China signaled its intention to expand ties with
Africa today at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation by promising
$20 billion in loans to African countries over the next three years. The pledge,
which is double what China offered at the Forum's 2009 meeting in Egypt, includes
outlays for training, scholarships, and medical care in Africa, the Los Angeles Times reports.
In recent years, China has left Western
competitors behind in its drive to curry favor with African leaders, providing
loans and building roads, railways and infrastructure with a no-questions-asked
indifference to abuses of human rights has attracted criticism from Western
competitors and some rights activists. Many African leaders, however, don't
express such concerns.
But China's focus on infrastructure -- designed to
facilitate the extraction of oil and other natural resources -- has begun to
rally a growing chorus of detractors, and not just in the West. At the Forum
today, South African President Jacob Zuma called Africa's trade relationship
with China "unsustainable,"
arguing that "Africa's past
economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering
into partnerships with other economies."
to Chinese investment in recent decades can hardly be described as cautious,
however. Chinese-African trade has tripled in the last three years, totaling
$166 billion in 2011. China is now Africa's
biggest trading partner, having surpassed the United States in 2009,
according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (Interestingly,
other emerging market countries have also deepened their economic ties with
Africa, with India, Korea, Brazil, and Turkey together accounting for nearly 35
percent of the continent's trade.)
Part of China's
appeal seems to stem from its ability to marry authoritarian governance with high
levels of economic growth. As the Wall Street Journal put
it, "leaders from South Africa to Ethiopia have
been touting [China's] model for development -- one that stresses state-led
growth, validates tight-fisted political control and offers a powerful
counterpoint to the free-market democracy mantra promoted by the U.S."
It's no surprise, then, that China has found willing
partners in some of Africa's least democratic states. Zimbabwe and Ethiopia
have both attracted substantial Chinese aid and equity investments, for
example, as have Angola,
all of which have oil or minerals on offer.
But today's announcement was intended to show
another side of China -- and to deflect criticisms about its imperial
designs. In addition to increased credit, training, and scholarships, China
has taken measures to rebalance
trade ties with Africa, including the elimination of tariffs on certain
African products. Could this be an indication the China is becoming a
more responsible player in the international community?
As today's other major news item on China -- its
third consecutive veto of sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at
the United Nations -- indicates, there doesn't seem to be much danger of that. But
China does seem to act responsibly so long as it makes financial sense. And so
it was when China voted
for UN Security Council Resolution 2046, which threatened sanctions against
Sudan, long a client state of Beijing, unless it deescalated its conflict with
the South. Oddly enough, with its oil supplies hanging in the balance, China
might actually be the best hope for peace in this region.