Africa and China: Strategic Partnership or Crypto Imprialism?

As global demand for energy continues to rise, major players like the United States, European Union (EU), and Japan are facing the challenges of China as a new competitor in the race to secure long-term energy supplies. As its economy booms, China is intent on getting the resources needed to sustain its rapid growth, and is taking its quest to lock down sources of oil and other necessary raw materials across the globe. As part of its effort, China has turned to Africa, an oil-producing source whose risks and challenges have often caused it to be overlooked economically.

Some reports describe a race between China and the United States to secure the continent’s oil supplies while others note that Chinese interest in Africa have surged considerably though Western States still make the vast majority of investments in Africa and remain highly influential. China’s booming economy, which has averaged annual 9% growth for the last two decades, requires massive levels of energy for sustenance. Though China relies on coal for most of its energy needs it is the second largest consumer of oil in the world behind the United States. Once the largest oil exporter in Asia, China became a net importer of oil in 1993.

The international Energy Agency (IEA) projects China’s net oil imports will jump to 13. 1 million barrels per day by 20301. The extent of the country’s energy demand has compelled China to push into new markets from the Middle East, and particularly Africa2. Africa holds a fraction of the world’s proven oil reserves, 9% compared to the Middle East’s nearly 62% but industry analysts believe it could hold significant undiscovered reserves. As a result, China is seeking to increase its oil imports from the continent as it now receives about one third of its oil imports from Africa.

China’s biggest suppliers in Africa as of 2006 were Angola, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Sudan. It has also sought supplies from Chad, Nigeria, Algeria and Gabon3. The study is motivated by the observations that the rapid and sustained expansion of the giant economy of China has been associated with a robust and increasing intensification of its economic relations with various African countries. And that these relationships are, in turn, associated with both opportunities and challenges for both parties. For China, it is opportunity to explore and exploit the abundant natural

resources in the continent and for Africa, the challenges of contending with some level of exploitation which scholars and analysts alike have come to view as crypto-imperialism instead of strategic partnership. It focuses on trade, investment and aid flows as the key channels through which the impacts of China may be transmitted to an African economy. In fact, some scholars and analysts alike have come to the conclusion that China has consumed so much oil and other resources such as timber, coal and copper, which it has become a glutton and is battling with the process of dieting to prevent obesity.

STATEMENT OF PROBLEM The basic problem of this study lies in the inability of scholars to understand the real intention of China in her relations with the African continent. While some scholars are of the opinion that they are in the continent as partners in the process of development and as such strategic partners with a promise of mutual benefit, others view her venture in Africa as purely exploitative and something akin to a hidden imperialism designed to benefit the Asian country to the detriment of Africa.

It thus becomes an interesting exploit by researchers and scholars to attempt an analysis of their relationship in a bid to establish the nature of partnership between them. Again this study attempts to fill the yawning gap by many other researchers who have severally analysed China’s African policy without a clear cut examination of the strategic nature of their relationship, this gap we intend to address. The question that needs to be addressed then is have the Chinese Cooperation ventures contributed to driving new forces, generating positive spin-off, and serving as effective vehicles for Africa’s development in the 21st century?

OBJECTIVE OF STUDY The primary objective of this paper is to undertake a comprehensive review of literature on the bilateral relations between Africa and China with a view to establishing the level of mutuality of interest or otherwise of their ties. Other objectives include: (i) To assess the mutuality of benefits accruing to both parties as a means of determining the strategic or crypto-imperialist nature of their relations. (ii) To examine the contributions of China’s aid, trade and investments in Africa to the development or otherwise of the continent. (iii) To determine the

underlying intentions of China in her relations with Africa. (iv) To recommend measures that can engender a mutually beneficial and non-exploitative relations between them. RESEARCH QUESTIONS This study intends to address the following questions: (i) What are China’s major interests in Africa and how mutually beneficial are there? (ii) To what extent has China’s aid, trade and investments in Africa assisted the growth and development of the continent? (iii) What really informs China’s African policy in the 21st century? (iv) Is China’s interest in Africa that of resource exploitation or support for genuine development?

(v) What can be done to create a mutually beneficial relationship between China and the African continent? METHOD OF STUDY The method to be adopted in this study is purely qualitative with great reliance on observation of facts related to their relationship as well as discussions with various stakeholders in the relations between them. Such stakeholders will include staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, officials of some of the embassies of countries that have friendly relations with China, staff of the Chinese embassy in Nigeria among others.

