The Genuine Nature of Chinese Intentions in Sub-Saharan Africa – Peaceful Coexistence or New World Order?

“The Genuine Nature of Chinese Intentions in Sub-Saharan Africa – Peaceful Coexistence or New World Order?” by Kapok Tree Diplomacy

PREVIEW    includes a Table of Contents. Complete essay is 5,920 words, 20 pages double-spaced, 29 references. Kapok Tree Diplomacy. May 2010.

Table of Contents

I.  Period Summaries of Growing China-Africa Partnership

A.  Period of 1950 – 1989

B.  Period of 1990 – 1999

C.  Period of 2000 to the Present

II.  China’s Mercantilist Intentions

A.  State Capitalism

B.  Trade Ownership Export Strategy

C.  Application of the Beijing Consensus in Africa

D.  Soft Power

E.  National Security

F.  Beijing’s New World Order

III.  Problems with Peaceful Coexistence – Resistance and Contradictions

A.  African Resistance and Unkept Promises

B.  Contradictions with China’s Fulfillment of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence

IV.  Conclusions

Kapok Tree Diplomacy 22 May 2010  

The Genuine Nature of Chinese Intentions in Sub-Saharan Africa – Peaceful Coexistence or New World Order?  

This research paper will explore Chinese intentions in sub-Saharan Africa. It will analyze the following topics in context to China’s involvement with Africa: the ideological foundation of the Beijing Consensus; China’s trade and mercantilist development policies; the military and national security aspects of China’s activities; its strategic use of soft power and diplomacy; China’s push for a reconfigured, multi-polar world order, and the implications of this order and policies for Western nations, especially the United States.  

By carefully substituting national economic rights for individual human rights and non- interference over ethics and transparency, China imposes its own brand of neomercantilism and no-strings-attached foreign aid, making sure it obtains substantially more relative gains than Africa despite its constant ‘win-win’ rhetoric and assertions of equal partnership. The main thesis of this paper is that while China simultaneously and deftly pursues an aggressive geoeconomic and geopolitical strategy that seeks to counter Western global influence by cultivating an attractive, scalable model of strategic partnership in sub-Saharan Africa based on Eastern values of peaceful coexistence and non-interference, the inherent contradictions and values within this strategy undermine democracy, human rights, governmental stability, state sovereignty and long-term economic viability in Africa.  

The thread of China’s geo-economic goals of securing important supplies of natural resources to feed its growing economy and enhance its global economic sphere of influence and its geopolitical goals of strengthening its leverage, interests and security within the international order will be explored throughout the paper. The first section will trace the roots of the China- Africa partnership through modern times. The second section will cover the components of China’s complex strategy: state capitalism, a mercantilist export strategy, the Beijing Consensus and foreign policy, soft power, security implications and China’s expressed desire for a new world order. The third section will cover inherent contradictions within China’s strategy as well as African resistance to it. This paper will conclude with the assertion that genuine Chinese intentions are not completely benign, but instead primarily serve national interests and mask realist aspirations for greater power and leadership on a dramatically redefined world stage.  

Section One – Period Summaries of Growing China-Africa Partnership  

Period of 1950 – 1989.  

Kieran Uchehara describes three distinct periods in the growing China- Africa partnership beginning in the 1950’s and 1960’s when China supported several nationalist movements in African states who were striving for independence, followed by China’s procurement of a permanent seat on the United Nations (UN) Security Council, and concluding with the recent “liberalization and subsequent growth of the Chinese economy,” especially after the civilian uprising at Tiananmen Square in 1989 (96-97). An important component of the ideological roots of China’s partnership with Africa was solidified during the first phase, South- South cooperation and resistance to Western hegemony.  

This ideological thread formally emerged during the Bandung Conference which was held in 1955 and attended by 29 Asian and African nations (Uchehara 96). “Colonialism, imperialism and the hegemonic position of the Western powers” were main topics on the economic and cultural agenda (Uchehara 96). It was during this conference that the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence that would become a major foundation of China’s soft power impetus were adopted by China and Africa: (1) mutual respect for political and economic sovereignty; (2) mutual non-interference in internal affairs; (3) equality and mutual benefit; (4) peaceful resolution of conflicts; and (5) equal and fair representation in world affairs (Mensah 98). Mensah also notes that while China is often lauded for its respect for sovereignty and non- interference, multilateral cooperation with African nations is conditioned by one important principle: adhere to the one China policy and reject official relations with Taiwan “which its views as a rogue or renegade province (98).  

