I refer to the China and Africa Tie the knot (African Business, December 2006 issue). China’s President Hu Jintao’s visit to 10 African countries last month has inspired me to write to you to offer some views on this ‘new’ relationship.
Jintao’s visit appears to have been a response to invitations extended by African Heads of State that gathered in Beijing for the China-Africa Forum in November 2006 to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations, the subject of your article. Offering attractive terms for Africa’s commodities and constructing new infrastructure and spurring industrialisation, China is competing hard with Africa’s historical clients and suppliers. Chinese trade with the continent has risen from $10.6bn in 2000 to $40bn last year.
So it is hardly surprising that the new ‘China-Africa strategic partnership’, as it is being called, is often perceived by the West as constituting a threat. The Chinese are running rings around their Western competitors because the West is ignorant of the breadth and subtlety of Chinese diplomatic reach and financial policies. But the real question is whether there is anything wrong in African countries entering into a new type of relationship with other developing countries, thereby creating a stronger ‘non-aligned’ bloc with its own independent foreign policy dedicated to peace, development and cooperation?
What possible rational reason could there be for Africa not co-operating with a country which has succeeded in reducing its rural poor population from 250m to 21.5m in less than 30 years? Should not African people learn some of the lessons from China, a country that has suffered the similar experiences of colonial aggression and dictatorship that many African countries have endured?
In today’s interdependent world, it is obvious that for developing countries ‘economic liberation’ is one of the most important keys to independence, peace, freedom, democracy and sustainable development. Yet the prescriptions for prosperous development advised by most of the West’s institutions have dismally failed to acknowledge that it is only economic development and wealth distribution that can improve people’s standards of living. It was the acknowledgment of this fact by the present Chinese leadership that contributed to the present-day success of China’s economy.
The end of unilateralism and the new era of interdependency are gradually promoting new strategic and global alliances between leaders and people interested in promoting international peace and harmonious coexistence. This is somewhat counter to the superiority complex of Africa’s traditional trading partners.
Of course, not everything is perfect in the relationship. One might criticise China’s propensity to send its own workers to complete major infrastructure projects rather than employing Africans, or importing crude oil from Africa to refine in China rather than building refineries in Africa. These are relevant concerns. It seems that China seems prepared to invest much in terms of cash, but in transfer of skills terms, with the exception of the health care sector, it behaves as something of a miser.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that if China is prepared to effectively open its market to Africa’s products without the conditionalities that are imposed by the West, we can expect real and mutual benefits for the continent.
From a geo-strategic viewpoint, Africa will find in China a willing partner in the UN Security Council, and the China-Africa partnership could hasten the end of the present multi-unilateralism–enabling Africa to have a greater voice within the international community.
Shared growth, common progress and greater prosperity earned and shared by China and Africa can drastically and dramatically alter the historical under-representation and obsolete approaches of the international political architecture.
But African people should not wait for their leaders’ instructions or consent to learn directly from the Chinese ‘how to catch a fish’. By waiting, we may find that by the end of the 21st century much of Africa’s resources have been sold to China with little benefit accruing to the African population. Participative democracy, it can be argued, would ensure a better representation of the interests of Africa’s peoples.
Yves Ekoue Amaizo