However, reliance will also be on secondary sources of data which includes textbooks, journals, and magazines, internet sources as well as archival materials. LITERATURE REVIEW Relations between China and Africa have a long history and have seen several changes over the course of time. Two of the critical and most commonly known phases are China’s role in Africa during the Cold War and, recently, the perception that China’s ventures in Africa are motivated mainly by its quest for energy security. Viewed objectively, there are few reasons for China to establish close strategic relations with Africa.

China and Africa are geographically far apart and share neither language nor culture. Yet, in the 10th century BC the Egyptian city of Alexandria began trading with China. Subsequently, Chinese and Africans came into contact because of Arab and European maritime expeditions occasioned by the slave trade. However, it was only in the latter half of the 20th century that China and Africa truly rediscovered each other, essentially at the Bandung Conference on Non-Alignment held in April 1955. Diplomatic ties between China and Africa date back to 1956 with the establishment of Sino-Egyptian relations4.

China lent support to various African liberation movements in their struggles for independence. During the Cold War era, Sino-African relations were characterized mainly by a policy of anti-Soviet rhetoric and support for the anti-Portuguese nationalist movements in Angola and Mozambique. However, Sino-African ties waned in the 1980s. In contrast to the political and military militancy of the 1970s, China’s current engagement with Africa should be viewed within the context of globalization in the aftermath of the Cold War.

This new relationship is voluntarily focused on economic and technological cooperation for the sake of development. In fact, the current emphasis of China’s Africa policy is based on the classical foundations of what is described as a tripod of historical legitimacies, namely, historical links to liberation movements (historical legitimacy), a Third World ideological heritage dating back to the Cold War (ideological legitimacy), and an evolving partnership based on principles of non-interference and neutrality (political legitimacy)5. Prior to the 1970s, China-Africa relations were by and large ideologically driven.

It provided financial support, equipment and training to a variety of liberation movements, particularly in Algeria, Angola, Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Rhodesia, etc. China’s “involvement in the Non-Aligned Movement and other Third World conference type activities, were designed to demonstrate its own anti-imperialist approach to aid and to identify it with those nations that continued to suffer the effects of colonialism (Hamrin,1986). Beijing believes it has established the moral ground for her relations with Africa while Gu and Humphrey (2006:34), blames African underdevelopment on colonialism.

From training “freedom fighters” in the revolutionary 1960s and early 1970s to providing scholarships to children of African elites, China has been exporting its values for years to Africa. By successfully linking neo-colonialism with the neo-liberalism of Western countries, China has been able to win the hearts and minds of African elites (Gu, and Humphrey, 2006). To exemplify its commitment to a non-imperialist stand, starting in 1967, China began building the Tanzam Railway between Tanzania and Zambia. Following the death of Moa Zedong, however, the Chinese government gave less attention to Africa.

Instead, China turned inward throughout the 1980 and 1990 to experiment with its new economic reform programs6. Because of the global domination by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s StructuralAdjustment Programs (which advocated extensive economic liberation and privatization), the China-Africa relations were partially eclipsed during the Cold War. Following the Tiananmen incident of1989 (under the economic transformation initiated by President Deng Xiaoping), China renewed itsengagement with Africa and referred to it as the Beijing Consensus.

In order to feed its blooming economic need for resources (oil, minerals, timber, etc. ) and to market its manufactured goods in Africa, China resumed its economic relations with Africa through an institutional framework known as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2006. In contrast to the West’s view of Africa that chaos, conflict, corruption, and poor governance characterize its underdevelopment, China propagates that the African continent is rich in culture, religion, social dynamism, and energy.

Realizing that the African continent has a great opportunity for business, the Chinese government encourages the following industries and projects to be invested in Africa. A processing industrial products in the fields of electronics, machinery building, textiles, and garments, investing in agricultural products in order to add value to Africa’s exports and improve Africa’s terms of trade, extracting natural resources, such as petroleum and high-value minerals, and investing in infrastructure, power supply, and real estate development7.

China’s highest leadership actively espoused FOCAC’s ambitious vision, which was enthusiastically embraced by 43 heads of state and a total of 48 African delegations. Following the summit, senior Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao and then-Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing visited 15 different African countries within the first quarter of 2007. Assistant Minister Zhai Jun’s visit to Sudan, and the subsequent appointment of

Ambassador Liu Guijin as China’s special envoy for Darfur, in April and May 2007 respectively, drew considerable press attention. China’s expansive engagement has raised hopes across Africa that China will turn its attention to long-neglected areas such as infrastructure and that its strategic approach will raise Africa’s global status, intensify political and market competition, create promising new choices in external partnerships, strengthen African capacities to combat malaria and HIV/AIDS and promote economic growth.

