China-Africa Engagement: Prospects and Conditions
China’s renewed and growing engagement with Africa will remain enigmatic for a while because China’s emerging policy towards Africa is progressively acquiring a realist image in which her interests will be the major driving force. This does not mean that China's interests and Africa’s interests are diametrically opposed. They can be mutually reinforcing such that the ‘win-win’ outcomes espoused by China’s policy statements are achievable. This will depend on objective conditions rather than subjective conditions though the latter in the form of ‘political will’ on the part of China, will play a major part.
On the whole, on a scale of threats and opportunities, China presents more opportunities than threats to Africa in general. Through the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC), African countries are coming closer together with the opportunity to form a strong united forum of their own in dealing with China. This is certainly a more coherent and newer opportunity than Nepad or Cotonou’s EPAs.
The objective conditions include but are not confined to the practical circumstances or imperatives which necessitate or in any way promote this kind of positive-sum game. The conditions include:
• China and Africa were roughly at the same level of development until recently when China made an economic leap forward. Africa has a lot to learn from the Chinese path and hopefully, China is keen to share its remarkable experience through training opportunities in China.
• China’s demand for resources which is growing can be turned into an opportunity for Africa to industrialize. The level of technology particularly the labour intensity in Chinese production is certainly more appropriate. This creates an opportunity for resources-for-technology barter arrangements between Africa and China. This can create more employment and create more opportunities for manufacturing establishments linked to mining, for example.
•This kind of technology transfer can also be done through resource-for-technology barter exchanges bypassing the conventional trade with hard currency with its constraints.
•China offers Africa an opportunity to diversify its composition of production in manufacturing and agriculture using its massive market size. The possibility of a new division of labour exists.
•China needs Africa as an ally in the struggle against US hegemony. A stronger ally that is less subservient to the US is preferable. This is particularly the case with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the current counter-terrorism crusade.
The subjective conditions revolve around what Africa, in particular, must fulfill to realize its aspirations in the relationship.They include:
•Political will which is well grounded in African unity and the recognition and commitment to mutual interest and trust between Africa and China. Since political will is a function of interests it will be necessary for Africa and China to identify and negotiate their interest with openness and honesty particularly with the view not simply of promoting trade but industrial transformation of Africa.
•The capacity to take risks. Africa as a whole has tended to exhibit risk averseness when it comes to braving the frontiers of diversifying their economies away from colonial patterns of trade and investment. Whereas it is clear that centuries of linkage to western markets have not brought about prosperity to Africa, it remains less clear to Africa that China offers a unique opportunity to transform its economy and break away from structural dependence.
•The necessity of African countries to define their strategic goals vis-ŕ-vis china together. China is a mammoth market with many potential opportunities but so does it entail a number of potential pitfalls. China is too big for individual African countries to gain from the relationship. The China-Africa Forum should not be conceived simply in terms of structuring China-Africa relations but also in terms of Africa collectively defining and articulating its strategic goals with China. Large scale industrial, irrigation or hydro power projects will vitally depend on economies of scale. In this sense China-Africa relations could accelerate the long stalled African integration project.
•Develop a sense of African resource nationalism a la Venezuela under Hugo Chavez in response to its own economic transformation needs and China’s resource hunger. In this connection Africa needs to prepare a comprehensive resource survey, exploitation and utilization plan akin to that proposed by Cheik Anta Diop in the early 1970s.19
•Marshal strategic economic information on global traditional and emerging markets mapping out Africa’s current position and role in the international division labour and seeking to carve out a new economic space that would reposition Africa in the emerging international division of labour.
By Prof. Mwesiga Baregu
School of Graduate Studies,
St. Augustine University of Tanzania.
Dar es Salaam.
19Cheik Anta Diop, Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated Republic. Westport, Conn., Lawrence Hill & Co., 1974.
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