China increased diplomatic visits, sold military equipment, and provided some agricultural and medical aid to Africa in the 1970’s and 1980’s, while also constructing some first-class infrastructure projects including the 1,860-km Tanzania-Zambia (TanZam) Railway for about $455 million in 1976 (Meidan 74), the largest foreign-aid project China had undertaken to date. Michal Meidan explains that China turned inward in the 1980’s to modernize and beef up its economy to compete with the West, effectively putting Africa on the back burner (74-76).  

The events at Tiananmen Square, however, served to turn China’s focus on Africa “from one of benign neglect to one of renewed emphasis” as Western nations condemned Chinese Communist Party leadership, whom Naidu et al. asserts were caught “off-guard” and “demeaned” by the “sharp focus on human rights” (89-91). Several African nations had their own issues with human rights abuse and did not want to jeopardize important foreign aid from China although it was declining at the time (Naidu et. al. 91). Africa’s moot response to Tiananmen and China’s presumption of Western interference in its affairs resulted in the perfect storm that strengthened political and economic ties and ignited China’s “diplomatic charm offensive” in Africa to “push for a multipolar world order that resisted Western (U.S.) hegemony” (Naidu et. al. 91). The relationship would become more economically pragmatic in the 1990’s while retaining its ideological core.  

Period of 1990 – 1999.  

As China gradually adopted some liberal reforms in its economy in the 1990’s, its GDP grew by an average annual rate of 9.5% annually (Spero and Hart 407) and so did its thirst for oil. The Trade Law Center for Southern Africa (Tralac) reports that bilateral trade between China and Africa grew from $3.9B to $6.5B between 1995 and 1999 and imports of crude oil went from $258M to $875M in that same timeframe, though soaring to $3.6B in 2000 (“Total Trade” tab, 2010). China’s indigenous sources of oil are stagnant with annual growth of 2% a year versus soaring demand of 10% a year (Meidan 77).  

With 8% of the world’s oil reserves and 11% of its oil production (Uchehara 104) as well as immense supplies of manganese, cobalt, iron ore, chromium, copper, platinum, nickel, gold and diamonds (Tralac, “Total Trade” tab, 2010), Africa presents an irresistible opportunity for China to meet its growing demands for oil, minerals and other natural resources to fuel its bustling economy. In the first decade of the 21st century, China would cement its African foothold even further.  

Period of 2000 to the Present.  

Using a combination of state and public diplomacy, China has enhanced cooperation and dialogue with Africa beginning with the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, a summit of high level governmental officials and business leaders that meet every three years, alternating between sites in China and Africa, and providing a highly visible platform for stating and coordinating China’s policy towards Africa (Shinn 44). President Hu Jintao has used this forum to consistently reiterate China’s African policy of economic and diplomatic relationship which is delineated in an official white paper from the 3rd Ministerial Summit in 2006 (Beijing, People’s Republic of China, 2006). China also flexes its diplomatic muscles with numerous high-level visits to the continent. Hu Jintao has visited Africa four times, and Premier Wen Jiabao “has been a frequent visitor to Africa” over the past ten years (Shinn 45). Jonathan Holslag notes that every visitor from Beijing brings promises of economic cooperation on some level (2006: 144). China usually delivers. 

Bilateral trade with Africa rose astronomically from 2000 to 2009 according to Tralac statistics, going from $10.6B in 2000, to $39.8B in 2005, then $55.4B in 2006, $73.5B in 2007 and $106.7B in 2008 (“Total Trade” tab, 2010). Tralac stats also show that over 84% of Chinese imports from Africa are oil and minerals, with precious stones and wood accounting for about 6% (“Graphs” tab, 2010). Additionally, the annual value of Chinese oil imports from Africa have gone from $3.6B in 2000 to a high of $38.8B in 2008 (Tralac,“Graphs” tab, 2010).  

