Over the last 30 years, China has focused on efforts to “develop” Africa, through direct foreign investment, infrastructure projects, and allowing private financing from China to make its way to Africa. In return, China has essentially locked up Africa’s entire flow of oil and other precious mineral resources that China has used for its own development at home.
China has quickly moved into the number two position, behind the U.S., in terms of money flowing into Africa. And its clear that China will very soon, if not already, move into the #1 position. China’s rapid success is based on its willingness to do business with any willing African government–unlike the U.S., it does not look down on murderous dictators or regimes that suppress civil rights. Thus, it has been able to do a lot of business with African governments that have not gotten much attention from other world powers like the U.S. and EU.
America has sat by the sidelines, allowing China to economically dominate Africa while the U.S. has maintained its military partnerships on the continent. But it appears that China is now moving to challenge America on that front as well by burying African countries in so much debt that they have to in some sense turn over their sovereignty to China:
Djibouti is projected to take on public debt worth around 88 percent of the country’s overall $1.72 billion GDP, with China owning the lion’s share of it, according to a report published in March by the Center for Global Development.
It, too, may face the possibility of handing over some key assets to China.
China is increasing its military ties on the continent:
Until recently, many experts considered China’s relations with African states to be economically focused for the most part — and far less interested in military matters. Africa’s relations with big powers seemed to follow a certain pattern — with the United States collaborating on military and counterterrorism aspects, and China on trade and economic development.
As China ties down African governments with debt and builds military installations, it continues to focus on infrastructure development. The African nations, for example, would get a new transportation network while China would get the contract to build it and own the debt used to finance construction:
Why don’t we [African nations] have these highways some 60 years after independence? Funding, for one thing. The Chinese government, in line with its Belt and Road Initiative, sees the potential and opportunity of 54 markets, with more than one billion more accessible consumers. As van Staden notes, China helped with the one completed highway, Highway No.5, which runs for 4,500 km through seven countries from Dakar, Senegal to N’Djamena, Chad.
Many analysts are rightly concerned about African governments’ rising debt to China, a topic that was top of mind when Chinese president Xi Jinping visited four countries last week. These concerns are weighed against the potential economic return of better infrastructure, rather than whether these networks fulfill the long-held pan-African dream.
While America continues to fight with its closest allies and neighbors like Canada, Mexico, Germany (the EU on the whole, really), China will continue to pump money into the developing world the same way America did through the IMF, only China appears to be doing it smarter and faster and in a way that will ensure its strong political, military and economic foothold in Africa for many years to come.