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Enter the Dragon: An Analysis of the Nature of China's Emerging Role in Africa

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Enter the Dragon: An Analysis of the Nature of China's emerging role in Africa

China's relationship with Africa dates back to antiquity. Never before has this relationship been of such significance however as it is today. With asseverations abounding of China's colonial-style resource exploitation, gross human rights negligence and obstructive agency apropos of African economic development and political stability, China's relationship with Africa is indeed of paramount importance to analysts and policy makers alike. This paper aims to dissect fact from fiction with regards to China's emerging role in Africa. It argues that China's involvement in Africa, while certainly avaricious and self -seeking, is not nearly as exploitative as that of its former colonial counterparts. Moreover, the nature of Chinese aid and investment provides many African nations much needed respite from the inexorable aid policies of western governments, and under certain conditions may even ameliorate development. The first half of the paper will analyze the relationship in the context of several global structural, normative and mediating instrumental variables. In particular, these parameters will be global commodity markets and prices (principally resources), the international financial aid system, socio-economic development, political stability and good governance, environmental degradation, and human rights- issues that are at the forefront of the debate on China's role in Africa. The latter half of the paper discusses the relative applicability of the Liberal and Radical schools of thought in explaining the issue at hand and an assessment of which is more pertinent.

On Resource and Commodity Markets and Prices

China's engagement with Africa is driven primarily by its compelling need to acquire energy and mineral resources for its domestic development strategy. The September 11 attacks and the subsequent political upheaval throughout the Middle East have only served to exacerbate this need (Pan). Yet it is precisely because of China's voracious appetite for energy and resources that African nations have gained considerably in recent years. Consider the sustained rise in world crude prices since 2002. Not only has this phenomenon shifted bargaining power away from international oil companies (IOC's) towards oil-producing African countries, but it has also led to a substantial improvement in their net terms of trade (Downs 52). Needless to say, the improvement in their relative trade positions enables them to more effectively challenge traditional relationships and partnerships with the West that have imposed severe structural constraints on their ability to eradicate poverty and transcend economic marginalization. Indeed, "increased Chinese demand for raw materials has seen an upsurge in commodity prices, putting extra cash in the coffers of many resource-dependent economies" (Rocha 24). Thus, recent African economic growth can be attributed, in part, to surging Chinese demand that has not only led to a trend increase in primary commodity prices, but also depressed Africa's import prices. This "serves as a catalyst for local industrial development, as in the case of the West African cotton growers who have benefited from increased exports to China" (Maswana 9).Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that "the oil drilling and exploration rights China has obtained in Africa have been acquired through international bidding mechanisms in accordance with international market practices", negating any plausibility of resource-based exploitation (Anshan 83-84).

Moreover, unlike the West, China does not perceive Africa merely as "a source of raw material". Instead, Chinese firms are actively involved in creating and expanding African markets for their own products. The benefits of this accrue to African consumers as well, not least in the form of cheaper commodity prices (Janneh). The availability of "Chinese motorcycles, air conditioners, T-shirts, and kitchen utensils" at affordable prices have led to a tangible improvement in African living standards. As well, recent indications suggest that this is not merely an arbitrary, one-sided relationship. This aspect of mutual benefit is demonstrated in China's pledge "to increase from 190 to over 440 the number of export items to China receiving zero-tariff treatment from the least developed countries in Africa with diplomatic ties to China" (Maswana 7). This is also evidenced by China's willingness to compromise, an example of which can be found in China's unilateral imposition of quotas on its own textile exports in order to allow South-African producers time to make their products more competitive (Anshan 82). And in an encouraging development for African resource industries, "China and South Africa recently concluded a deal to establish a joint company to expand ferrochrome production with the clear intention of making money rather than supplying metal to China" (Maswana 11). In contrast, it is no secret that African nations have historically been subject to devious artifices at the hands of their imperialist masters - not least of which are mispricing and transfer pricing - that have robbed them of billions of dollars even by the most conservative estimates (Rocha 27).There is now a dawning realization among African elites that Chinese investment represents a viable and competent alternative to western capital, underscored by the fact that "resource nationalism" has become less virulent on the continent (Downs 45). Chinese efforts at expanding and balancing bilateral trade, fostering equitable partnership ventures and optimizing trade structures with its African allies are at the very polar opposite of the exploitative trade relationship its colonial counterparts shared with the latter.

On the International Financial Aid System

China's pleonectic aid policies have been the subject of much recent debate. Numerous allegations abound about the use of Chinese aid as a means of securing investment and trade deals with no concern for corruption, human rights or the environment. However, in employing comprehensive 'aid packages' to obtain strategic investments, China has not deviated significantly from "a very traditional path established by Europe, Japan, and the United States" (Pan). Indeed, arms deals, contract loans and debt cancellation were the very tools used by western countries to court African states post independence. That said, China's aid policy differs from those of its western counterparts in one crucial way, in that it does not impose conditions of structural adjustment on its beneficiaries. This, in fact, is the foremost

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