Since the new generation of Chinese leaders led by the current president Xi Jinping assumed state power in March 2013, China has not only launched major economic and social reforms but also has increased efforts in foreign policy, with an eye on its own stability, security and economy.
In this plan, the Chinese are paying special attention to the creation of conditions that allow Chinese products to flood foreign markets and to ensure that its growing industry has access to minerals and energy resources that the country needs to continue the development process.
China’s increasing relations with nations rich in raw materials concentrates a great deal of attention in Africa, where Beijing has been boosting its foreign policy to promote the level of stability and security that allows its corporations to access those raw materials.
In the past, China mainly helped African countries to be developed, to improve their economic growth, to expand their infrastructure and to increase trade with China. But now, China realized that political stability and security are equally important, so the regime is giving more attention to this issue.
Lately, the Chinese government has focused its attention in countries like South Sudan, where it has entered a new stage in regard to security in Africa.
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, began an African tour in Ethiopia, to later visit Nigeria, Angola and Kenya. Li participated in a meeting of the World Economic Forum on Africa, which started Wednesday and lasted until Friday.
The Chinese leader sought to propose policies that strengthen economic exchanges with the mainland, which in 2013 exceeded $200,000 million.
“This is an important visit to the continent in order to renew the traditional friendship between China and Africa and advance a new type of strategic partnership,” said the Chinese deputy foreign minister, Zhang Ming.
China overtook the U.S. and became Africa ‘s largest trading partner in 2009, with a share of 13.5 %, according to OECD. Bilateral trade has increased from $ 10 billion in 2000 to $ 210 billion in 2013. Around 2,500 Chinese companies are now operating in Africa.
Angola is one of the main suppliers of oil to China, while in Kenya, Chinese companies have major energy projects and are building a new railway line from shore in the Indian Ocean to the western border with Uganda. Accumulated Chinese direct investment in Africa reached $25 billion at the end of last year.
Beijing ‘s foreign policy keeps pace with their economic interests in the world. Something that has become more apparent recently in Africa. Chinese diplomats are doing what in the past was an American task: negotiate peace accords and cease fires. Zhong Jianhua, China’s special representative for African affairs participated last January in a negotiation to reach a delicate ceasefire between the government of South Sudan and rebels loyal to Riek Machar.
“China should be more involved in finding solutions for peace and security in any conflict there,” said Zhong to Reuters. “This is a challenge for China. It’s a new chapter for the country’s foreign policy.”
Although the ceasefire in South Sudan did not last long, it did highlight the new and active role played by Beijing in the conflict. “China has energy interests in South Sudan, so hopefully this country can maintain peace and stability,” said Qin Gang, a Chinese spokesman.
Thousands of people have died in South Sudan, and more than half a million have fled their homes since mid-December, in the worst outbreak of violence since Sudan gained independence in 2011. The international community fears that instability in this oil-rich country spread in an already volatile region. Zhong, who has extensive experience in South Sudan, said that this problem is China’s number one priority.
Beijing’s relations with Africa intensified since the 1950s, when China supported African liberation movements from Western colonialism. In the past two decades, China has built and financed roads, airports, railways, stadiums, ports, hospitals and schools, while closing agreements to exploit minerals, timber and energy resources.
The progress of China’s foreign policy, which different from that shown by the United States has been traditionally based on non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, had not kept pace in Africa until now. But China’s continued economic dominance and the need to protect its interests have prompted the Chinese government to assume new international responsibilities. Beijing imported 3.5 million tonnes of crude oil from South Sudan last year. China is its largest customer.
Beijing has said it will act with caution and has argued that the solution to the Sudanese conflict must respect the proposal of the nations of Africa, where some leaders see China as a counterweight to the West and appreciate cheap Chinese loans, but at the same time are concerned about the way their countries are yielding their natural resources in exchange for technological contributions. About 85% of African exports to China are raw materials such as oil and minerals.
Suspicions about the role played by China have been served even by primate expert Jane Goodall and British anthropologist, who has said that China is exploiting Africa’s resources as the Europeans did. Critics of Chinese-led initiatives in Africa and elsewhere believe that China’s hunger for natural resources can have disastrous consequences for the environment, even worse than those caused by European colonization.
“I want to ensure all seriousness to our friends in Africa that China will never follow the path of colonialism as some countries did, or allow the colonialism of the past, said a Chinese spokesman for Africa to news agency Xinhua.
“The destiny of China and Africa are closely linked. We supported each other during the struggle for independence, and in the course of national development we have always treated each other as equals,” said the spokesperson to the Associated Press.
The same message was sent a year before by Xi Jinping during his first trip abroad to Tanzania, South Africa and the Republic of Congo.
“Africa belongs to Africans. In developing relations with Africa, all countries should respect their independence and dignity,” he said in Dar es Salaam, the largest city and economic capital of Tanzania, in an attempt to calm down concerns about Africa’s relationships with the world’s second largest economy.
Chinese companies have invested heavily in infrastructure projects, mining and energy on the continent, but some have been accused the Chinese of unfairly treating African employees. People are supposedly performing shoddy work and being violated of their local rights. In addition, Beijing has been accused of neocolonialism and of not fostering economic development in Africa, focusing primarily on the search for raw materials rather than creating jobs.
Last year, the Government of Zambia took control of a coal mine operated by a Chinese company for failing to meet standards of safety, health and environmental safety. In 2012, the miners killed a Chinese manager during a riot caused by poor working conditions.
Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor of The Real Agenda. His 16 years of experience in Journalism include television, radio, print and Internet news. Luis obtained his Journalism degree from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, where he graduated in Mass Media Communication in 1998. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Among his most distinguished interviews are: Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres and James Hansen from NASA Space Goddard Institute. Read more about Luis.