China in Africa: Voices of Approval

An ongoing debate has long revolved around China’s investment of cultural, economic, and military resources in Africa. Western politicians have warned African states to be wary of a “Chinese Invasion”, and African statesmen are sometimes ambiguous in their stance – playing a hard line while campaigning and then affirming the importance of ties to Beijing once in office. There are, however, those who lucidly see positive light in China’s African campaigns. In a New York Times op-ed, international economist Dambisa Moyo takes on the “scaremongering”, and emphasizes the needed accountability to which African leaders should be held:

Despite all the scaremongering, China’s motives for investing in Africa are actually quite pure. To satisfy China’s population and prevent a crisis of legitimacy for their rule, leaders in Beijing need to keep economic growth rates high and continue to bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. And to do so, China needs arable land, oil and minerals. Pursuing imperial or colonial ambitions with masses of impoverished people at home would be wholly irrational and out of sync with China’s current strategic thinking.

Moreover, the evidence does not support a claim that Africans themselves feel exploited. To the contrary, China’s role is broadly welcomed across the continent. A 2007 Pew Research Center survey of 10 sub-Saharan African countries found that Africans overwhelmingly viewed Chinese economic growth as beneficial. In virtually all countries surveyed, China’s involvement was viewed in a much more positive light than America’s; in Senegal, 86 percent said China’s role in their country helped make things better, compared with 56 percent who felt that way about America’s role. In Kenya, 91 percent of respondents said they believed China’s influence was positive, versus only 74 percent for the United States.

An article from Global Research discussing U.S. plans to expand military activity in Africa points to a difference in aid strategy that may help explain both positive African perceptions of China (as represented by Moyo), and condemnations of China’s presence by Western politicians (as represented by Hillary Clinton’s statements last year): the difference between “hard” and “soft” power:

[…]The big difference in China’s attitude as compared to the West, and primarily the U.S., is that it used the so called “soft power” creating a positive impression of itself rather than twisting the arms of its partners and expanding military presence.

[…]Feeling that they might lose the competition with China if it continues to move along economic rails only, the West has resorted to the time-tested tactics of increasing its military presence.

The pretext may be any – the anti-terrorism fight as in the case of Africa, or even “humanitarian operations” and search for the remnants of U.S. pilots killed in World War II like the one the U.S. is planning to launch in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering China and disputed by the latter. But the long term goal is clear – that is, pressing China out of all spheres of vital interest.

Whether such development and the substitution of China’s “soft power” by the U.S. “hard power” is in vital interests of the affected countries themselves, is for the latter to judge. But one thing is clear – while shifting the focus of its strategy to the Asia Pacific (i.e. to China’s immediate neighborhood) , the U.S. is ready to start a scramble for influence on “distant playgrounds” as well.

For more from an approving stance on China’s presence in Africa, lets turn to China Daily. One article in today’s edition outlines the history leading up to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, and all of the positives that have resulted since the first forum 12-years ago. It ends stressing that, while the forum has been beneficial to Africa, there is room for improvement:

After 12 years, the China-Africa cooperation platform has now reached a concrete stage. Multilevel exchanges, bilateral interactions and decision-making processes between the two sides reflect the common goal of scientific cooperation.

Project selection under the aegis of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum has also veered more toward African interests. (The African side is permitted to float two or three alternative proposals depending on the need). The real core of China-Africa cooperation can be found in the Four Basic Principles, namely the principles of equal treatment, mutual support, autonomy and common development.

Though cooperation between the two sides has notched up many achievements, there are still defects and problems. Due to lack of experience in the initial stages, the forum is not perfect, and it has always been in a process of continuous learning, change and adaptation.

Another opinion piece in today’s China Daily further applauds China’s efforts in Africa:

“If you want to be rich, you must first build roads,” says a well-known Chinese proverb. Massive investment in road construction has been an important element for China’s success in its reform and opening-up. Based on its own successful experience, China has made heavy investment in Africa’s infrastructure. The African people and leaders know well that the investment will lay a solid foundation for the continent’s economic development in the future.

When picking up Chinese visitors at airports, taxi drivers in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, often gladly point at the city’s high-quality beltways and say gratefully that they would not have such modern highways without the help of China.

Also see prior CDT coverage of soft power and the debate surrounding Chinese investment in Africa.

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