February 22, 2006 | Backgrounder on Asia
Amid growing concerns about the People's Republic of China's burgeoning influence around the globe, Beijing has now set its sights on Africa. China's interest in Africa is not new. In the 1960s and 1970s, Beijing's interest centered on building ideological solidarity with other underdeveloped nations to advance Chinese-style communism and on repelling Western "imperialism." Following the Cold War, Chinese interests evolved into more pragmatic pursuits such as trade, investment, and energy.
In recent years, Beijing has identified the African continent as an area of significant economic and strategic interest. America and its allies and friends are finding that their vision of a prosperous Africa governed by democracies that respect human rights and the rule of law and that embrace free markets is being challenged by the escalating Chinese influence in Africa.
The People's Republic of China (PRC) aids and abets oppressive and destitute African dictatorships by legitimizing their misguided policies and praising their development models as suited to individual national conditions. Beijing holds out China's unique development model-significant economic growth overseen by a disciplined, one-party totalitarian state with full authority, if not control, over all aspects of economic activity-as an example for others to emulate.
Moreover, China rewards its African friends with diplomatic attention and financial and military assistance, exacerbating existing forced dislocations of populations and abetting massive human rights abuses in troubled countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. As a consequence, Chinese support for political and economic repression in Africa counters the liberalizing influences of Africa's traditional European and American partners. China's vigorous campaign to develop close ties with individual African nations also reflects Beijing's global quest to isolate Taiwan diplomatically (seven of the 26 countries that have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan are African).
The most pernicious effect of the renewed Chinese interest in Africa is that China is legitimizing and encouraging Africa's most repressive regimes, thereby increasing the likelihood of weak and failed states. The United States must also be alert to the potential long-term disruption of American access to important raw materials and energy sources as these resources are "locked up" by Chinese firms for the PRC's domestic market to maintain China's economic growth.
U.S. national interests lie in effectively countering these developments in Africa by deftly encouraging democratic processes, economic freedom, and respect for human rights across the African continent.
The Quest for Natural Resources
For the past decade, the Chinese economy has been expanding at a nearly double-digit annual growth rate. This rapid expansion requires enormous resources, especially energy.
China's sharply accelerating domestic energy demand, combined with declining domestic petroleum production and insufficient coal output, has spurred Beijing to pursue stable overseas sources of hydrocarbon fuels. By 2004, China had become the world's second largest oil consumer, behind only the United States. Chinese oil consumption is expected to increase by 10 percent per year, while China's oil and gas imports are forecast to increase from the present 33 percent of China's total oil and gas demand to 60 percent by 2020. Asian oil and natural gas production is not growing fast enough to meet Chinese demand, and a large portion of Middle Eastern oil and gas production is normally allotted to U.S. and European markets.
In an attempt to gain control over its oil and gas consumption needs as world spot market prices rise precipitously, Beijing has focused on African nations as likely hydrocarbon acquisition targets. An estimated 25 percent of China's total oil imports currently comes from Africa, and Beijing has placed a high priority on maintaining strong ties with its African energy suppliers through investment, high-level visits, and a strict policy of "noninterference in internal affairs" that Africa's dictators find comforting.
Chinese government firms have invested billions of dollars in foreign exchange and have used Chinese engineering and construction resources on infrastructure for developing oil, gas, mineral, and other natural resources in dozens of African countries, including Algeria, Angola, Gabon, Nigeria, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. The PRC's new African energy investments are clearly intended to supplement its Middle Eastern oil imports.
All of these visits focused on joint oil, mineral, and renewable resource exploration opportunities in the region. In return, top leaders from Kenya, Liberia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe visited Beijing and secured further investment and economic assistance from China. In January 2006, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's trip to six West African nations-Cape Verde, Senegal, Mali, Liberia, Nigeria, and Libya- was accompanied by the release of "China's African Policy," an official Chinese government paper aimed at promoting economic and political cooperation as well as joint energy development without interfering in each other's internal affairs.
The Chinese government has combined its efforts to secure exclusive access to African natural resources with an aggressive political campaign to ingratiate itself with Africa's tyrants and despots. For example, Sudan's government has long abetted and perpetrated genocide against large non-Muslim populations in its Darfur region. While the United States, the European Union, Japan, and other Western democracies have sought to impose U.N. sanctions against the Sudanese regime over the issue, China has opposed U.N. actions against Khartoum.