These prodigious increases in bilateral trade have been accompanied by other projections of economic clout by China to include its “Going Out” strategy, where the state encourages “its corporate sector to transform into multinational companies and invest overseas” to produce “national champions” that can compete globally (Naidu et. al. 94). This has resulted in more than 800 Chinese telecommunications, infrastructure, energy, medical, oil and other entrepreneurial companies operating in sub-Saharan countries (Naidu et. al. 94), as well as a growing Chinese community in Africa of over 750,000 (Mensah 101).  

The first decade of the 21st century was marked by numerous and substantial Chinese investments in Africa, especially in infrastructure. For example, China maintains loans of approximately $5B to Angola (paid with oil) and $2B to Nigeria for oil interests, while the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) purchased a 45% stake in Nigerian offshore oil fields for $2.27B (Bello 25). Interestingly, in 2009 total China-Africa trade dropped to $90B from $106B in 2008, but China’s exports to Africa only dropped from $50.9B to $47.7B while its imports from Africa dropped from $55.8B to $42.2B forcing Africa to absorb the bigger hit in the global recession, not exactly a win-win scenario (Tralac,“Graphs” tab, 2010).  

Naidu et al. indicate that China has invested $350M in Zambian mining (98), $150M in Ghana for telecommunications (98), $1B in Guinea for hydro power (99), $3B in Gabon for hydroelectricity (99), and bought a 20% stake in the South Africa’s Standard Bank for $5.6B (98). Howard French reports that China recently inked a $6B deal in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC) to build mines, railways, schools, roads, clinics and hospitals in exchange for “almost 11 million tons of copper and 620,000 tons of cobalt, which it will extract over the next 25 years” (2010). Building factories takes resources, and China is hunting them down.  

These “resources for infrastructure” swaps are not without controversy. David Shinn points out, “Most Chinese assistance to Africa is in the form of low-interest loans … and often based on repayment by exporting oil or minerals to China, they [therefore] constitute a barter agreement rather than aid” (45-46). These barter agreements also lack the transparency and accountability associated with conventional loans. They can also create hostility and reinforce oppression by autocratic governments.  

A prominent Congolese lawyer responded to the $6B DROC deal by saying, “Six billion dollars in infrastructure is not development … The Chinese are not even making use of Congolese talent. They hire laborers, and that’s it … When they pack up and go, the Congo will be left with nothing, not even an upgrade in our human resources. Our earth will be dug up, emptied, and left that way” (French 2010). Asia News had similar sentiments regarding China’s recent $7B mining deal between the state sponsored China International Fund (CIF) and Guinea, describing it as “economic colonization,” having being signed “despite strong protests by the local population that a Chinese invasion might affect local markets and reinforce the dictatorship” (2009).  

Certainly many more pages could be written to detail the numerous and troubling economic exchanges between China and Africa. At this juncture, however, I would like to pose the question of why, other than to feed the titanic appetite of its resource hungry economy, is China in Africa? What is the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) political strategy? Do they truly want to create a new world order? The next section of this paper will answer these questions by comprehensively analyzing and assessing the important features of China’s Africa Policy to include its mercantilist model of state capitalism and specific Chinese statements about a new world order based upon the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.  

Section Two – China’s Mercantilist Intentions  

State Capitalism.  

When you take realist IR theory and place it in context to International Political Economy (IPE), you have the essence of mercantilism. In realist theory, the group is the fundamental unit of political analysis” with “the state as the legitimate representative of the people” (Dunne and Schmidt 93) in a competitive and anarchic system where states are driven to “simultaneously pursue wealth and national power” under the principle of self-help (Gilpin 425). Mercantilism focuses on the accumulation of “national economic wealth and, in turn, national power by expanding exports and limiting imports” (Spero and Hart 461). In China’s case, the CCP is doing exactly that – pursuing wealth, power and influence by expanding exports and limiting imports in an odd mixture of state capitalism. Against this mercantilist backdrop, Africa’s oil and natural resources are merely a means to an end.  

