Home / International / Opinion Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read | Comment
Don't Confuse Africa Ties for Colonialism
Adjust font size:

By Xu Zuolan

China's increasing investment in Africa has triggered fear in some Western countries. Accusations that China is looking to become an "imperial power" engaged in "neocolonialism" have mushroomed since last year.

Karin Kortmann, parliamentary state secretary of the German development ministry, has made such accusations. Last November, she warned that "our African partners really have to watch out that they will not be facing a new process of colonization". China had just signed US$1.9 billion worth of new trade deals with African countries.

Others have followed suit. This year, on June 7, an article in the International Herald Tribune entitled "Tattered French African empire looks toward China" described China as the successor of France and an imperial power in Chad, saying: "Paris's erstwhile clients, meanwhile, are turning to China."

But is China really a "neocolonial" or "imperial" power as some say? Or are people just trying to paint China with the colonialist brush in Africa?

Neocolonialism refers to the international economic arrangements that former colonial powers used to maintain control of their former colonies and new dependencies after World War II. The distinctive feature of neocolonialism is the use of economic, financial and trade policies to dominate less powerful countries, together with military-political control.

China has never been a colonialist in Africa. And it will never be one in the future, neither economically nor politically. As clearly stated in China's Africa Policy in 2006, "(China will) establish and develop a new type of strategic partnership with Africa, featuring political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchange" and "do its best to provide and gradually increase assistance to African nations with no political strings attached".

In contrast, Western countries have imposed many conditions on African countries. The loans from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and G8 are always packaged with Structural Adjustment Programs. Enacted in 1980, the programs require African governments to reduce public spending (especially on health, education and food) if they cannot pay debts. Meanwhile those governments must increase exports of raw materials to the West, encourage foreign investment and privatize state enterprises.

The major accusation in the "neocolonialism" charge involves expanding Chinese investment in resource-related industries, especially energy. However, according to statistics from last year, Africa exported 36 percent of its oil to Europe and 33 percent to the United States. China got 8.7 percent. So who has a greater stake in African oil?

The energy sector, one of Africa's strongest, is the catalyst to the development of other sectors. As Li Baoping, secretary of the Centre of African Studies at Peking University, commented: "Investment by Chinese enterprises in this sector will spur (the continent's) further development and the improvement of its fiscal status."

Actually, Chinese investment in Africa's oil industry is just part of the picture. Since 1958, China's aid programs and investment have covered many areas, including resource-related industries, infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and so on. By the end of last year, Chinese investment in Africa had reached about US$11.7 billion.

This figure has led to accusations that China uses economic measures to control African countries, a manifestation of "neocolonialism".

However, the fact is, China invests a large amount of money in infrastructure that not only improves living standards and the environment in African countries, but is also laying a good foundation for the future development of those countries. The World Bank estimated that loans from the China Export-Import Bank to Sub-Saharan Africa in the infrastructure sector alone amounted to over US$12.5 billion by the middle of last year.
"The lack of infrastructure hinders private sector initiatives and increases their investment costs, and China is giving Africa infrastructure such as railways, roads and others that some development partners are not providing," said Firmino Mucavele, chief executive of the New Partnership for African Development.

Of the more than 800 aid projects China has carried out in the last five decades, 137 were agricultural projects and 133 involved the construction of infrastructure. And since 2000, Chinese enterprises have been contracted to build more than 6,000 km of highways, 3,000-plus km of railroads and eight large and mid-sized power stations.

Western donors have long avoided assisting with the development of infrastructure in African countries. Some Western countries have even sold weapons to opposing African tribes and countries.

Beyond infrastructure, Chinese manufacturing enterprises in Africa offer both jobs and production technologies to local people. Many privately owned Chinese enterprises seek partnerships with local ones. African companies can easily adopt the Chinese way of doing business. Moreover, successful businesses create a catalytic effect and attract more of Africa's elite to invest at home.

As a developing country, China offers experiences and goods that are better suited to the needs of African societies than the policy advice and products from industrialized countries. China is aiming at building a healthy partnership with Africa.

As Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe said last year: "(China) is cooperating with African countries on an equal basis without any desire to colonize Africa."

The author is a graduate student at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

(China Daily via agencies July 17, 2007)

Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read
Pet Name
China Archives
Related >>
- China's Loans to Africa Won't Cause Debt Crisis
- China Provides Poverty Reduction Training for African Officials
- US$5b African Fund Launched
- A Fresh Phase in the China-Africa Story
- Africa Looks Forward to All-round Co-op with China
- Time to Correct Those Western Misconceptions
Most Viewed >>
> Korean Nuclear Talks
> Reconstruction of Iraq
> Middle East Peace Process
> Iran Nuclear Issue
> 6th SCO Summit Meeting
- China Development Gateway
- Foreign Ministry
- Network of East Asian Think-Tanks
- China-EU Association
- China-Africa Business Council
- China Foreign Affairs University
- University of International Relations
- Institute of World Economics & Politics
- Institute of Russian, East European & Central Asian Studies
- Institute of West Asian & African Studies
- Institute of Latin American Studies
- Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies
- Institute of Japanese Studies