Over the past several years, the Khartoum government has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes in southern oil fields largely owned by the CNPC. In fact, Sudanese government troops and government-aligned militias have used Chinese-made helicopter gunships, based at airstrips maintained by Chinese oil companies, in raids that devastated hundreds of towns and villages around the oil installations.
Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong's comments in a recent interview demonstrate China's utter lack of concern for political volatility in Africa:
Business is business. We try to separate politics from business. Secondly, I think the internal situation in the Sudan is an internal affair, and we are not in a position to impose upon them.
Weapons Sales and Military Cooperation
African dictatorships are regular buyers of Chinese weapons and military equipment, which they often use to oppress minority populations, quash political opposition, harass neighboring countries, and extinguish any glimmers of democratization. In 2004, despite the U.S. and EU arms embargo against Zimbabwe, China sold Zimbabwe fighter aircraft and military vehicles for $200 million. In addition, China provided a military-strength radio-jamming device, which the Harare government used to block broadcasts of anti-government reports from independent media outlets during the 2005 parliamentary election campaign.
When President Robert Mugabe seized power in 1980, Zimbabwe was one of the most prosperous nations in Africa. However, for the past decade, Mugabe has relentlessly repressed political opponents and opposing tribes, and the country's economy has contracted drastically. Now Zimbabwe is facing chronic food shortages and 70 percent unemployment. In May 2005, Mugabe ordered implementation of "Operation Murambatsvina (Clear the Filth), a program of forcible eviction and demolition of tens of thousands of houses and informal building structures of urban residents." The U.N. estimates that the forcible evictions and demolition of residential and business structures has displaced 700,000 people, most of whom supported Mugabe's political opposition. Mugabe has compounded the catastrophe by denying international humanitarian aid agencies access to render humanitarian aid.
The Mugabe regime's repeated abuses led the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions against Zimbabwean officials who had "formulated, implemented, or supported policies that have undermined Zimbabwe's democratic institutions." Increasing isolation and pressure from the West have caused Zimbabwe to develop close relations with China, adopting a "Look East" policy that provides Mugabe with a lifeline to resist Western sanctions and criticism. China provides for Mugabe's military needs without interfering in his "internal affairs" and praises Mugabe as "a man of great achievements, devoted to world peace and a good friend of the Chinese people."
China has a history of selling weapons and arms production lines via state enterprises and front companies to other repressive regimes, such as Liberia and Sudan.
Promoting trade, Investment, and an Economic Development Model
China's burgeoning relationship with Africa is alarming not only because it has facilitated Chinese energy and weapons dealings, but also because it is competing with U.S.-African trade. The China- Africa Cooperation Forum (CACF) was founded in 2000 to promote stronger trade and investment relations between China and African countries in both the government and private sectors. The CACF has produced two ministerial meetings and four meetings of senior officials, contributing to the rapid growth of trade and investment over the past five years.
In 1999, the annual volume of trade between China and Africa was $5.6 billion. After the establishment of the CACF, Sino-African trade more than quintupled to $29.5 billion in 2004. By the end of October 2005, annual Sino-African trade for the year totaled $32.2 billion, surpassing the 2004 total. The volume of trade between the United States and Africa also increased remarkably, more than doubling from $26.9 billion in 1999 to $58.9 billion in 2004. However, African trade with China is growing at a much faster rate: an average of more than 50 percent annually since 2002.
In 2004, Chinese direct investment in Africa reached $135 million, with 77 additional Chinese companies doing business in the region. At the fourth CACF Senior Officials Meeting in August 2005, attended by delegations from 46 African countries and observers from six African regional organizations, China proposed upgrading the third CACF ministerial meeting in 2006 to a summit meeting involving the heads of state from China and Africa, which was welcomed by all participants.
China has also offered aid to its African partners, ranging from building infrastructure to treating infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. Since the 1960s, over 15,000 Chinese doctors have worked in 47 African states treating nearly 180 million patients. Chinese-sponsored roads and railways are under construction in Kenya, Rwanda, and Nigeria, and a mobile telephone network is being built in Tunisia. These projects are often contracted to Chinese firms rather than local businesses, adding little to the local economy in terms of employment. State-run China Radio International launched its first overseas radio station in Kenya in January 2006 to provide 2 million Kenyans with 19 hours of daily programming on major news from China and around the world, including China's exchanges with African countries.
