China’s President, Xi Jinping visited Tanzania, South Africa and Republic of Congo from March 24 to 30.The fact that African countries are on Xi’s first overseas trip as president shows the importance China’s new leadership attaches to Sino-African interactions.
China policy towards Africa largely rests on the following: First, China needs access to African raw materials, especially minerals (ore, iron and oil), to fuel its strong industrial economy. Second, it relies on the political support of African nations in international forums such as the United Nations. Third, Beijing seeks eventually to replace Taipei in those four countries that continue to recognise Taiwan. Fourth, China grasped sooner than the United States that Africa’s more than one billion people and growing middle class offer an attractive market for its exports.
Since the founding of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000, the two sides have been making headway in deepening their cooperation in a variety of fields, and China overtook the United States to become Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009.
China’s trade with all African countries, including Libya and Egypt, reached nearly $200 billion in total value in 2012, an increase of 19.3% from 2011, according to Chinese customs statistics.
By the end of 2012, China’s direct investment in Africa had accumulated to nearly $20 billion, with 75% going to sectors such as finance, processing and manufacturing, trade-related services, agriculture and transportation. To date, more than 2,000 Chinese enterprises have invested in 50 African countries, with the majority of their employees Africans.
Many African officials have voiced concerns that China’s dominance as an exporter of cheap garments, appliances and other goods, and its appetite for unprocessed raw materials, have impeded economic ties and undermined African hopes to advance into industrial prosperity.
“China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones,” the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, wrote in The Financial Times in March of this year. “This was also the essence of colonialism.”
Given the above background, the Chinese president arrived in Tanzania on March 24 for a two-day visit. On March 25 Xi delivered his defense of China’s economic stake in many African countries in a speech in Dar es Salaam, the seaside economic hub of Tanzania.
He sought to assure African countries that his government would heed complaints that Chinese companies were impeding African efforts to run their local industry and jobs, and he promised aid, scholarships and technology transfers in an effort to counter those worries.
“China frankly faces up to the new circumstances and new problems in Sino-African relations,” Xi told the audience, which regularly interrupted his speech with applause. “China has and will continue to work alongside African countries to take practical measures to appropriately solve problems in trade and economic cooperation so that African countries gain more from that cooperation.”
Xi said China would abide by a promise made in 2012 to provide $20 billion in loans over three years for African infrastructure development, farming and businesses. He announced a plan to provide training for 30,000 Africans over the next three years, including 18,000 scholarships to study abroad — apparently in China..
“We will strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation with African countries in agricultural, manufacturing and other spheres, helping these countries convert their resource advantages into developmental advantages,” he said in the address, broadcast on Chinese television.
“This will not change at all because of China’s own growth and rising international stature,” he said. “I can clearly tell all my friends here that under new circumstances, the importance of Sino-African relations will not decline, but will instead rise.”
From Tanzania, he visited South Africa where he attended the 5th BRICS Summit (acronym for Brazil, Russia., India. China and South Africa) in Durban. Trade among the five countries reached $ 282 billion in 2012 and by 2015 it may increase to more than $500 billion, according to a report.
This economic grouping represents more than a quarter of the world’s land area, more than 40% of the world’s population, and almost 25% of the world’s economic growth. (As of 2012, GDPs of these countries are: China $8.25 trillion, Brazil $ 2.4 trillion, Russia $1.95 trillion, India $1.9 trillion and South Africa $390 billion).
The BRICS grouping of emerging powers has reached a deal to establish BRICS Development Bank, initially with $50 billion, which would rival Western-backed World Bank. It is reported that a Chinese banker could lead the Bank. The Bank is likely to focus on infrastructure and financing among member-countries.
On March 29, the Chinese president ended his trip to Africa in the Republic of Congo. Xi said he wanted to raise ties with Congo “to a new and higher level.” Congo is a major oil producer.
He told parliament in the capital, Brazzaville: “The future, the development of China will be an unprecedented opportunity for Africa, and Africa’s development will be the same for my country. We expect to work together with our African friends to seize upon historic opportunities and deepen cooperation … in order to bring greater benefit to the Chinese and African peoples.”
Last September, a total of 38 students from the Republic of Congo left for China on scholarships by the Chinese government. In July last year, through the initiative of Republic of Congo, a Chinese cultural week was marked in the country.
During the visit he signed a string of deals and pledged to bolster bilateral economic cooperation. The deals include a river port in Oyo, Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s hometown, and a sea port in Pointe-Noire that can export mineral ores shipments.
Finally, it is good to note that the Chinese president did not avoid the concerns of African leaders and assured them that China would not exploit their resources without giving dividends in return for the benefit of African people.
The writer is a former Bangladesh ambassador to the UN, Geneva.