Will Africa ever be free of Colonialists?
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation)
Following the exploits of the Europeans in Africa in the past century, the Chinese seem to have started where the Europeans left. Though not in the area of physical slave trade, China now has a significant stake in virtually all important sectors of the African economy.
Amid growing concerns about the People’s Republic of China’s burgeoning influence around the globe, Beijing has now set its sights on Africa. China’s interest in Africa is not new. In the 1960s and 1970s, Beijing’s interest centered on building ideological solidarity with other underdeveloped nations to advance Chinese-style communism and on repelling Western “imperialism.” Following the Cold War, Chinese interests evolved into more pragmatic pursuits such as trade, investment, and energy.
In recent years, Beijing has identified the African continent as an area of significant economic and strategic interest. America and its allies and friends are finding that their vision of a prosperous Africa governed by democracies that respect human rights and the rule of law and that embrace free markets is being challenged by the escalating Chinese influence in Africa.
Beijing holds out China’s unique development model — significant economic growth overseen by a disciplined, one-party totalitarian state with full authority, if not control, over all aspects of economic activity—as an example for others to emulate.
Moreover, China rewards its African friends with diplomatic attention, financial and military assistance, exacerbating existing forced dislocations of populations and abetting massive human rights abuses in troubled countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. As a consequence, Chinese support for political and economic repression in Africa counters the liberalising influences of Africa’s traditional European and American partners. China’s vigorous campaign to develop close ties with individual African nations also reflects Beijing’s global quest to isolate Taiwan diplomatically (seven of the 26 countries that have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan are African).
The most pernicious effect of the renewed Chinese interest in Africa is that China is legitimising and encouraging Africa’s most repressive regimes, thereby increasing the likelihood of weak and failed states.
The Quest for Natural Resources
For the past decade, the Chinese economy has been expanding at a nearly double-digit annual growth rate. This rapid expansion requires enormous resources, especially energy. China’s sharply accelerating domestic energy demand, combined with declining domestic petroleum production and insufficient coal output, has spurred Beijing to pursue stable overseas sources of hydrocarbon fuels. By 2004, China had become the world’s second largest oil consumer, behind only the United States and Asian oil and natural gas production is not growing fast enough to meet Chinese demand.
In an attempt to gain control over its oil and gas consumption, Beijing has focused on African nations as likely hydrocarbon acquisition targets. An estimated 25 percent of China’s total oil imports currently comes from Africa. Beijing has placed a high priority on maintaining strong ties with its African energy suppliers through investment, high-level visits, and a strict policy of “noninterference in internal affairs” that Africa’s dictators find comforting.
Chinese government firms have invested billions of dollars in foreign exchange and have used Chinese engineering and construction resources on infrastructure for developing oil, gas, mineral, and other natural resources in dozens of African countries, including Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Gabon, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.
Sudan, which now supplies seven per cent of China’s total oil imports, has benefited from the largest Chinese investments. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is the single largest shareholder (40 percent) in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, which controls Sudan’s oil fields, and has invested $3 billion in refinery and pipeline construction in Sudan since 1999.
In March 2004, Beijing extended a $2 billion loan to Angola in exchange for a contract to supply 10,000 barrels of crude oil per day and under the agreement, the loan will be heavily reinvested in infrastructure construction, with 70 per cent of the loan funds going to Chinese companies and the remaining 30 percent going to local sub-contractors.
In July 2005, PetroChina concluded an $800 million deal with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), to purchase 30,000 barrels of oil per day for one year. Again in January 2006, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), after failing to acquire American-owned Unocal, purchased a 45 percent stake in a Nigerian offshore oil and gas field for $2.27 billion and promised to invest an additional $2.25 billion in field development.
Gabon’s declining oil industry also saw massive investment from China National Petrochemical Corporation (SINOPEC), which plans to explore Gabon’s onshore and offshore oil reserves. South Africa and Zimbabwe remain Beijing’s major sources for platinum and iron ore.
In 2004, there were more than a dozen exchange visits of high-level party and government officials between China and African countries. Most of the exchanges have centered on economic and energy cooperation. For instance: In February 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Nigeria, Algeria and Gabon — the three African oil giants — to consolidate further the security of energy supplies.
In June, Chinese Vice President, Zeng Qinghong, visited Tunisia, Togo, Benin, and South Africa, which have significant mineral reserves. In October–November 2004, National People’s Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo visited Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Zambia. All of these visits focused on joint oil, mineral, and renewable resource exploration opportunities in the region.
In return, top leaders from Kenya, Liberia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe visited Beijing and secured further investment and economic assistance from China. In January 2006, Foreign Minister, Li Zhaoxing’s trip to six West African nations — Nigeria, Cape Verde, Senegal, Mali, Liberia and Libya — was accompanied by the release of “China’s African Policy,” an official Chinese government paper, aimed at promoting economic and political cooperation as well as joint energy development without interfering in each other’s internal affairs.