Moreover, the Chinese government has actively advocated a Chinese-style economic development model to African countries, based on a restricted market system constrained by the overarching priority of maintaining a single-party, totalitarian government. Many authoritarian African regimes, desperate to invigorate their fraying economies while maintaining a strong grip on political power, seem to find the Chinese economic development and reform model preferable to the free-market and representative-government policies promoted by the United States and the European Union.
Advancing Diplomatic Influence
China's ideological support of African despots lends them international legitimacy and influence in the United Nations and other international arenas that help to blunt pressure from the Western democracies on human rights, economic openness, and political freedoms. At the same time, when it serves Chinese interests, Beijing succors would-be junta leaders and illiberal rebels who want power and would roll back political reforms in immature democracies. These rebels seem to believe that if they want to overthrow a legitimate government, China will work to bolster their international legitimacy in the United Nations and other international fora.
As China's power and influence grows, Beijing is becoming more willing to challenge the United States, EU nations, and others in international arenas to protect its interests in Africa. Over time, differences between China and democracies over human rights and basic political and civil rights will sharpen. For example, in September 2004, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1564, which condemned the mass killing of civilians in the Darfur region, but stopped short of imposing oil sanctions if Khartoum did not act to stop the killing. China abstained from the vote and threatened to veto any further move to impose sanctions.
In July 2005, Britain, backed by the United States and seven other countries, led a Security Council briefing on Zimbabwe's slum demolition campaign in an effort to organize a formal debate in the General Assembly and possibly generate a punitive Security Council resolution. Meanwhile, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe visited Beijing, seeking financial assistance for his failing economy. Because of Beijing's strong support for Mugabe and opposition to Security Council action, the U.N. was unable to reach a consensus on further formal discussions of the issue.
Another significant Chinese objective in Africa is to isolate Taiwan diplomatically in an effort to pressure Taipei toward unification. Seven African countries-Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Malawi, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, and Swaziland-currently maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Curtailing Taiwan's diplomatic influence was not a high priority on China's Africa policy agenda until the early 1990s, when the competition between China and Taiwan to win diplomatic recognition from individual African countries escalated drastically. Now, through offers of massive economic assistance, Beijing has secured recognition from six additional African countries at Taiwan's expense.
Lesotho and Niger switched their diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1994 and 1996, respectively. The Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, and South Africa switched their recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1998, and Liberia switched recognition to Beijing in 2003 shortly before China dispatched PLA troops to assist with Liberian water-supply projects. In addition to ongoing efforts to sever Taiwan's few remaining connections in Africa, China has also sought repeatedly to maintain the support of its African partners for its "one China" policy via diplomatic attention, economic investment, and other assistance.
What the United States Should Do
China's broad energy, trade, political, diplomatic, and even military interests in Africa threaten to undermine American and European efforts to promote peaceful, pluralistic, and prosperous societies in the region. To protect and advance American interests and influence in Africa, the United States should:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's reorganization and expansion of diplomatic posts, combined with extensive public diplomacy to publicize U.S. assistance efforts in Africa and shared interests between the two regions, will help to change the pervasive African perception that the United States cares little for the region. To further these efforts, President George W. Bush should go on an extended trip to Africa to strengthen relations with Africa.
To this end, the United States has made "good governance" a requirement to qualify for Millennium Challenge Account aid. Washington should go a step further by denying bilateral economic assistance to countries that consistently violate human rights or resist the transition to representative government and by promoting this policy in both international financial institutions and the United Nations.
While AGOA is a positive step, the United States should continue to press the region and individual countries for permanent free trade agreements that liberalize trade in goods and services, lower investment barriers, and strengthen property rights. Such agreements would encourage stronger economic growth and increase economic ties between the United States and trade partners in Africa. Charity and international aid will not solve Africa's problems, but economic reform and growth can.
