The formal relations between China and Africa date back to the 1950s. While China depends on imports of products such as oil, steel, copper, and agricultural goods from Africa, Africa experiences tremendous economic growth as China offers a ready market for its commodities. Besides, China-Africa relations provide mutual political benefits. For instance, many African countries have been supporting China’s political agenda in the United Nation’s forums. On the other hand, China played a vital role in helping some African countries in their struggle for liberation and independence.
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China and Africa have maintained close ties for long in a relationship that seems to have mutual benefits (Ovadia, 2013). Although trade and unity between the two have been in existence for more than one century, their diplomatic relationship was officially established in the 1950s. This paper describes the trade and political relations between China and Africa that have resulted in shared benefits. Despite numerous challenges, China and Africa have experienced significant development economically and politically out close ties in various ways.
The economy of China has experienced continuous growth, which is as a result of the increased number of industries, requiring more energy as well as raw materials. Fortunately, China has spotted Africa as a continent that can supply it with reliable resources. Unlike other countries that have for long perceived Africa as an insecure, risky, and primitive continent, China has strived to develop a healthy and strong bond (De Grauwe, Houssa, & Piccillo, 2012).
Africa has been a major exporter of energy, oil, and other raw materials to China. The statistics of imports to China shows that 20 to 30 percent of the country’s oil comes from sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Sudan, Angola, Nigeria, Gabon, among other African countries (Adekunle & Gitau, 2013). China also buys copper and other mineral resources from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia or acquires the right to use them.
This trade and business relationship between China and Africa has received criticism, especially from Western countries’ political leaders. The leaders claim that China does not have the interest of Africa at heart but rather uses the relationship for self-interests. Despite such allegations, China has maintained tight trade relations with approximately thirty countries in Africa. Besides, the country has established over 150 trading companies and agents in Africa.
The continued China-Africa relations have led to the signing of bilateral agreements between China and 45 African nations. These agreements and the relationships have led to the duo improvement of custom, taxation, assessment, and cooperation. In its efforts to assist the least developed African countries with which it has diplomatic relations expand their exports to China, the latter has given the nations zero tariffs on some of the exports such as textiles, stone materials, agricultural products, wood products, and base metals among others (Hirono & Suzuki, 2014).This custom exemption has seen exports to the African nations increase rapidly. Besides, China has been assisting African companies in penetrating their market by showcasing African commodities, setting up trade fairs, and providing the entrepreneurs with free or cheap stalls.
Many African governments and citizens have been reaching out to China for personal, national, and business development. For instance, the town twinning between Namibia and China is perceived as a way of attracting Chinese investment in the country and trade between the two nations. Besides, since the 1990s, many African traders have gone to China to purchase consumer goods and import them to Africa (Alden, 2012).
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Entrepreneurs in Nigeria have been encouraging the presence of Chinese in their country by sourcing consumer goods, business partners, employees, and capital goods from China. China machinery is relatively cheap, which attracts African firms and businesspersons to purchase them for the maintenance of production in the midst of high costs that are associated with costly and unreliable power supplies as well as inadequate and poor infrastructure. The Chinese employees in African countries have been playing a vital role in the efficient industrial production by supervising the installation of the machinery imported from China and training the local workers on how to operate, maintain, and repair them.
Although there have been claims that China-based companies operating in Africa mainly import labor from their home country, research shows the majority of their workforce usually comprises of Africans. The employment of African workers in the Chinese companies is a strategy used by the entrepreneurs from China to understand the foreign market and ensure cheaper labor as compared to the importation of employees from the home country (Wang & Elliot, 2014).
Due to their unhealthy past relationship with Africa, some Western Nations oppose the operations of China in Africa. Nevertheless, many African leaders welcome Chinese firms in their countries, claiming that the activities of the companies play a significant role in the growth of sectors such as health, agriculture, mining, transport, and manufacturing, among others (Jacobs, 2012). Despite the decline of the trade volume between Africa and China in 2009 due to the global financial crisis, the year marked the first time when the latter became Africa’s biggest trade partner (Rotunno, Vézina, & Wang, 2013).
The partnership improved with the recovery from the financial crisis, and by 2010, the trade volume between the two reached 114.81 billion U.S dollars. As the scale of their trade expands, the flow of essential products between China and Africa has increased.