The Chinese government has combined its efforts to secure exclusive access to African natural resources with an aggressive political campaign to ingratiate itself with Africa’s tyrants and despots. For example, Sudan’s government has long abetted and perpetrated genocide against large non-Muslim populations in its Darfur region and while the United States, the European Union, Japan, and other Western democracies have sought to impose U.N. sanctions against the Sudanese regime over the issue, China has opposed U.N. actions against Khartoum.
Over the past several years, the Khartoum government has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes in southern oil fields largely owned by the China National Petroleum Corporation. In fact, Sudanese government troops and government-aligned militias have used Chinese-made helicopter gunships, based at airstrips maintained by Chinese oil companies, in raids that devastated hundreds of towns and villages around the oil installations.
Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong’s comments in a recent interview demonstrate China’s utter lack of concern for political volatility in Africa. He said, “business is business. We try to separate politics from business. Secondly, I think the internal situation in the Sudan is an internal affair, and we are not in a position to impose upon them.”
Weapons Sales and Military Cooperation
African dictatorships are regular buyers of Chinese weapons and military equipment, which they often use to oppress minority populations, quash political opposition, harass neighboring countries, and extinguish any glimmers of democratisation. In 2004, despite the U.S. and EU arms embargo against Zimbabwe, China sold Zimbabwe fighter aircraft and military vehicles for $200 million. In addition, China provided a military-strength radio-jamming device, which the Harare government used to block broadcasts of anti-government reports from independent media outlets during the 2005 parliamentary election campaign.
When President Robert Mugabe seized power in 1980, Zimbabwe was one of the most prosperous nations in Africa. However, for the past decade, Mugabe has relentlessly repressed political opponents and opposing tribes, and the country’s economy has contracted drastically. Now Zimbabwe is facing chronic food shortages and 70 per cent unemployment. In May 2005, Mugabe ordered implementation of “Operation Murambatsvina (Clear the Filth), a program of forcible eviction and demolition of tens of thousands of houses and informal building structures of urban residents.” The U.N. estimates that the forcible evictions and demolition of residential and business structures has displaced 700,000 people, most of whom supported Mugabe’s political opposition. Mugabe has compounded the catastrophe by denying international humanitarian aid agencies access to render humanitarian aid.
The Mugabe regime’s repeated abuses led the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions against Zimbabwean officials who had “formulated, implemented, or supported policies that have undermined Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions.” China has a history of selling weapons and arms production lines via state enterprises and front companies to other repressive regimes, such as Liberia and Sudan. Nearly 80 per cent of Sudan’s $500 million annual oil revenue is used to purchase weapons to subdue the rebels in southern Sudan. With Chinese assistance, the Sudanese government recently built three weapons factories near Khartoum.
In 2003, several Hong Kong firms were accused of smuggling illegal arms, including Chinese-made AK-47s, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers into Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast, where rebels and mercenaries were involved in civil wars. The illegal arms trade led the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution in December 2004 banning all trade in arms, timber, and diamonds with Liberia.
Beijing’s involvement in sub-Saharan African security issues has also expanded to peacekeeping operations, exchange programs and military deployments. In April 2003, approximately 175 China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers and a 42-man medical team were deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo on a peacekeeping mission.
In December 2003, 550 peacekeeping troops, equipped with nearly 200 military vehicles and water-supply trucks, were sent to Liberia, marking China’s largest overseas operation under U.N. auspices. China has also deployed about 4,000 PLA troops to southern Sudan to guard an oil pipeline and recently reaffirmed its intention to strengthen military collaboration and exchanges with Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sudan.
Promoting Trade, Investment, and an Economic Development Model
The China–Africa Cooperation Forum (CACF) was founded in 2000 to promote stronger trade and investment relations between China and African countries in both the government and private sectors. The CACF has produced two ministerial meetings and four meetings of senior officials, contributing to the rapid growth of trade and investment over the past five years.
In 1999, the annual volume of trade between China and Africa was $5.6 billion. After the establishment of the CACF, Sino–African trade more than quintupled to $29.5 billion in 2004.
Advancing Diplomatic Influence
China’s ideological support of African despots lends them international legitimacy and influence in the United Nations and other international arenas that help to blunt pressure from the Western democracies on human rights, economic openness, and political freedoms. At the same time, when it serves Chinese interests, Beijing succors would-be junta leaders and illiberal rebels who want power and would roll back political reforms in immature democracies.
As China’s power and influence grow, Beijing is becoming more willing to challenge the United States, EU nations, and others in international arenas to protect its interests in Africa. Over time, differences between China and democracies over human rights and basic political and civil rights will sharpen.
- Courtesy: www.heritage.org