It also raises nettlesome policy issues and complex implementation challenges that China will increasingly confront in the future8. Today, China’s Africa policy is carried out on a higher plane and is more complex, multidimensional, and ambitious and ultimately, entails greater risks. The China-Africa summit in Beijing in November 2006 featured an effusive exchange between African and Chinese leadership. China’s rising economic engagement is tied to conspicuously strategic goals, centered on access to energy and other scarce high-value commodities.

On the diplomatic front, Beijing has shown a new determination to complete the process of eliminating bilateral ties between Taiwan and a dwindling number of African capitals, and to use its accelerating entry into Africa to consolidate global allegiances and Beijing’s putative leadership of the developing world. Beijing has also taken on a more active role in the security sphere. China’s contributions of soldiers and police to UN peacekeeping operations, concentrated in Africa, have increased tenfold since 2001.

As of May 2007, China has provided over 1,800 troops, military observers and civilian police toward current UN peacekeeping operations. Three-fourths of current Chinese peacekeeping forces are supporting UN missions in Africa (primarily Liberia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo9. Beijing’s proactive engagement with Africa is based on several key factors that underlie the new Chinese approach. Chinese officials portray themselves as seeking only friendly and respectful political linkages with Africa, based on a legacy of over 50 years of solidarity and development assistance.

In Beijing’s view China’s historical experience and development model resonate powerfully with African counterparts, and create a comparative advantage vis-a-vis the West. China emerged from colonial encroachment, internal chaos and economic destitution to achieve spectacular economic growth and infrastructure development. In the past two decades, its achievements have lifted over 200 million Chinese citizens out of poverty. In the meantime, China can claim that it has achieved political stability and increasing international clout.

Such a national narrative, some have asserted, has a powerful resonance in Africa. Most importantly, Beijing’s approach to Africa fits squarely within China’s global foreign policy, including important initiatives in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Africa is seen as integral to Beijing’s strategic ambition to advance a “new security concept” that can ensure China’s peaceful rise as a global power and strengthen relations with key neighbors and regions.

Through its overarching global approach, China’s leadership seeks to sustain internal development and political stability at home, legitimize the historic benefits of China’s rise within the international community, and achieve its long-term goal of a multi-polar, equitable and “democratic” international system10. However as lofty and cooperative as the above bilateral ties unfolds, many scholars view the bilateral relations between Africa and China as being lopsided in the sense that China seems to have an upper hand in the relationship having been all out for natural resources mostly oil in the continent.

From Nigeria to Angola, Sudan to Gabon, Congo to Chad and even Equatorial Guinea, China’s presence looms large as she traverses the continent in search of oil and other natural resources to support its rapidly expanding economy. China has presented itself as a key competitor to the United States of America, the European Union and Japan in her quest for resources in Africa. Similarly, Chinese firms are emitting green house gases all over the continent of Africa as every nine factories out of ten in the continent belongs to Chinese business men. CONCEPTUAL CLARIFICATIONS

There are basically two pronounced concepts that require clarifications in this paper outside Africa and China which remains one of the continents in the world and an Asian country respectively. These are strategic partnership and crypto-imperialism. STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP Strategic partnership can rightly be said to be partnership built on shared level of planning by parties in a relationship in order for both to have mutual benefit. In other words, efforts by strategic partners suggest some level of alliance that would bring benefits to both parties.

But the situation seems to be different in the case of China and Africa as what ordinarily should have been a mutually beneficial relationship between them has instead resulted in the designs of basic medium of controls and manipulation which at the end leaves a party, in this case Africa on the disadvantage. Africa is disadvantaged in this relationship for obvious reasons which border on the development differentials existing between the continent and China.

From lack of basic infrastructure and poor leadership to inter-ethnic conflict and corruption, the continent paints a vivid picture of despair and underdevelopment in comparison to China which is emerging as a super power not only in the Asian continent but in the world at large. From a purely business perspective, a strategic partnership is a formal alliance between two commercial enterprises, usually formalized by one or more business contracts but falls short of forming a legal partnership or, agency, or corporate affiliate relationship.

Typically two companies form a strategic partnership when each possesses one or more business assets that will help the other. Thus, one common strategic partnership involves one company providing engineering, manufacturing or product development services, partnering with a smaller, entrepreneurial firm or inventor to create a specialized new product. The larger firm supplies capital, and the necessary product development, marketing, manufacturing, and distribution capabilities, while the smaller firm supplies specialized technical or creative expertise.

Another common strategic partnership involves a supplier or manufacturer partnering with a distributor or wholesale consumer. Rather than approach the transactions between the companies as a simple link in the product or service supply chain, the two companies form a closer relationship where they mutually participate in advertising, marketing, branding, product development, and other business functions. As example, an automotive manufacturer may form strategic partnerships with its parts suppliers, or a music distributor with record labels.

