China’s Expanding Political And Military Footprint In Africa
As the saying goes, ‘Numerous grains of earth make a mountain, numerous drops of water form an ocean.’ As long as we keep advancing China-Africa cooperation, we will make even bigger achievements. (Excerpts from the joint interview Xi gave to media from BRICS countries in the Great Hall of the People on March 19, 2013.)
Whatever they say, it is a fact that the Chinese come to Africa not just with engineers and scientists. They are coming with farmers. It is neo-colonialism. There are no ethics, no values. Egyptian Parliament Member Mustafa al-Gindi
This series on China is a continuing effort to make Americans aware of China’s influence and interests throughout the world. China has long used Western capital to challenge the might of the West. Now it is moving forcefully, making demands of companies and countries, and expanding its influence. In effect, the Chinese government offers to build (or rebuild) infrastructure in a country, in exchange for greater access to that country’s markets, as well as political allegiance, if not outright alliance.
Colonel Liu is a scholar at China’s National Defense University, an institution that trains future generals for the People’s Liberation Army. Liu writes that China should strive to avoid directly antagonizing the United States too soon as the Soviet Union did in the Cold War. Rather, he advises that China influence U.S. foreign policy in such a way as to ensure that Washington behaves like Great Britain in the early 20th century. What happened to Britain in the 20th century? It declined and gave way to the U.S.
The Chinese dream is for China to be the world’s only superpower, unrivaled economically, militarily, and culturally. Their “Hundred Year Marathon” is heading for completion by 2049.
Chinese African Trade
Africa is the world’s second largest and second most-populous continent. It covers 6% of earth’s total surface area and 20% of its land area. Africa and Chinese economic relations surpassed the U.S. in 2009 to become the largest trading partner of Africa. Bilateral trade agreements have been signed between China and 40 countries of the continent. In 2000, China-Africa Trade amounted to $10 billion, and in 2014 had grown to $220 billion. In the first five months of 2018, China-Africa trade gained 17.7 percent year on year to nearly $82 billion dollars. [Link]
China has been Africa’s largest trading partner since 2009 when it surpassed the United States, mainly exporting machinery, electronics and textiles, as well as importing crude oil, iron ore, cotton and other natural resources. South Africa, Angola and Nigeria are its biggest trading partners in the continent.
China’s Investment in Africa
China has emerged as a key investor and a generous, ready and easy lender to African countries. Beijing’s cumulative loans to Africa since 2000 amounted to $124-billion by 2016, according to figures compiled by the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in the United States. They’ve created 130,750 jobs from 2005 to 2016, but is it for Africans or for imported Chinese.
Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively, were the top beneficiaries of these loans. Angola’s oil-related loans worth $21.2 billion since 2000 total roughly a quarter of cumulative Chinese loans to the entire continent.
Some 3,100 Chinese enterprises have invested in Africa, working on projects in areas of transport, electricity, telecommunications, industrial parks, agricultural technology centers, water supply, schools and hospitals.
It involves more than 20 African countries and covers areas such as railways, highways, ports and power generation. In 2015, China announced 10 major plans for China-Africa cooperation to help the continent speed up industrialization and agricultural modernization.
Infrastructure construction has been one of the priorities in China-Africa cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, a development strategy adopted by the Red Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. The program is an estimated $5 trillion (pdf) infrastructure spending spree that spans 60-plus countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.
China’s Debt Trap Diplomacy
Almost 40% of sub-Saharan African countries are in danger of slipping into a major debt crisis. And the relationship between African nations and China is often seen as a significant part of the problem.
Eight nations will find themselves vulnerable to above-average debt: Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. Pakistan and Nepal turned down Chinese infrastructure loans last year in favor of other sources of funding.
Economists and other international financial institutions are becoming increasingly worried that the Chinese Dragon under a carefully disguised “debt trap” diplomacy is burying many developing and poor countries in massive debt and then forcing the highly indebted countries to hand over some of their “key infrastructures” such as the case of Sri Lanka. An egotistical president, an influx of foreign cash, and a massive pile of debt led to Sri Lanka handing over an entire port to China in December 2017, on a century-long lease.
That handover gave China a strategic foothold just 100 miles from its rival India, akin to how the Soviet Union’s foothold in Cuba raised US blood pressure during the Cold War. Chinese submarines have already appeared there.
One such African country that is exhibiting all the red flag signals of Sri Lankan and now Zambian way is Djibouti. The country is projected to take on public debt worth around 88 percent of their overall $1.72 billion GDP, with China owning the lion’s share of it.
Djibouti lies more than 2,500 miles from Sri Lanka but the East African country faces a predicament similar to what its peer across the sea confronted in 2017, after borrowing more money from China than it could pay back. Djibouti-China cooperation also includes a naval base on which China holds a 10-year lease at a cost of $20M annually. This allows Beijing to project power outside of Asia.