China is actively expanding its influence in Africa to secure supplies of natural resources, to counter Western political and economic influence while expanding China's global influence, and to further isolate Taiwan. As a result, Chinese support for political and economic repression in Africa is countering the liberalizing influences of Africa's traditional European and American partners. It is in the U.S. national interest to address these developments in Africa by deftly encouraging democratic processes, economic freedom, and respect for human rights across the African continent.
Peter Brookes is Director of the Asian Studies Center, and Ji Hye Shin is a Research Assistant in the Asian Studies Center, at The Heritage Foundation.
The seven countries are Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, and Swaziland.
David Blair, "Oil-Hungry China Takes Sudan Under Its Wing," The Telegraph, April 23, 2005, at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/04/23/wsud23.xml (August 22, 2005).
Peter S. Goodman, "China Invests Heavily in Sudan's Oil Industry," The Washington Post, December 23, 2004, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A21143-2004Dec22 (August 22, 2005).
W. French, "China in Africa-All Trade, with No Political Baggage,"
The New York Times, August 8, 2004, at
asia/08china.html (August 22, 2005).
Blair, "Oil-Hungry China Takes Sudan Under Its Wing."
Goodman, "China Invests Heavily in Sudan's Oil Industry."
Thompson, "China's Emerging Interests in Africa: Opportunities and
Challenges for Africa and the United States," African
Renaissance, Vol. 2, No. 4 (July/August 2005), at
african_interests.pdf (September 19, 2005).
Xinhua News Agency, "China, Nigeria Sign Oil Supply Pact," July 9, 2005, at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2005-07/09/ content_3195552.htm (September 20, 2005).
Kate Linebaugh and Shai Oster, "CNOOC Pays $2.27 Billion for Nigerian Oil Gas Stake," The Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2006, at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113680307278841473.html (January 10, 2006).
Goodman, "China Invests Heavily in Sudan's Oil Industry."
French, "China in Africa: All Trade, with No Political Baggage," p. A12.
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Abraham McLaughlin, "A Rising China Counters U.S. Clout in Africa," The Christian Science Monitor, March 30, 2005, at http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0330/p01s01-woaf.html (August 22, 2005).
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Zimbabwe," Briefing Paper, September 11, 2005, p. 1, at
zimbabwe0905.pdf (February 10, 2006), and "Zimbabwe: Mass Evictions Lead to Massive Abuses," September 11, 2005, at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/09/11/zimbab11718_txt.htm (September 14, 2005).
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Watts and Andrew Meldrum, "Mugabe Finds Succour in Beijing Deals,"
The Guardian, July 27, 2005, at
article/0,2763,1536808,00.html (September 26, 2005).
Mure Dickie and John Reed, "China Hails Mugabe's 'Brilliant' Diplomacy," Financial Times, July 27, 2005, at http://news.ft.com/cms/s/c9fd6d06-fe4a-11d9-a289-00000e2511c8.html (September 26, 2005).
Agence France-Presse, "Hong Kong Transships Arms to Liberia From China," May 13, 2003.
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N0366960.pdf?OpenElement (October 26, 2005).
John Pomfret, "China Sending Troops as Congo Peacekeepers," The Washington Post, February 12, 2003, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A59231-2003Feb11.html (August 22, 2005).
Xinhua News Agency, "60 Chinese Peacekeeping Soldiers Leave for War-Torn Liberia," December 10, 2003, at http://www.china.org.cn/english/2003/Dec/82079.htm (September 14, 2005).
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AGOA-eligible countries are Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso,
Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic
of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea,
Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali,
Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda,
Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South
Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Côte
d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) was removed from the list in December 2004.
This is an important signal that the U.S. takes the criteria
seriously, which is the only way to ensure that they are effective.
U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration,
"African Growth and Opportunity Act: Country Eligibility," at
(February 8, 2006), and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative,
2005 Comprehensive Report on U.S. Trade and Investment Policy
Toward Sub-Saharan Africa and Implementation of the African Growth
and Opportunity Act, May 2005, at
Programs/AGOA/asset_upload_file215_7746.pdf (February 8, 2006). Congress took additional steps to help African nations when it passed the AGOA Acceleration Act in June 2004, which extended market access under AGOA to 2015. AGOA Acceleration Act of 2004, Public Law 108-274, at http://www.agoa.gov/agoa_legislation/AGOAIII_text.pdf (February 8, 2006).