With respect to Beijing’s well-conceived, expansionist strategy, Holsag observes: “The core thesis of mercantilism is that governments should maintain a pivotal role in the development of a strong national economy: Strong state, strong economy” (2006: 135). China employs some level of free market capitalism to attract foreign direct investment and “gain access to overseas consumer markets,” yet “the state plays a vital role in mooring the accumulated wealth and creating a well-off society through guidance and redistribution” (Holslag 2006: 136). James Fallows describes this mercantilist perspective as being economically more in tune with Friedrich List than Adam Smith, noting that governments ought to deliberately back certain ‘high potential’ industrial sectors in order to deliberately focus on production over consumption and national wealth over individual wealth (66-70).  

Holslag links China’s investment activities, joint ventures, transactions financed through the state-owned Export and Import Bank, business-to-business contacts, cultural cooperation and even development aid itself to its state-guided form of capitalism which flows through State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) (2006: 151-152). Scott Horton cleverly links this state capitalism model back to African oil. He says, “National oil companies now control three quarters of the world’s crude-oil reserves … the state is using markets to create wealth that can be directed as political officials see fit. The ultimate motive is not economic (maximizing growth) but political (maximizing the state’s power and the leadership’s chances of survival)” (2010). China’s pursuit of sub-Saharan oil through SOEs gives its ruling party plenty of political leverage and legitimacy.  

Spero and Hart point out that the top five multinational corporations – Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and General Motors – have $352B, $347B, $319B, $274B and $207B in assets respectively (131). Many of these assets are tied up in real estate, heavy industrial equipment, land, and other hard assets. The cash assets are significantly smaller. China by contrast has, according to the IMF, $2.5 trillion dollars in foreign reserves as of March 2010 (2010). It also has a huge military with tanks, weapons, aircraft, etc.  

Wal-Mart, Exxon and GM do not have a military, and they are not SOEs. My point is to underscore the power of this form of state capitalism. When a Chinese SOE goes to negotiate a natural resources deal in Africa, they have the economic might of $2.5T dollars and the political/military might of the Chinese government at their disposal. The leveraging power is enormous. It’s not about a level playing field or noble morality for the Chinese; it’s about winning and power.  

Horton adds, “State-owned companies don’t answer to shareholders; they answer to political bureaucrats. And they don’t face the same level of domestic media scrutiny that a Western multinational will. Both these factors help state-owned companies make deals in secret, deals that multinationals are in no position to make” (2010). The model fits sub-Saharan Africa perfectly where China’s promulgation of non-interference and support of state sovereignty matches up well with many of these weak, rogue governments.  

It also serves a competitive purpose that undermines the Western system of transparency. Horton concludes, “Beyond tilting the commercial playing field away from privately owned companies, this secrecy also helps a government like Guinea’s make the deals that raise the cash that helps the elite hang on to power” (2010). This Chinese style of mercantilism in Africa also plays into its export strategy.  

Trade Ownership Export Strategy  

Holslag notes that China wants to boost trade-ownership in order to “establish a group of overseas productions bases to boost its transfer of matured industries to overseas and the export of raw materials, equipment and spare parts” (2006: 138). Thus, Chinese ownership stakes in oil companies and exploration projects in African countries like Sudan, Nigeria, Angola and the DROC (Bello 25; French 2010) serve multiple purposes. Holslag suggests that this “control-over-the-well” strategy allows China greater ability to control commodity prices, inflation, and long-term production quotas without the pressures of being beholden to foreign interests and free market fluctuations (2006: 141-143).  

Secondly, Chinese ownership of up-stream resource excavation activities allows China to diversify supply lines and dictate terms to weaker, cash-starved governments in areas where there is little competition (Holslag 2006: 143). Lastly, owning productions bases in Africa allows the Chinese to develop the surrounding areas as Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that may present attractive export markets for Chinese textiles, clothing and other retail items (Mensah 100). This begs the question of whether China’s growing influence in Africa is purely for mutual benefit and equal participation in world affairs, or exploitative in a way that merely furthers China’s long-term strategic interests and desire to lead a new world order.  