Most African states are ready to enthusiastically support China’s ambitions for militarizing its growing influence on that continent. Link
In November of 2018, two United States senators voiced alarm about the military and political consequences if China gains control of a port terminal in Djibouti, and said they were worried the move could extend Beijing’s influence on the Horn of Africa. Djibouti, home to the US military’s main base in Africa, looks about to cede control of another key port to a Beijing-linked company, and the US is not happy about it.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Chris Coons are alarmed that Djibouti, heavily indebted to Beijing, was likely to cede the port’s operations to a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, the senior US military officer for Africa, told a Congressional hearing in early 2018 that the US military could face “significant” consequences if China controlled the port at Djibouti.
These countries that fall prey to China’s debt trap end up giving up control of major assets such as ports or roadways when they fund infrastructure projects with Chinese loans that they may struggle to pay back.
China already has control of a huge port at the Suez Canal near Cairo. Their goal is control at both ends of the Red Sea into the Mediterranean which includes the Horn of Africa at Djibouti.
Africa’s Raw Materials
Opponents of China’s investments in Africa assert that it is exploitative for China to finance African infrastructure projects in exchange for the continent’s natural resources. Well, that’s what China wants. China wants acquisition of Africa’s raw materials like oil, iron, copper and zinc that it urgently needs to fuel its own economy and to increase China’s global political influence as well as the major growth opportunity presented by emerging market economies in Africa.
Mining and oil remain a primary focus of China’s investments; however, the country’s investments extend throughout virtually every market sector, including everything from infrastructure to food processing. China’s investments in the largely undeveloped infrastructure of African nations are particularly strong, encompassing key areas such as utilities, telecommunications, port construction and transportation.
The stakes in Africa are high due to the continent’s rich abundance in raw materials. Africa is estimated to contain 90% of the entire world supply of platinum and cobalt, half of the world’s gold supply, two-thirds of world manganese and 35% of the world’s uranium. It also accounts for nearly 75% of the world’s coltan, an important mineral used in electronic devices, including cellphones. The Communist Chinese have been expanding their military presence into Africa and rivaling the United States on investment and military activity there. Investment in the continent has also been a topic of discussion for the United States and China in its ongoing trade negotiations and political deliberations.
China is not only buying Africa by incurring a debt trap on various countries, they want control of this huge continent with its natural resources, ports, and military availabilities.
Communist Red China’s goal is world dominance and few want to recognize that fact. After 70 years of China’s 100-year strategy to become the global superpower, America is finally realizing what they’re up against.
China’s Africa Exploitation
Many people believe China is moving toward capitalism, but this is wholly untrue. Theirs is a communist centrally planned economy, with a five-year plan by the state planning body, the NDRC (National Development and Reform Commission) which is approved by the Communist Party.
China is investing billions of dollars in Africa but Beijing has been accused of exploiting the continent’s vast mineral and energy resources, at the expense of local people.
The African continent is a logical place for China to look to extend its geopolitical influence. China is already the preeminent power in Asia. India, traditionally a rival of China, is not a realistic choice for China to look for an increase in political influence, but the largely undeveloped countries of Africa represent a prime opportunity for China to significantly expand its global presence and influence in the world. The nature of China’s political motivations is partially revealed by its extensive investments in African infrastructure. If China can rise to a position where it exerts major control over essential economic elements such as the utilities sector and telecommunications in African countries, while also developing military influence, then it also holds considerable political alliance in those nations.
China flexes its political muscles in Africa with media censorship, and academic controls. When he announced another US$60-billion in financing for Africa last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised that the money had “no political strings attached.”
But a series of recent incidents, including cases of media censorship and heavy-handed academic controls, have cast doubt on that promise. China’s financial muscle is rapidly translating into political muscle across the continent.
Asia analyst Gordon Chang, during a recent congressional hearing, compared China’s growing influence to a “new form of colonialism.” “Once it locks in countries and makes them dependent,” said Chang, “Beijing gets their support for geopolitical goals, and one of these goals is undermining democracy.”
President Trump wants new agreements with China, and rightly so for the American people. China initially received higher trade tariffs because they were given a “developing country status” in 2001. Today is far different. The understanding at that time was that as its economy grew, China would gradually adopt market-based economic principles and commit itself to the basic tenets of liberalized trade and globalization. But this has not happened.
National Security Advisor, John Bolton says, “China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption.” Link
The President and Mr. Bolton seem to understand this. However, with China there are never any guarantees. A key issue is that in the past the Chinese have made all sorts of promises to address U.S. concerns that they later reneged on. Or, China has taken so long to act that when it finally did it made little difference.
It would be rather naïve on the part of the U.S. to agree to any Chinese promises in the current trade talks without also building a robust enforcement mechanism into any deal. The key is to devise an enforcement mechanism that is agreeable to both the U.S. and China. Only then will a resulting trade deal be self-enforcing.
© 2019 Kelleigh Nelson – All Rights Reserved
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