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
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
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
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
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
(China Daily via agencies July 17, 2007)