Enter the Dragon: an Analysis of the Nature of China's Emerging Role in Africa

Topics: Africa, African Union, Sub-Saharan Africa Pages: 14 (5394 words) Published: March 5, 2008
Enter the Dragon: An Analysis of the Nature of China's emerging role in Africa

China's relationship with Africa dates back to antiquity. Never before has this relationship been of such significance however as it is today. With asseverations abounding of China's colonial-style resource exploitation, gross human rights negligence and obstructive agency apropos of African economic development and political stability, China's relationship with Africa is indeed of paramount importance to analysts and policy makers alike. This paper aims to dissect fact from fiction with regards to China's emerging role in Africa. It argues that China's involvement in Africa, while certainly avaricious and self -seeking, is not nearly as exploitative as that of its former colonial counterparts. Moreover, the nature of Chinese aid and investment provides many African nations much needed respite from the inexorable aid policies of western governments, and under certain conditions may even ameliorate development. The first half of the paper will analyze the relationship in the context of several global structural, normative and mediating instrumental variables. In particular, these parameters will be global commodity markets and prices (principally resources), the international financial aid system, socio-economic development, political stability and good governance, environmental degradation, and human rights- issues that are at the forefront of the debate on China's role in Africa. The latter half of the paper discusses the relative applicability of the Liberal and Radical schools of thought in explaining the issue at hand and an assessment of which is more pertinent. On Resource and Commodity Markets and Prices

China's engagement with Africa is driven primarily by its compelling need to acquire energy and mineral resources for its domestic development strategy. The September 11 attacks and the subsequent political upheaval throughout the Middle East have only served to exacerbate this need (Pan). Yet it is precisely because of China's voracious appetite for energy and resources that African nations have gained considerably in recent years. Consider the sustained rise in world crude prices since 2002. Not only has this phenomenon shifted bargaining power away from international oil companies (IOC's) towards oil-producing African countries, but it has also led to a substantial improvement in their net terms of trade (Downs 52). Needless to say, the improvement in their relative trade positions enables them to more effectively challenge traditional relationships and partnerships with the West that have imposed severe structural constraints on their ability to eradicate poverty and transcend economic marginalization. Indeed, "increased Chinese demand for raw materials has seen an upsurge in commodity prices, putting extra cash in the coffers of many resource-dependent economies" (Rocha 24). Thus, recent African economic growth can be attributed, in part, to surging Chinese demand that has not only led to a trend increase in primary commodity prices, but also depressed Africa's import prices. This "serves as a catalyst for local industrial development, as in the case of the West African cotton growers who have benefited from increased exports to China" (Maswana 9).Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that "the oil drilling and exploration rights China has obtained in Africa have been acquired through international bidding mechanisms in accordance with international market practices", negating any plausibility of resource-based exploitation (Anshan 83-84). Moreover, unlike the West, China does not perceive Africa merely as "a source of raw material". Instead, Chinese firms are actively involved in creating and expanding African markets for their own products. The benefits of this accrue to African consumers as well, not least in the form of cheaper commodity prices (Janneh). The availability of "Chinese motorcycles, air conditioners, T-shirts, and...
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