China’s Forays Into Africa

The Sino African Summit in Beijing last month highlighted China’s renewed interests in the not so dark continent of Africa. In fact it is likely to be a continent which would provide much ‘light’ to developing countries with fast growing economies as China and India. The Chinese foray in the energy sector in Africa has led to the region providing 30 percent of its crude oil requirements in 2005 to the tune of 38.34 million tons. The heavy energy requirements for growth in China have led to its exploration in these and other prospective areas providing oil and natural gas. China’s investment in Africa is evident from the 27 major oil and natural gas projects which have been undertaken in 14 countries including some which are having perennial security problems such as Sudan, Algeria, Angola and Nigeria. Of these Angola has been the second largest source of oil for China providing it 17.46 tons, just behind Saudi Arabia at 22.18 tons. Congo, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea also figured in the top ten oil exporting countries to China. China is also known to be actively involved in road construction, bridging, hospitals and health facilities in Africa. The Chinese believe that this has been a mutually beneficial arrangement. China is also claiming to have developed the abilities to process oilfields with difficult geological conditions and with low and depleted yields.

Chinese initiatives and long term relationship with African countries were recently highlighted by the Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency. The principle issues stated are summarized s follows:-

  • Politically, China and Africa are seen as strategic partners who have developed trust and support each other. High-level exchanges and dialogue is said to be maintained with popular support at various levels. Each is treated as equal and mutual non interference in internal affairs is the key issue. Coalition is strengthened internationally and joint promotion of democracy is the key.
  • Economically, enhancing South-South co-operation and North-South dialogue and economic globalization to develop balanced, general and win-win benefits is considered the motive. Chinese government will attempt to encourage and assist Chinese companies to invest in Africa and provide reciprocal arrangements for African companies in China.
  • Culturally, China and Africa form partners in advancing human civilization and building a harmonious world. Governance, cultural diversity, promotion of tolerance, dialogue and equality among different civilizations to draw upon each other’s strength is the key for common prosperity as indicated in the interview by Tang.

    Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) has been formed as the chief instrument for developing China Africa friendship. A summit to promote Sino African understanding has been held. The theme of this Summit is “Friendship, Peace, Co-operation and Development.” This is designed to forge the strategic partnership and sustain bilateral cooperation in various spheres. In 2005, the volume of China-Africa trade reached US$39.8 billion. It included US$21.1 billion in imports from Africa, which exceeded China’s exports to Africa. A majority of these imports were in terms of oil and natural gas.

    China is also stated to have substantially increased its investments in Africa which have reached US$6.27 billion. China has launched over 800 non-financial investment projects in 49 African countries, covering trade, manufacturing and processing, resource development, communications and agriculture. China has completed 720 major projects in 49 African countries and 58 projects have been launched in 26 African countries with preferential loans from China. China has exempted 10.9 billion Yuan (US$1.34 billion) in debts by 31 heavily indebted poor countries and least developed countries in Africa, and extends zero-tariff treatment to some imports from 28 least developed countries in Africa. China has also trained over 14,600 African personnel in various fields. Thus the Chinese cooperation with Africa in the field of trade, development, economic assistance and human resource development is well established.

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