China’s Africa Initiative and American Response

China’s vigorous ingress into Africa has once again caught attention of the World. Chinese goals in making forays into Africa are said to be four fold as follows:-

– China will forge friendship, maintain close political dialogue, coordination and increase mutual understanding and trust with Africa, Hu said.

– China will deepen cooperation and expand economic and technological exchanges to achieve mutual benefit and win-win progress.

– China will strengthen dialogue and exchanges between the Chinese and African civilizations and make common progress through mutual learning and enrichment.

– China and Africa will treat each other as equals and strengthen cooperation in international affairs to uphold the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries.

Zambia is one of the key states visited by Chinese President Hu Jintao in March 2007. Wall Street Journal reported extensive protests in the country during the visit. While the leaders of African states are grateful to receive Chinese assistance which comes in large doles and at best ensures their security in the seat of power, the impact is hardly seen to reach the common man. The Chinese are increasingly seen exploitative by the African masses. That Chinese role is not universally appreciated in Africa is also evident with Michael Sata a presidential candidate in Zambia campaigning on the basis of anti Chinese policies. Sata’s party is reported to be gaining considerable support in Zambia.

While China sees itself as an alternative to American and European domination of Africa over the ages, detractors of Beijing see this as an attempt to replace one form of colonialism with another. China’s needs for raw materials are seen as the primary driver of China’s Africa policy. Sino African trade is likely to touch $ 50 billion by 2010 as reported in the Wall Street Journal. A notable issue is diversification of sources for oil. China is now seeing supplies flowing from Sudan and Nigeria as well as Angola which has emerged as china’s main source of supply replacing Saudi Arabia. China is launching a satellite for Nigeria. That Nigeria is an oil rich state is not merely coincidental.

China draws copper from Zambia. Chinese discrimination in Zambia was obvious with the below minimum wages provided to the factory workers of the NFC Africa Mining PLC and ban on union activity. Cheap explosives were also being manufactured for use in the Zambian mining industry. In April 2005 this led to a blast in which 46 Zambian employees were killed. Absence of Union oversight emerged as one of the key issues.

China is also accused of indulging the leadership in troubled Sudan where the regime has been consistently ignoring the pleas for deployment of UN forces in the troubled Western province of Darfur where over 200,000 people are reported killed in violence between the nomadic Arab militias and the African settlers. During the visit of President Hu Jintao, a large crowd is reported to have welcomed him at Sudan’s capital Khartoum. Sudan’s energy exports are mostly to China. With an oil production capability of 330,000 barrels per day, it is expected to be a major supplier to Beijing. China has also been charged with providing arms to Sudan which are being used to suppress the rebellion in Darfur in the West with a heavy hand.

The only nation which can balance Chinese presence in Africa is the United States. Presence of American business is now to be supplemented by the military. The United States is forming a new Africa Command. The command will be operational by September 2008. A decision on location of HQs is pending. The aim of raising the new Command is said to be to build security cooperation and capability. War fighting was not designated as a principal objective. US officials specifically stated that, Africa Command or AFRICOM was not being created as a, ” response to a Chinese presence on the continent, it was not being stood up solely for the effort of enhanced counterterrorism, and it was not being stood up in order to secure resources, of particular sensitivity to the oil resources”. If security cooperation and capability building are the main intents of the United States Command, there is also a need to forthrightly address the Chinese ingress in an area which has endemic poverty, instability and disease. What is the US strategy to meet these challenges? The world is waiting?

Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.