Application of the Beijing Consensus in Africa 

This particular ideological way of thinking about the social and economic aspects of the developing world has been characterized by Western academic/journalist Joshua Cooper Ramo as the ‘Beijing Consensus’ (Cheow 2006). Mensah explains that China wants to move its relationship with Africa to a “new level” from the one based on “China’s growing need for natural resources” to one based upon mutual exchange or “anti-colonial brothers-in-arms to economic and trade partners, based on market principles” (99).  

This deliberate shift in strategy marked a clear contrast between the neoliberal Washington Consensus (WC) built upon “economic competition, political democracy and social liberalism” (Cheow 2006) and a new, Asian consensus built upon skepticism of privatization and free trade (Lum et al. CRS-9) and “developmental economics, social and economic changes” (Cheow 2006). According to Lum et al., “The essence of the consensus is that China, India, and other countries that ignored the WC have succeeded while those who followed American advice or underwent World Bank or International Monetary Fund (IMF) discipline have failed in many of their basic goals — such as lifting their populations out of poverty” (CRS-9). Thus, China has abandoned the WC model in favor of a model stressing “growth-based stability, development and reform (in that order)” (Cheow 2006).  

Lum describes the Beijing Consensus (BC) as having three principles: “use of innovation and cutting edge technology to create change that moves faster than the problems that change creates; management of chaos caused by change; and self-determination or using leverage to hold away larger powers that may be tempted to tread on your toes” (CRS-10). China can effectively position this approach using a combination of hard and soft power as a friendlier, equitable, sustainable and less paternalistic approach to developmental aid (Mensah 100). Lum et al. concur: “Rather than taking funding from the World Bank or IMF, they can simply “receive” Chinese aid with no strings attached (CRS-10).  

The third principle of the BC regarding leverage offers African nations an opportunity to join China’s South-South solidarity and provide these smaller states with a more powerful voice in international affairs. Mensah asserts, “BC rejects the notion of hierarchy of nations that is embodied in the International Financial Institutions” (100), but one wonders if China really believes in a non-hierarchal, Asian order or rather one directed and controlled by themselves? At any rate, China is demonstrating that they do not wish to leave their future to the whims of the market, and soft power is one effective tool they are using to woo African nations to their side.  

Soft Power  

The strategic use of soft power is a primary mechanism that China uses to project leadership in Africa and its role as leader of the developing world. The white paper entitled “China’s Africa Policy” and produced by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government asserts that China is the “largest developing country in the world” to its African audience, and that it will strive for peace, development and stability with the African continent which has the “largest number of developing countries” (PRC, “Foreward”, 2006). To that end, the white paper lays out specific focal points of “win-win” cooperation in the political, economic, educational, cultural and security spheres (PRC, “Part IV”, 2006).  

Dennis Tull notes that by using soft power, China’s leadership has adopted “a more active foreign policy as the best strategy to defend and assert its national interests” (462). Thomas Lum describes this active projection of soft power in Africa as “global influence attained through diplomatic, economic, cultural and other non-coercive means” (CRS-1). Traditionally, China has outlined its specific soft power initiatives through FOCAC action plans every three years. The 2006 and 2009 actions plans provide some good examples.  

In the 2006 Beijing FOCAC Action Plan, China promised “a doubling of aid commitments by 2009,” “establishment of 3-5 Special Economic Zones,” “provision of US$3 billion in preferential loans and US$2 billion in preferential buyer’s credits,” “creation of US$5 billion China-Africa development fund that encourages and supports Chinese companies to invest in Africa,” an “increase of zero-tariff treatment from 190 to 440 of African products,” a commitment to build 30 hospitals and 100 rural schools, and an “increase [in] the number of Chinese government scholarships to African students from … 2,000 per year to 4,000 … by 2009” (Naidu et al. 102). An official in China’s Ministry of Commerce confirms that aid to Africa bring jobs to Chinese workers: “the aid projects provided by the Chinese have provided Chinese companies opportunities to become involved in contractual construction and trade projects” (Naidu et al. 102). The question is whether Africa has equally benefitted.  

