring that the continent remains benefitted from this relationship.
  • The Situation today
  • As the relationship between China and Africa continues to mark new millennia, this friendship has been further reinforced by the Forum of China-African Cooperation (FOCAC), which was established in the early 2000, a forum established to encourage dialogue between the two countries. Since its establishment, there have been six sessions, the seventh session is due to take place in 2018. This makes an important channel of official communication between the two countries.
  • It is undoubtedly true that, Africa and China have been increasingly relying on each other. As stated above, in early 2009, China became Africa’s largest trade partner. According to a 2007 report published by OPEC, China received over 1/3rd of oil imports from Angola, Nigeria and Sudan. China has been heavily dependent on Africa for its rich minerals in cobalt, manganese, tantalum and hardwood timber. China then exports various machineries, technological and communication equipment’s to Africa. China can therefore, be termed as a “natural ally” assisting African countries in their efforts to achieve industrialisation. Today, China accounts for over 30% of electricity supply in Africa.
  • Despite the benefits behind Beijing’s investment, this “over-step” in relationship has been creating controversies, especially with respect to the balance of trade, as many fears, Africa has less to gain than loose. Many western communities have taken a step ahead by declaring Beijing’s interest as “neo-colonialism”; as a matter of fact, China’s interest in Africa were initially considered as beneficial, within the brackets of “development and trade”. Although, African countries, on numerous accounts, have supported Beijing’s investment’s as “well within the equalised balanced of trade”.
  • There is a phenomenal presence of Chinese products in the local markets; the products are cheap due to which many regional companies are finding it difficult to compete. Unable to compete with the Chinese products, many regional companies shut their operations in South Africa alone, relieving over 18,000 workers. There have been similar instances in Mali and Nigeria, which economists point towards an exponential growth in unemployment. Many regional companies have withdrawn from the furniture markets of Zimbabwe, which was once considered to be a “profit making business”. This has not only inflicted wounds on the regional economy, but has also created “stress” between the African and Chinese relations. These tensions are further reinforced with issues such as poor working conditions for African employees, discrimination in wages, and violation of labour laws. Not long ago, a study conducted by the African Labour Research Network found Chinese companies to be the worst employers in African continent, which sparks a new debate on the “sustainability” of the relationship between China and Africa.
  • The grip of Chinese companies in African markets have not only triggered a debate on the future of African economy, but also on “occupying land” for profitable means. Many ecological groups criticised Chinese methods of ‘land grabs’. Steps such as these will create an issue of food insecurity in Africa, as Chinese companies continue to import food, which would then result in degradation of the land.
  • Today, both the China and the Africa has focussed their policies on cultural exchange. It is important to understand that, culture stands alone as a barrier in business operandi, which China continues to rectify by bridging both the communities. Broadcasting the China-Africa news service and broadcast of the Chinese network in African countries, have again reiterated the extent of Chinese presence in Africa. Many strategic experts have considered this a tool of “Chinese propaganda” with a sole purpose to push their ideology and culture. Although, with China pushing hard, the effects of Chinese cultural presence are still weak whereas cultural influence of Africa in China is non-existent. It is important for policy makers to understand that, to have a healthy relationship, regions need to promote cultures equally without harming the ecological balance of the host countries while ensuring proper growth and development of its people.

[Editor's Note: Views expressed in this article is of the anther's opinion]

About Sanjay Trivedi

Sanjay Trivedi is honorary editor of Asia Times. He is senior Indian Journalist having vast experience of 25 years. He worked in Janmabhoomi, Vyapar, Divya Bhaskar etc. newspapers and TV9 Channel as well as www.news4education.com. He is working as Media Officer in Gujarat Technological University, which has 440 colleges under its umbrella.

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