China's winning strategy in
Africa By Brendan O'Reilly
Contention between China and the United
States is extending far beyond the current hot
spot of the South China Sea. As China's economy
continues its rapid expansion, a truly global
realignment of power is taking place. Regions that
were dominated by the West for centuries are now
coming into China's orbit, challenging America's
position at the top on a once-unipolar world.
This trend is particularly evident in
Africa. The United States is now seeking to
counter China's economic and political inroads in
the African continent. The Africa policies of both
the US and China are important not only in their
own right, but also because these policies serve
to indicate the significant differences in these
two powers' general foreign strategies and world
US Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton has been quick to question China's
relationship with Africa, and highlight the
purported difference in
Africa policy between the US and China. During her
visit to Senegal (the first stop of her African
tour), she promoted "a model of sustainable
partnership that adds value, rather than extracts
it". She went on to promise: "America will stand
up for democracy and universal human rights even
when it might be easier to look the other way and
keep the resources flowing." 
comments have been widely understood as thinly
disguised swipes at Chinese efforts in the region.
Chinese state media reacted swiftly, saying
Clinton's words constituted "cheap shots". An
editorial from the official Xinhua news agency,
titled "US plot to sow discord between China,
Africa is doomed to fail" stated:
China's booming economic relations
with Africa have stemmed both from their
time-honored friendship and complementary needs
of development. Its genuine respect of and
support for African countries' development paths
are lauded and welcomed across the continent.
The friendly and mutually beneficial interaction
between China and Africa gives the lie to
Clinton's insinuation. 
sift through the propaganda on both sides to
arrive at an objective truth behind the motives of
the US and China in Africa. Both act in Africa to
promote the perceived self-interest of their
respective nations. While the US speaks of human
rights and democracy, counterterrorism and
security are at the top of its agenda. Meanwhile,
China's "friendly interaction" with African states
has an almost entirely economic purpose.
The raw numbers reveal China's massive
economic impact in Africa. Trade between Africa
and China has more than trebled since 2006,
passing US$166 billion last year. 
majority of this figure comes from Africa's $93
billion of exports to China - most of which is raw
materials, especially petroleum and copper.
African imports from China consist largely of
consumer and electronic goods. According to
Beijing, the past decade has seen $15 billion
worth of Chinese commercial investment in Africa.
In 2009 China overtook the United States to become
Africa's No 1 trading partner.
China's footprint in Africa extends far beyond the
bustling trade in natural resources and
manufactured goods. Last month, at the fifth Forum
on Africa-China Cooperation, China promised to
lend African governments $20 billion. This figure
has consistently doubled at the last three forums
- in 2006 $5 billion was pledged, and in 2009 $10
billion in loans were agreed upon.
Inter-government ties between Africa and China
were further solidified by China's building of the
African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa free of
The Chinese government clearly
expects dividends on its massive investment in the
African continent. Many of the loans to Africa are
focused on infrastructure. New roads, railways and
ports, while obviously useful to the Africans
themselves, will help facilitate the export of
natural resources to China.
in Africa reveals a singular economic focus.
Beijing's emphasis on economic growth and
increasing trade ties with other nations is the
defining point of its foreign policy - not only in
Africa, but also around the world. The current
leadership earns its legitimacy largely on the
capability to provide an improved standard of
living to its citizens, and much of China's
ongoing economic miracle is based on wealth
created through international trade. Its dealings
with various unsavory regimes in Africa are not a
purposeful affront to Western sensibilities, but
are rather based purely on economic self-interest.
Meanwhile, Western critiques of China's
impact in Africa often overlook the opinions of
Africans themselves. Undoubtedly, there are some
concerns in Africa with China's increasing
presence. At the fifth Forum on Africa-China
Cooperation, South African President Jacob Zuma
expressed mild reservations with Sino-African
Africa's commitment to China's
development has been demonstrated by supply of
raw materials, other products and technology
transfer ... This trade pattern is unsustainable
in the long term. Africa's past economic
experience with Europe dictates a need to be
cautious when entering into partnerships with
other economies. 
regarding the pattern of trade represent a common
concern among some African leaders. However, this
by no means is indicative of a general
anti-Chinese attitude throughout the continent.
According to a 2011 BBC World Service
Poll, 82% of Nigerians and 77% of Kenyans believed
that China's economic growth had a "positive
impact" on their country.  These were the
highest positive ratings of China's economic rise
of any of the 27 countries polled, excluding China
itself. This optimistic attitude was mirrored in
Ghana (62%), but markedly less prevalent in Egypt
(54%) and South Africa (52%).
the same study found an overwhelming majority of
Africans to view China's trading practices as
"fair" - from 88% in Nigeria to 61% in South
Africa. According to the same poll, only 5% of
Nigerians and 18% of South Africans viewed Chinese
trading practices as "unfair".
image problem in Africa resides primarily in the
minds of Western observers. Although there are
significant concerns about unsustainable trading
practices, these concerns do not constitute a
continent-wide anti-China sentiment.
Charges of Chinese "neo-imperialism" in
Africa are primarily based on a pattern of trade:
importing materials and exporting finished goods
typical is a formula typical of colonial powers.
However, the major defining factor of imperialism
- military dominance and use of force - is simply
not present in China's Africa policy. This is not
true of China's prime Western critics, especially
the United States of America.
past decade of China's rapidly increasing trade
and investment in Africa, the United States was
primarily focused on "security" issues in the
continent. US involvement in Somalia's
long-standing civil war has been extensive, with
numerous casualties from drone strikes targeting
Islamist militias. Ethiopian and Ugandan soldiers,
backed by American weaponry and intelligence, have
intervened in Somalia to counter the Islamists.
Furthermore, in 2007, the Pentagon established the
United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), with
military jurisdiction over the entire continent.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's bombing
campaign in Libya (which earned China's
disapproval) was strongly backed by US firepower.
The myopic focus of the US on security and
counterterrorism gave China an important
opportunity to make economic inroads in Africa.
Nowhere in the world is the foreign-policy focus
of these two nations better contrasted than in the
African continent. While the US was busy been
bombing and arming, China was buying, selling,
building and lending.
criticisms of China's Africa policy are likely to
fall on deaf ears. China's cold hard cash has
proved much more effective at winning friends in
the region than America's military approach.
Furthermore, China by no means has a
monopoly on dealing with oppressive regimes to
promote self-interest. While championing "human
rights" and "democracy", the US has made deals
with the authoritarian governments of Ethiopia and
Uganda to promote its counterterrorism and
security agenda. Daniel Kalinaki of Uganda's Daily
Monitor complains that the US push for good
governance is "inconsistent and shifts with its
Both China and the United
States have extensive interests in Africa. Where
Washington focuses on combating a global jihadist
tide (and ostensibly promoting democracy), Beijing
sees a rich potential of natural resources and new
customers for Chinese goods. Africa serves to
highlight the stark contrast of Chinese and US
foreign policy. Both nations have been willing to
strike deals with unsavory regimes for the sake of
self-interest, be it economic (in China's case) or
As the US "pivots"
toward Asia, it is only natural that China will
seek strategic depth in areas that were once
dominated by the US and its European allies. If
the US becomes more openly determined to contain
China's rise, the ensuing struggle will be not be
confined to the Asia-Pacific region. China's
extensive economic ties with Africa will
eventually pay political dividends.