In the 2009 Sharm El Sheikh FOCAC Action Plan, China pledged to support the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) (PRC, 2.5.1 & 2.5.4, 2009), even though some of NEPAD’s key goals include the support of democracy, transparency and the free press (Tull 476). In other sections of the 2009 action plan, China pledged to help “enlarge the G20 to ensure the fair representation of Africa” (3.2), insist on “increasing the representation of developing countries, particularly African countries, in the [U.N.] Security Council” (3.3.4), “train 2,000 agricultural technicians” (4.1), “increase the size of the China- Africa Development Fund to US$3 billion” (4.2.3), “provide US $10B of preferential loans to African countries … (for) infrastructure” (4.3.3), and “cancel due debts of interest-free government loans … owed by all heavily-indebted poor … LDCs in Africa” (5.1.3).  

The diversity of these soft power projects is impressive, and the modus operandi of resources-for-infrastructure brilliantly serves China’s interests by allowing Beijing to “deliberately integrate its resource needs with Africa’s own development requirements” through concessional financing (Naidu et al. 98, 100). Whether it’s an $11.5B aid package to Senegal for “sports, cultural and sanitation projects” (Naidu et al. 100), a $1.2B grant to Kenya for a new port (PRC 5/3/2010), or a $217M loan for a cement plant in South Africa (AFP News 2010), China’s gracious developmental aid aways has a dual interest of solidifying global influence and support while securing national economic interests.  

Dennis Tull explains, “China conceives its investments as goodwill projects to woo the sympathies of African leaders” (468). Thus, Tull maintains that China is less risk-averse than Western powers, more competitive and comfortable with infrastructure projects due to experience and bidding leverage, and not afraid to do business with African nations “suffering from Western-imposed sanctions” (468). The Chinese form of development aid is particularly appealing and effective with high level sub-Saharan African leaders (468). Moreover, it resonates with the BC model of self-determination unbeholden to Western institutions.  

China’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Zhou Wenzhong, implied that non-interference is essential to commerce when commenting on Sudanese infrastructure projects in Khartoum: “Business is business. We try to separate politics from business … we are not able to impose upon them” (Zweig and Jianhai 2005). However, when things got dicey in southern Sudan in 2004, the Chinese were quick to impose 4,000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops to help guard an important oil pipeline (Brookes & Shin, 2006). Hence, soft power is a means to an end. Transactions between China and sub-Saharan nations “should be viewed as politically mediated interactions between different nation-states that surpass profit maximization” (Holslag 2006: 136). National security and global influence play into the equation as well.  

National Security 

Chinese involvement in sub-Saharan Africa serves a dual security purpose ultimately rooted in the principle of self-help. First, Chinese investments in African natural resources, especially oil ventures, helps reduce vulnerability from dependence on other foreign sources like the Middle East or Russia, and decreases the risks of disruption from economic or military crises (Meidan 88). Secondly, Chinese influence on regional issues and the gradual addition of a few (peace-keeping) soldiers on the ground allows the PRC to work intimately with local governments in order to keep an eye on state and local security issues (Holslag 2009: 26). Rather than rely upon African military sources, China is taking the protection of its economic and strategic interests into its own hands. This dual security purpose, however, is confronted by a dual security challenge.  

The first security challenge is from African-based threats to Chinese business ventures on the continent. The second security challenge is from external states or even neighboring African states that might get drawn into regional or local conflicts when an opportunity presents itself due to violence and instability. It may be profitable to do business in Africa, but it’s not safe. Holslag affirms, “The most urgent need for Beijing is the protection of Chinese citizens and companies whenever they fall prey to instability overseas. The long-term risk is that local tensions and conflicts will entice external powers to interfere and to exploit this instability to gain clout at the expense of the People’s Republic” (2009: 27).  

The security risks both within and external to African have manifested themselves in diverse ways. Holslag notes that in the past several years Chinese companies have faced the following threats and/or acts of violence: abduction of workers in Sudan, a car bomb in Nigeria, five deaths at a copper mine in Zambia, the seizure of the Abu Jabra oil field near Darfur, nine deaths in a mysterious oil explosion in Ethiopia, six incidents of piracy off the coast of Somalia, and imminent war between Chad and Sudan over competing oil interests (2009: 25-26).  