In line with the above explanation, and for the purpose of this paper, strategic partnership is simply the acclaimed mutual relationship between Africa and China. For one, they are strategic partners in the sense that each possesses one or more assets that can help the other. Understandably, Africa possesses the needed oil and other resources while China possesses aid in whatever form that they deemed fit to give to the continent.

The truth therefore is that China has become the large firm consuming resources of all kinds and Africa the small firm specializing in resource supply. In fact, according to McBride, 11 China has gone from miser to glutton in its use of energy, and is now struggling to diet. That, he argues has involved bigger imports of oil, gas and coal, and so much foreign entanglements of which Africa is at the centre. CRYPTO-IMPERIALISM

Although Copeland12 first coined the term “crypto” when he used it to describe the attempt by America to establish a stable regime in an unstable situation in Egypt following British efforts to reduce its imperial commitments in the Middle East in his coinage, “crypto-diplomacy”, this study adopts directly Agara’s (2004:146) cloning of the concept “crypto-imperialism” in his analysis of globalization. For both Copeland and Agara, “crypto” means “hidden” and when attached to diplomacy as enunciated by Copeland it becomes “hidden diplomacy” and with imperialism, it is simply “hidden imperialism” which is of particular interest to this study.

Crypto-imperialism simply implies the building of hidden empires in which the control apparatus of these empires is concealed by a veil of secrecy behind rhetoric about freedom and liberation. It is thus, a form of control and manipulation in which the manipulated state, most often, may not even realize the extent to which it is being manipulated. 14 Crypto-imperialism is indeed the political arm of economic exploitation which is manifested in neo-colonialism.

In Copeland’s account of hidden diplomacy, the United States of America’s main concern was to effect a change in government without getting physically and noticeably involved. 15 Since crypto-diplomacy and crypto-imperialism are similar, they rest on a valid assumption that power is based on repressive or constructive action and everything that a government does has effect on its power base. Thus, this assumption finds concrete expression when the political control of an independent state is seized and a regime susceptible to being manipulated is installed and is

sympathetic to the “power behind the veil” that installed it. 16 Furthermore, the agenda of crypto- imperialism is to ensure that change in government in third world countries is made possible through revolutionary means or military coups or wars. A clearer understanding of the issue of crypto-imperialism is possible when it is juxtaposed with the concept of neo-colonialism. Here, the events that have transpired and are still unfolding in Third World countries where coups, revolts and civil wars have become the standard means of effecting change in governments come to the fore.

So neo-colonialism and crypto-imperialism have not only replaced the old but direct form of colonialism and imperialism, but have engendered a new form of dependence. Thus, the dependent Third World state and by extension Africa is a victim of political repression for economic reasons. 17 The above scenario best describes the predicament of Africa in her relationship with China which remains the power behind the veil in the lopsided relationship between the two. For Africa, her potentials lie in her resource rich nature which China acknowledges and attempts to explore and exploit to the maximum.

But the question is does the continent realize that it is being exploited? This and many other questions will be addressed in this study. However for the purpose of this paper, crypto-imperialism remains the hidden hand of exploitation foisted on the continent by China in her bid to garner resources for her growing industrial concerns in exchange for aid in whatever form it deems fit for the continent. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: DEPENDENCY THEORY This theory is built upon Lenin’s theory of imperialism and focused upon the economic penetration of the ‘Third World’ particularly Latin America by the large capitalist states.

It is simply a view of the relationship between developed and underdeveloped countries. Emerging from the 1960s, dependency crystallized around a critique of the structural developmentalism associated with Raul Prebisch and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) which was founded in 1948 in Santiago, Chile. ECLA characterized the world as divided into centre (the developed industralised North) and periphery (the underdeveloped agricultural South), the relationship between them was determined by the structure of the world economy.

Latin American economic activity was based upon primary export production. This had been dealt a devastating blow during the Great Depression when the bottom fell out of the market. 18 In place of classical trade theory’s notion of a mutually advantageous relationship between centre and periphery, Prebicsh argued that a model of unequal exchange operated with Latin American economies facing a long term secular decline in their terms of trade.

This resulted in a chronic balance of payments crisis, with the periphery having to export more and more in order to maintain the same level of manufactured imports. ECLA’s solution was forced industralisation through protectionism and import substitution, and an interventionist role for the state in economic management and infrastructural development. The hope was that such programmes would reduce Latin American’s vulnerability to sharp savings in international commodity prices.

