As the competition for influence in Africa between China and the United States intensifies, China’s new Foreign Minister, Qin Gang, has undertaken a diplomatic journey through five African nations to strengthen Sino-African relations. Formerly serving as ambassador to the United States, Minister Qin will visit the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia before proceeding to Angola, Benin, Egypt, and Gabon.
Trade and investment are believed to be the primary agenda items for both sides, with China’s investment in Africa focusing heavily on infrastructure and telecommunications. As per data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs, the first quarter of 2022 saw trade between China and Africa reach a staggering $65 billion, a 23% increase from the same period in the preceding year.
Upon his arrival in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed warmly welcomed Minister Qin. Discussions at the African Union are expected to touch upon various issues, including African requests for Chinese assistance in reforming the United Nations and the AU’s forthcoming participation in the G-20 forum. In addition, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China’s role in multilateral institutions and its potential support in these endeavors are likely to be topics of conversation during the visit.
As Foreign Minister Qin Gang embarks on his diplomatic tour of five African nations, the economic resurgence post-COVID-19 is anticipated at the forefront of most African countries’ agendas. The Afro-Sino Centre of International Relations’ researcher, Cliff Mboya, explains that “China is gradually opening up to the rest of the world, and they are trying to embrace the post-COVID world which some of us have already embraced. So, economic recovery would be key, and we must factor in that a lot of renewed interest comes from the U.S. and Europe. So, China would want to put its stake in the relationship and just affirm to African countries that it’s here to stay and build on what it has.”
A Controversial Past
However, China’s interactions with Africa have been criticized, particularly by Western nations, who have raised concerns about the use of large loans for infrastructure projects potentially resulting in African countries owing a significant debt to Beijing, both politically and economically. Additionally, rights organizations have alleged that China may engage in practices encouraging corruption and have accused it of overlooking human rights issues while searching for access to Africa’s natural resources.
David Monyae, head of the Center for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg, said, “My blame goes more on ourselves, Africans. I don’t think we have clear laws and are tough on corruption. The idea of blaming Chinese or Americans for anything is not something I buy into. There are issues. No doubt. Is there corruption in some of the Chinese projects? Yes, is there corruption in some of the American projects in Africa? Yes. What are we doing? There is no one we can say is better than the other.”
It’s important to note that in recent times the U.S. government has taken actions to enhance its presence in Africa. Recently, the U.S. government brought leaders from African nations to Washington and discussed ways to facilitate infrastructure initiatives on the continent and invest in digital transformation, healthcare, and telecommunications.
African nations will likely be weighing their options and assessing the potential benefits they can attain through their interactions with Minister Qin and China in comparison to the opportunities presented by other nations. It remains to be seen how African countries will balance their economic and political goals with their relations with various international partners.
The Socio-Economic Relationship Between China & Africa
The relationship between China and Africa is complex and multifaceted, shaped by a history of economic, political, and cultural interactions. China has been creating its presence in Africa since the late 1990s, with trade and investment being the main drivers of this relationship. However, the association has not been without its challenges and criticisms.
Economically, China has become one of Africa’s largest trading partners and investors. According to the Chinese government, trade between China and Africa reached $208 billion in 2019, with Chinese investment in Africa totaling $110 billion by 2018. China’s investments in Africa have primarily focused on infrastructure projects such as railways, ports, highways, and mining and energy sectors. This has helped to boost economic growth in many African countries and improve the living standards of its people.
Politically, China has forged close ties with many African countries, with many leaders seeing China as a critical partner in their development efforts. In addition, China has been involved in peacekeeping operations in Africa and has provided aid and technical assistance to many African countries. However, some Western nations have criticized China for its lack of transparency and democratic accountability in its relationships with African countries and for exploiting African natural resources for its benefit.
Culturally, China and Africa have a long history of cultural exchange, with many African countries having a significant Chinese expatriate population. This has led to establishing of many Chinese-funded cultural centers, schools, and universities in Africa, promoting dialogue and cultural exchange between the two regions.
What The Future Looks Like?
“Minister Qin’s visit to Africa is expected to be met with a favorable reception, as African leaders will be eager to engage with him and gain an understanding of his ideas and strategies. In addition, the African Union, and its member leaders, will look to establish personal contact with him and align themselves with China’s plans moving forward”, states the researcher.
In Egypt, the foreign minister’s itinerary includes a meeting with the Arab League’s Secretary- before the conclusion of his week-long tour on Saturday.
In recent years, the relationship between China and Africa has come under scrutiny due to growing concerns about China’s economic and political influence on the continent. Some accuse China of exploitative and unsustainable practices, while others argue that China’s investment and engagement in Africa are essential for the continent’s economic development. Overall, it’s a complex relationship that both sides must navigate to achieve their goals while also addressing concerns raised by third parties.