Bill Gertz of the Washington Times asserts that China is building up its navy and developing close ties with the Burmese military regime to safeguard the Strait of Malacca where 80% of its imported oil comes through (2005), including all African oil which constitutes 30% of its total oil imports (Holslag 2009: 33). Gertz says, “Oil-tanker traffic through the Strait, which is closest to Indonesia, is projected to grow from 10 million barrels a day in 2002 to 20 million barrels a day in 2020,” and added, “Chinese specialists … said the United States has the military capability to cut off Chinese oil imports and could “severely cripple” China by blocking its energy supplies” (2005).  

As a result of these internal and external threats to African resources, China has altered its traditional emphasis upon non-interference and sovereignty to one of “constructive engagement” aimed at “safeguarding world peace to ensure domestic development” (Holslag 2009: 25). Part of this policy of constructive engagement is participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions. Mensah notes, “China has contributed a total of over 3,000 personnel … in 12 U.N. peacekeeping operations in Africa” (105), although Chinese support of these operations has tended to be concentrated in countries with significant natural resources such as Sudan, Liberia, Somalia and the DROC (Mensah 105). Such blatant economic nationalism blurs China’s efforts to brand itself as a responsible world power, but they are consistent with China’s desire for a new international order and its economic nationalism.  

Beijing’s New World Order 

Mensah quotes Deng’s profound philosophy on foreign policy: “Observe calmly, secure our position, hide our capabilities and bide our time. Be good at maintaining a low profile, never claim leadership” (99). China has certainly done this well with sub-Saharan Africa, but the problem is that it’s getting more difficult to keep the low profile and not look like an emerging hegemony of their own. Tull implies that China’s stated goals in the “African Policy” white paper of reinvigorating South-South cooperation, bolstering leverage in the U.N., promoting multipolarity with flexible alliances, and “establishing a new international, political and economic order featuring justice, rationality, equality and mutual benefit” (PRC, 2006) are not exactly meant to be hidden and secret from the rest of the world (461).  

The focus of this new international order is equality, non-interference and resistance of Western hegemony. Naidu et al. quote former Prime Minister Li Peng in 1990:  

“[The] new order of international politics means that all countries are equal and must mutually respect each other . . . regardless of their differences in political systems and ideology. No country is allowed to impose its will on other countries, seek hegemony in any regions, or pursue power politics to deal with other countries. They are not allowed to interfere in the internal affairs of the developing countries or pursue power politics in the name of ‘human rights, freedom and democracy” (91).  

Commenting on Chinese President Hu Jintao’s 2009 visits to the otherwise nondescript four sub- Saharan African nations of Senegal, Mali, Tanzania and Mauritius, Bright B. Simons concurs in saying, “[this] seems to be a multi-prong diplomatic offensive aimed at consolidating some kind of Southern Hemisphere solidarity in anticipation of an era of mercantilist alliances arrayed to the effect of greater multilateralism and the breaking of Euro-American economic hegemony” (2009). But is China’s diplomatic offensive truly benign? Does it really produce mutual benefit?  

In executing their win-win strategy of aligning sub-Saharan African states’ interests with their own interests using mostly economics, diplomacy and soft power, the Chinese have managed to step on a few toes. Moreover, their policies contain several contradictions to their stated Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. The next two sections will review some of the areas of resistance to and contradiction within China’s ‘African Policy.’  

Section Three – Problems with Peaceful Coexistence – Resistance and Contradictions  

African Resistance and Unkept Promises 

Navy Commander Todd A. Hofstedt of AFRICOM reports heavy anti-China sentiment in Nigeria and Zambia, frustration over “heavy reliance on imported Chinese labor” for infrastructure projects, Senagalese protests over cheap Chinese textiles that put local shopkeepers out of business, “refusal of dockworkers in South Africa to offload arms [and ammunition] for overland shipment to Zimbabwe,” and widespread annoyance of China’s indifference to labor unions, civil societies, political parties and non-governmental organizations in several sub-Saharan African nations (88-89). Serge Michel acknowledges, “China seems to have difficulty maneuvering in countries more democratic than itself” (46).  