Various governments attempted to apply the ECLA model but its performance was unimpressive and Prebisch admitted that it was flawed. Industralisation actually made Latin American economies more, not less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the world market. It distorted growth both between the industrial and agricultural sectors, and within industry, where the emphasis upon consumer durables facilitated greater involvement by transnational companies.

19 Dependency theory is construed to be imperialism by other means which take up in part an old theme of a minority of sixteenth century economic theorists such as the German Friedrich List and the American Henry Garey, according to which free trade might be good for highly industralised countries but bad for relatively underdeveloped ones, since the latter would need to protect their ‘infant industries’, as List called them, against their stronger foreign competitors.

Lack of such protection would make the underdevelopment of the less industralised countries worse and condemn them to long-run backwardness and poverty. In their own time, List and Garey lost the argument in economic theory and in most textbooks. There the ‘classic’ theory prevailed according to which free trade was supposed to benefit everyone, since it would lead each country to specialise in those activities in which it had a comparative advantage, such as port wine for Portugal and textile and machinery for England.

20 The core of dependence theory can be summarized as follows: foreign penetration and external dependence lead to large-scale distortions in the structure of peripheral economies, which in turn result in intense social conflict and ultimately in harsh state repression in dependent societies, In fact, nearly all third world countries are deeply penetrated by, and in important ways dependent on, the industrial world and especially the world economy. 21 Penetration can occur in a variety of economic, political and cultural modes and at different periods in a country’s development.

Economic penetration can be by financial or technological means. In relatively early stages of development, the most common way is by direct foreign investment, where multinational corporations establish subsidiaries involved in mining (Kennecott Copper in Chile, British Petroleum in Iran), agriculture (United Fruit in Guatemala, Firestone Rubber in Liberia), manufacturing (Volkswagen in Brazil), and commerce (Sears, Roebuck and Coca-Cola in Korea and almost everywhere else).

22 Dependency theory built upon ECLA’s intellectual traditions had authors such as Andre Gunder Frank who in his work, ‘Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America’ published in 1967 concentrated upon the external mechanisms of control exerted by the centre or metropole upon the periphery or satellite. The centre maintained the periphery in a state of underdevelopment for purposes of super-exploitation. Underdevelopment, Frank contends, was not an original or inherent condition; rather it was the determined outcome of the historical relationship between dominant and subordinate states.

23 As underdevelopment was a product of capitalist development, it would only end when the capitalist system itself collapsed. For him, socialist revolution was the only solution. From the entire above treatise on dependency theory and by extension underdevelopment, it becomes clear that the Chinese penetration of Africa may not be completely devoid of the trappings of imperialism. For one, the relationship remains at best lopsided in favour of the industralised China to the detriment of the African continent which has been banished to the role of resource suppliers in a division of labour guided and directed by the Chinese themselves.

It therefore becomes quite doubtful if the China African policy in recent times is built on genuine mutual interest and the need to support the continent in her bid for development. CHINA AND AFRICA: EVOLVING A NEW POLICY IN THE 21ST CENTURY China’s ‘new’ Africa policy adopted by the Chinese government in January 2006 captures the guiding principles of the new strategic partnership in the following terms (a) Sincerity, friendship and equality, which means that China adheres to the principles of peaceful coexistence and respects African countries’ independent choice of development paths.

(b) Mutual benefit, reciprocity and common prosperity, which means that China supports African countries’ economic development and is committed to cooperation in various forms, for the benefit of both parties. (d) Mutual support and close coordination, which includes a commitment from China to strengthen cooperation with Africa in multilateral systems and to appeal to the international community to pay more attention to questions concerning peace and development in Africa.

(e) Learning from each other and seeking common development, which refers to strengthened exchange and cooperation in various social fields and support for African countries to enhance capacity building and cooperation to achieve sustainable development. 24 As lofty as the above strategic policy seems, China’s return to Africa in the 21st century is characterized not only by a need for economic resources but, more crucially, by the financial and political muscle to play the game dramatically and competitively.

Basically, China’s entry into Africa is characterized by ‘an aid-for-oil strategy’ that has resulted in increasing supplies of oil from African countries in return for comprehensive and exploitative trade deals. 25 Sino-African trade grew by 700 per cent during the 1990s, and the 2000 China-Africa Forum in Beijing set off a new era of trade cooperation and investment that is producing notable results. From 2002 to 2003, trade between China and Africa doubled to US$18. 5 billion, and then nearly doubled again in the first ten months of 2005, jumping 39 per cent to US$32. 17 billion.

Most of the growth was due to increased Chinese imports of oil from Sudan and other African nations. China’s foreign direct investment in Africa represented US$900 million of the continent’s US$15 billion total in 2004. China is now the continent’s third most-important trading partner, behind the United States and France, a