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Bosphorus Center for Asian Studies

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Parameters of China’s African Policy

After the Cold War, the African continent, which has emerged as a partner and investment / trade partner, has continued to maintain its strategic importance in the global power struggle. With the increasing importance of the African continent, the People’s Republic of China, which wants to establish itself as a new global power in parallel with its economic growth, has also started to expand its sphere of influence in the continent. China’s policies in the political and economic spheres of African countries in a short period of time have been effective. China has also avoided colonial activities that would lead to anger and mistrust by the continental countries in the historical context, and also avoided pursuing a policy of internal affairs in the continental countries. However, the People’s Republic of China, which has been established with the struggle for liberation against imperialism like many African countries, has been the supporter of the independence movements in the continent. Therefore, China has historically had a positive image in the eyes of African peoples, making it easier for China to channel to the continent.

The bilateral relations developed in line with China’s geopolitical interest have made significant progress especially since the 2000s. Behind these relationships, which are critical for China’s international effectiveness, there are different components behind each other.

These components that we can summarize in the form of supplying food and raw materials for the rapidly growing population and economy, being a market for the goods and services it produces, ratcheting up its diplomatic power in international platforms, creating an alternative model for the Western development model and finally building the super power status. The main motivations of China’s interest in the continent are supply of food and raw materials for rapidly growing Chinese population and economy; increasing its diplomatic power in international platforms; presenting an alternative model for the Western development model and finally building its super power status.

 

Anti-Westernism Component in the Post-Colonial Period

Although the history of Chinese-African relations go back a long way, the apparent rapprochement in relations goes back to the 1950s. In this period of national liberation movements in Africa, China’s emphasis was on the solidarity of the poor world against imperialism. China, provided money and weapons to the independence movements in many African countries, and tried to establish an alliance relationship with the support of infrastructure. The Bandung Conference, held in 1955, formed the basis of the diplomatic relations with African countries struggling with the destructive effects of colonialism. The main agenda item of the conference, which aimed to promote the economic and cultural relations between the two sides, was the strengthening of the cooperation of the Asian-African countries in support of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles. Ultimately, China’s foreign policy of anti-hegemony has been seen as a positive approach by African leaders.

 

Economy Component

China has become a visible force in the African continent, and it has been the first to provide an increasing energy and raw material need in the last 20 years due to an average annual growth rate of 10 percent. In this context, African countries, rich in minerals and metals with 30% of global energy reserves, are indispensable for China. When China’s active policy on the continent is examined, the continent as an energy sphere, gifted with its vast natural –namely oil natural gas, uranium- and renewable resources , is of primary importance.

China has begun to produce action outside the ideological axis in foreign policy by achieving rapid economic growth and development thanks to the strategic reforms implemented in domestic politics. Hence in order to maintain its position as he world’s second-largest global economic power and achieve higher targets, the Beijing administration has signed a series of political,technical and economic cooperation agreements with African countries in the form of a pragmatic relationship.

China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), first held in Beijing in 2000 to promote and develop Chinese-African economic and commercial cooperation, has become a tool in terms of ensuring long-term, stable and mutual benefit of both sides.

 

Diplomacy Component

Despite the fact that China builds its visibility on the continent through economic activities, the considerable number of African states in the UN, by means of securing larger diplomatic support, constitutes the second component of China’s policy towards the African continent. We can also say that Taiwan’s diplomatic marginalization in Africa, which has the potential to stave off a great power status as a projection of China’s political and cultural support for African countries, which account for about one-third of the UN General Assembly members. In the UN vote in 1971, many African countries followed policies in favor of China, and the end of Taiwan’s UN membership has been one of the factors determining China’s diplomatic and military steps towards African countries. While countries of the continent have not recognized the Taiwanese government, but increased their economic assistance to support China’s position, and countries such as South Africa stated that they would support Single China Policy. However, it is not accidental that China, which is an important source of capital and technology for developing countries, has chosen the continent of Africa to maintain its economic growth model. China is the biggest energy consumer in the World and it aims to reach the sources of energy and raw metarials thorough its relations with African countries. At the same time, it aims to make a profit in diplomatic sense with the it’s investments in this continent where the reaction  against the apartheid-like racist imperialist policies applied by Western countries.

China, which is the biggest energy consumer in the world, aims to gain energy in the diplomatic through relations with African countries, as well as access to energy and raw material resources,  investments of Western countries in the past where apartheid-like racist, reaction to imperialist policies is intense. In this sense, the Beijing government finances important and symbolically valuable infrastructure projects such as government buildings, stadiums, housing and ports in Angola, Botswana, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Congo Democratic Republic, Zambia, Zimbabwe and many other African countries.

 

Global Power Component

China, which has become a rising power with its growing economy, population and military investments, increases its effectiveness in the African continent. The fact that China has become a visible actor in the African continent can be explained by the expectation that the international system will evolve from polarity to polarity in the context of consolidating its own power.

The fact that African countries think that the international system is not fair and therefore cannot benefit from the political economic order at the desired level is effective in acting in accordance with Chinese policies. The similarity of administrative identities the African countries, which have not yet been institutionalized, and the of China governed by the authoritarian one-party system, are another important factor driving China to the African continent. This raises the internationalization of domestic policy issues, such as human rights violations in the country. Consequently, China’s supportive policy monitoring of the 54 African countries in the UN General Assembly and commissions, which account for 28 percent of UN members, is important for China in terms of preventing a permanent front against them.

 

“Chinese Dream“

According to China, which acts in peaceful coexistence and seeking win-win policies, Africa is not only a target representing the future of the world economy but also a unique tool to achieve the goals of Chinese Dream.

China, one of the most influential actors of the African continent, acts with the idea of creating an alternative to the Western development model in its relations with the continental countries. The Beijing administration demands that it support the make “One China” policy, which we can explain in the form of a diplomatic position that there is only one Chinese government in return for aid and investments in the continent in order to sustain its export-based economic growth.The food security problem that emerged with the acceleration of urbanization and industrialization in China is another important factor that makes the African continent indispensable for China. In view of the increasing population of China and the pace of urbanization, it is possible to say that the demand for food will increase as it is a country responsible for feeding 22 percent of the world population. On the other hand, the acceleration of industrialization has brought about environmental problems such as soil and water pollution, which resulted in a decrease in agricultural land and fresh water rates in the country.

In addition, worries that radical changes in world trade will lead to an increase in food prices make food security an important problem in China. All these concerns caused by any insufficiency in food safety have led China to purchase African lands which are invaluable in terms of production quality. As a result, the African continent, which has 60 percent of the world’s arable land, is of critical importance for achieving the goal of the Chinese Dream, which is consistent with the harmonious society, harmonious world doctrine, because of the social stability and national security for China.

As a result, the African continent has the potential to be a demographic force and an important market with its ethnical structure, cultural diversity, rich underground resources, and a population that is approaching one billion and is expected to rise even more in the coming years. Consequently, the African continent is a center of attraction where no state in its claim to be a global power can remain indifferent. In this context, China-Africa relations, which have a positive historical memory, gained momentum in parallel with China’s reforms in the world system. Thanks to the rapid economic growth trend of China, the expansion of the sphere of influence on the African continent in the political, economic and cultural areas is an indication of the planned and solid steps for the future. Finally, China is expected to be the largest trade partner of the continent in the short term.

 

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Researcher at BAAM Belt and Road Program, MA Student at Uludağ University

gozdesogutlu@gmail.com