Moreover, Michel points out several examples of Chinese over-promising and under- delivering: the cancellation of a $2B contract to build a railway in Angola; the cancellation of a $3B oil refinery in Lobito, Angola; and the cancellation of a $1B bauxite mine, hydroelectric dam and aluminum refinery in Gabon (43-44). These broken promises have influenced the African population. Chris Rowan alludes to a rising dissatisfaction between the local African populations in South Africa and Zambia and a growing Chinese population (62). Michael Sata, a Zambian candidate for President in 2006, ran and narrowly lost on a campaign policy of “expelling all Chinese from Zambia” (Rowan 62).  

Kieran Uchehara claims that “Lesotho’s garment industry collapsed” and Nigeria lost 350,000 jobs to cheap, Chinese imports (107-8). Holslag sums up this disgruntlement in a quote from a local newspaper in Gabon: “Chinese girls are even reported to take over the local prostitution quarters” (2006: 162). Perhaps China has a comparative advantage at work here?  

Contradictions to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence  

Holslag maintains that while China stridently opposed U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, Ivory Coast and, initially in Sudan, it pushed for peacekeeping forces when its strategic oil interests were at stake in Sudan and Somalia (2009: 30). Shinn questions China’s espousal of mutual benefit in regards to concessionary loans where the benefits to China in oil far exceeds the benefits to African nations of a road, a school, a port or a hospital (42). After all, roads must be maintained, schools must be staffed by teachers, hospitals need doctors, and ports need ships and trade. African nations rarely have the teachers, doctors and adequately trained maintenance workers to keep up the new infrastructure. A Congolese lawyer affirmed, “In this climate, roads last only 10 years without maintenance, and the Congo has no capacity in this regard” (French 2009).  

Tull is even sharper in his criticism saying, “Were it not for Beijing’s imports of oil and other raw materials, the aggregate African trade with China would show a huge deficit … This imbalance has the effect of Africa creating jobs in China, while imports from China have undermined job markets in Africa. While this is the result of legitimate market competition, it contravenes Chinese statements that enhanced Chinese–African interaction always results in win-win situations (472). Tull also points out that genuine technology transfer is weak, because Chinese infrastructure projects only have a 30% African workforce (474). He also questions China’s commitment to peace when they supply arms to countries like Liberia and Sudan, thus exacerbating regional conflicts (475). Non-interference sounds good on paper, but China applies it selectively depending on the situation.  

Ayittey writes in the Economist: “As a condition for Chinese aid, African states must accept large numbers of Chinese experts and workers as part of their investment packages. Chinese communes are springing up across Africa … China even has a secret plan, called the Chongqing Experiment, to resettle 12M of its farmers in Africa” (2009). This cannot possibly be a win-win for African nations who will have to absorb this population transfer and the jobs that population will take.  

Holslag said it best when he stated that China’s quantitative trade surplus with Africa is “counterweighed by a qualitative trade deficit” due to the ceding of sub-Saharan economic sovereignty in trade ownership deals, a lack of income filtering down to local populations, unfavorable taxes and concessions on Chinese imports, and a lack of permanent job creation and industry for African workers. He also cited the burden of new debts replacing old ones, the creation of white elephant projects like sports stadiums and presidential palaces, increased criminal activity like illegal harvesting of timber, and the unfortunate propping up of rogue regimes (2006: 161-165). The qualitative trade deficit undermines stability and sustains poverty.  


China’s clear, systematic and mercantilist strategy is impressive in its well-organized depth of application and clever manipulation of the language in its Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. This strategy skillfully masks China’s circumvention of ethical standards and practical constraints when they inconveniently get in the way of its national interests. From its diverse usage of soft power to its new form of development aid and lavish infrastructure projects, and finally to its stated desire to help create a new international order, China’s main goal is to serve and achieve the national goals of the state. China’s genuine interests in sub- Saharan Africa are to extract resources, feed its economy, and secure its strategic, geo-economic and geopolitical interests. China does in fact seek a new international order, though not one where all nations are equal. Rather it seeks one where China is firmly perched on top of an Asian hierarchy that no Western or African nation may interfere with.  

Works Cited  

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© Kapok Tree Diplomacy. May 2010. All rights reserved. 

The posts, views and opinions expressed on this site are completely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of the Navy (DON) or any of the Armed Forces.

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