From around 1980 to about 2000, China mostly exported industrial commodities, local merchandise, and foodstuff to mention a few to Africa. However, from 2010, China has increased its machinery, electronics, and automobile item exports to Africa, hence playing a vital role in the significant improvement of product quality and technology in the continent (Rotunno et al., 2013). On the other hand, African resources such as steel, copper, oil, and agricultural produce, among others, are present in the Chinese market.
Customers from China create a huge demand for African product specialties, for instance, Ethiopian sesame, Ghanian cocoa beans, and coffee from Uganda, to mention a few. For a long time now, China has adopted shared gain and reciprocity rule to support trade enhancement and extensive trading between it and Africa. The continued growth of the Chinese economy has helped Africa to have a stable market for its commodities. China has also benefited from its relationship with Africa by having a reliable and stable source of vital goods for meeting the needs of its growing economy.
The friendship between China and African countries started during the founding of modern China. During that time, China offered moral, political, and financial assistance to the countries to enable them to succeed in their fight for liberation and independence. Nevertheless, the formalization of diplomatic relations was done in 1955 in Indonesia after the Bandung conference. Since then, China and Africa have maintained their healthy relationship, from which both parties benefit. So far, 51 African countries have established diplomatic relations with China, and only 3 in the continent are yet to become formal partners with the foreign nation (Alden, 2012).
China and Africa have shared common interests and international issues’ perspectives over and above speaking with one voice. The two are also willing to intensify their relationships, and this is evident from the regular visits by the high-profile people from Africa to China and vice versa, resulting in improved mutual understanding among them. The visits have also strengthened the bilateral ties between China and African countries as the relationship helps the duo in their endeavors for a higher international status.
China also depends on Africa for political support on various issues, for instance, in its push for “one China” policy and agendas regarding foreign policies in international forums like the United Nations. Apparently, 75% of United Nations’ member states comprise of 54 African countries whose votes also count in the forum (Hirono & Suzuki, 2014). China has been relying on the African countries for the support of its political agenda in the United Nation’s forums.
In 1972, China felt the political influence of African nations when 26 of them voted in its favor to retain its position at the United Nations. The votes from these African countries accounted for over a third of the states that were in support of the resolution. Additionally, after the Tiananmen Square forum in 1989, Beijing experienced severe international isolation and sanctions from the Western nations, but six southern African countries defied all odds and invited Qian Qichen, the Chinese foreign minister at that time, to visit them.
In South Africa, China had a close relationship with the African National Congress (ANC), a liberation movement that was against the apartheid rule in the country. However, the ties between ANC and China started deteriorating as a result of the Cold War. ANC started to develop close relationships with the Soviet Union, which was not in good terms with China (Wasserman, 2012). Due to the association of the movement with the Union, China shifted its support from ANC to Pan-Africanist Congress. China has developed numerous principles, including its support for the independence of African countries as it invests in infrastructural projects in the region.
The Somali government initially had a strong relationship with the Soviet Union, but the relations between the two were cut short after the union supported Ethiopia in its war to reclaim Ogaden Region from Somalia. As a result, Somali resolved to strengthen its relations with China which seemed to help it in its war with Ethiopia. During the Cold War, several small nations like Burundi also collaborated with China. On the other hand, some African countries such as Nigeria rely on the Chinese support in their struggles to get permanent seats in the United Nations, an indication of political dependency (Alden, 2012).
Besides, many African leaders visited the People’s Republic of China, leading to the holding of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, the initial joint meeting between the nation and African countries. FOCAC forms an umbrella comprising of 51 African countries, which have diplomatic relations with China. FOCAC has with time become a vital platform for joint discussions amongst the member states and an effective way of strengthening their relations. From the time of its formation, FOCAC has held several conferences and a summit where it has arguably offered the collective political unity to improve the bilateral relations among the member states.
China-Africa relations have played a significant role in trade and political development of both countries. In terms of trade, each benefits from the ties by importing the resources which are scarce in its economy and exporting the ones in excess or underutilized. Additionally, China and African states support each other in matters regarding their respective political development agenda.
Adekunle, B., & Gitau, C. M. (2013). Illusion or reality: Understanding the trade flow between China and Sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of African Business, 14(2), 117-126.
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