Two recent newspaper articles on the role of new Chinese trade with Africa. From the New York Times China’s African Adventure:
China is now one of Africa’s largest customers not only for oil but also for timber, minerals, cotton and other natural resources. China in turn has flooded Africa with cheap consumer goods. The I.M.F. forecasts that China’s trade with Africa will top $50 billion this year and could reach $100 billion by 2010. Over the last five years, sub-Saharan Africa’s growth rate has almost doubled, to 5.8 percent from 3 percent; economists attribute much of the increase to trade with China and other Asian countries.
The perils of Beijing’s Africa strategy in the International Herald Tribune:
Politically, China’s “hands-off politics” approach was initially a welcome change for many African leaders who bristled over the conditions imposed by the United States, Europe and multilateral institutions.
… Beijing’s unwillingness to press its state- owned firms on good governance and social responsibility is producing a backlash in several African countries. Last month, Gabon ordered the Chinese energy firm, Sinopec, to halt exploration in Loango national park after a U.S. conservation group accused it of desecrating the forest and operating without an environmental-impact study.Anecdotal evidence also suggests simmering grass-roots resentment of the growing Chinese presence. Legal and illegal Chinese immigrants are moving to Africa by the hundreds of thousands to work in extractive industries, construction and manufacturing, prompting charges that Chinese investors are taking rather than creating jobs.
Ultimately, African leaders have to decide whether Beijing’s “strictly business” strategy is compatible with the principles of transparency and good governance set out in their New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Every day brings new evidence that getting China to sign on to these principles will be critical for the continent’s long term development and stability.
The New York Times article China’s African Adventure goes on to present a US reaction to China’s increased trade with Africa:
The People’s Republic has declared 2006 “the Year of Africa.” The West had its own unofficial Year of Africa in 2005, and it is instructive to compare the two. The industrial nations conducted a sort of moral crusade, with advocacy organizations exposing Africa’s dreadful sores and crying shame on the leaders of wealthy nations and those leaders then heroically pledging, at the G8 meeting in July, to raise their development assistance by billions and to open their markets to Africa. Once everyone had gone home, the aid increase turned out to be largely ephemeral and trade reform merely wishful. China, by contrast, offers a pragmatic relationship between equals: the “strategic partnership” promised in China’s African policy is premised on “mutual benefit, reciprocity and common prosperity.” And the benefits are very tangible. Earlier this month, at a much-ballyhooed summit meeting in Beijing attended by political leaders from all but five African states (the ones that recognize Taiwan), the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, announced that China would provide $5 billion in preferential loans and credits over the next three years, effectively doubling aid to Africa, while canceling many outstanding debts. A dozen Chinese companies signed agreements for $1.9 billion worth of construction projects and investment.
If we believe that a model of development that strengthens the hand of authoritarian leaders and does little, if anything, to empower the poor is a bad long-term strategy for Africa, then we are going to have to come up with a strategic partnership of our own. And it is not only a question of what is good for the African people. The United States has a real security interest in avoiding failed states and in blocking the spread of terrorism in East and North Africa. What’s more, the United States already imports 15 percent of its oil from Africa, mostly from Angola and Nigeria; that figure is bound to rise and could even double, eventually making Africa as large a supplier of oil as the Middle East now is. China’s Africa policy shows that globalization is increasingly divorced from Westernization. We have grown accustomed to the idea that Africa needs us; it’s time to recognize that we, like China, need Africa.