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There have been many research studies conducted examining Sino-African relations. Nevertheless, most position with China having a greater advantage and geared toward self-interest in determining whether their relationship is mutually beneficial. Previously, most of the pieces of literature written were by western focused scholars, who are historically suspicious about Chinese presence in Africa. In more recent trends, scholars have described the relationship as having both positive and negative implications as investment trends have shown significant development to general areas such as infrastructure, but in other cases, local economies have been hurt in certain Sub-Saharan African countries. The general disagreements amongst academics deal with political stances, economic issues and bilateral cooperation where studies main concerns are with Chinese influence (Gilroy, Gries, and Naudé 2005). These studies are generally complicated due to the size of Africa, the different political systems, and the Western historical approach in viewing Chinese policy. This review will take an in-depth analysis of human development in the region and specific factors that contribute to Chinese investments and whether or not they show significant results in determining the improvement of life of the general population in Sub-Saharan African countries.
Currently, China’s engagement in Africa is linked to many economic features such as investment, aid, and trade. Their economic and political relations can be traced back as far as five centuries (Mohan and Kale, 2007). However, it has not been until recently, in the past two decades, that China has dramatically increased its interest in Africa and labeled it as a top market. Since the 1990s, Chinese companies have established an obvious presence in fields such as mining, infrastructure construction, and extracting oil (Broadman 2007). As China’s economy grows, the need for raw materials and energy has allowed for further expansion into Africa to support new export markets for Chinese producers and traders (Taylor, 2010: pg. 71). Most of which China is interested in, are resources such as copper and crude oil, which are plentiful in most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. An additional role of China in Africa plays largely towards the continuation of the development of the “One Belt One Road” initiative, which allows China to expand trading routes from Africa to Asia through a series of investments to infrastructure in many developing nations. These investment trends across Asia mirror much of what Africa has been experiencing in recent decades. It is recognized that there is a potential for Africa to be in an economically beneficial relationship, Gadzala and Hanusch (2010: pg.2) have labeled this partnership, as one that is needed to restore previous inequalities in the international economic system.
However, most literature continues to focus on the negative impacts outweighing the positives. Arguing that China is not focused on creating sustainable economic or political developments and are more concerned with the extraction of natural resources. These ideas have created attitudes amongst certain scholars to develop a Sino-pessimist lens, viewing China’s presence as another obstacle to overcome dependency and their position as a struggling developing nation (Gonzalez- Vicente, 2011). Attitudes towards China’s engagement are notably mixed in regards to arguments made by scholars. Between views of the positive and negative effects, there are many pieces of literatures discussing how African leaders respond. As an economic and political influence, China presents itself as a developing country, which in comparison to the West and because of these models, African leaders typically are open to China’s presence. This has opened up an opportunity for African development in forms of trade, aid, and investments. These investments to infrastructural projects have been noted as enhancing economic growth; Men and Barton (2011) explain the opportunity to attract even more foreign investment and the ability to expand economic sectors. Another aspect that has made Africa and China’s relationship deemed as unique is the “Chinese Model of Investment” which is also known as the “Beijing Consensus”. This approach gives a better understanding of the relationship because it values co-existence, multilateralism, which creates a more positive attitude towards politics, development, and the balance of power (Zafar 2007: pg. 106). This had led to a competition-based economy for much of the construction and mineral extraction projects through investments and loans that have near-zero interest. China is able to heavily invest in infrastructure and land, while in turn receive natural resources from Africa. Previous western models contrast this, as it does not call for neo-liberal practices that pursue specific requirements. It is simply a “no strings attached” approach to resolve issues of development that Western investments have failed to accomplish (Sautman and Hairong, 2007: pg. 80).
Nonetheless, Cropley and Van Dijk (2009) developed on the contrasting factor of Chinese approach towards the development of infrastructure. Undoubtedly, a weak infrastructure has implications and consequences in regards to business efficiency, trade, and in result slow down economic development. What these scholars point out is that Chinese funded infrastructure projects have generally consisted of Chinese workers. This puts domestic and local labor at a competitive disadvantage, as there is no employment created in certain areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. The influx of Chinese migrant workers negatively impact the opportunity for local companies and citizens to become economic players and allows Chinese corporations to benefit at the expense of the community with little backlash (Mohan, G. & Tan-Mullins, M. Eur J Dev Res (2009). Several authors have addressed the effects of Foreign Direct Investment in studies to determine the positive and negative outcomes. Scholars such as Yin Wong, Xing, and Shu (2010) have expressed positive correlations in local communities as an outcome of Chinese investments. By examining a series of empirical data of China’s outward direct investment to Africa, Wong discovered noteworthy activities that found that China invests more when the local currency is relatively cheap and prefers a country that already has steady economic conditions. In addition, studying the relationship between FDI and growth depends on the host countries amount of human resources; it is where countries have low human resources that Chinese see the need or opportunity to bring in migrant workers (Blomström and Wang 1992). In findings on factors that produce Chinese FDI to Africa, Asiedu (2006) reveals that countries with at least six natural resources or large markets show as favorable. However, other areas are not limited to but include factors such as macroeconomic stability, an educated labor force, preexisting good infrastructure, and a stable political system with a history of low corruption.
Aside from the economic opportunities presented, China is also motivated by international political factors. Sino- African relations include a very important prerequisite, the One-China Principle, meaning each country engaging in relations with China needs to cut off any diplomatic ties with Taiwan. In understanding this, scholars such as Taylor (2006) explain the strategic importance of this as China aims to grow political power in the international community. These agreements with developing nations allow for China presence abroad to create a more positive reputation and extend China’s push to be a great power (Konings, 2007: pg. 361). As mentioned, China’s interest and developed Sino-African relations have received a fair amount of backlash as a response to Beijing’s vis-à-vis government style, which is argued to have amplified some of Africa’s worst human right issues (Taylor 2007: pg.64). A fundamental principle in China’s foreign policy calls for non-interference stance, which is a continuation of the Beijing consensus and an approach that emphasizes state sovereignty. Due to the nature of the tactic, it has received positive and negative reactions from African leaders that contrast with democratic nations. It gives independence and economic development opportunities while decreasing the historical perception of imperialism, tied with traditional Western approaches to creating relationships in African nations (Rotberg, 2008).
Most criticism is coming from some African leaders and the West, claiming that China will do business with anyone, despite attention to political systems or previous issues of areas with histories of human rights violations. Another criticism that stems from China’s non-interference principle involves continued relations and engagements with authoritarian regimes. Alden, Large, and Soares de Oliveira (2008: pg.13) explain how this reinforces the idea that China is only concerned with its own interest in the region due to the nature that it is willing to support and profit from countries that violate human rights. In addition to this resource-led relationship and African policy, China’s trade and forms of aid have continued the support of political power neo-patrimonial regimes. This pertains to a form of government, which is based on an organized rule through a network of patronage, coercion, and loyalty (Johnson 2018: pg. 2). These states rely on and continue their survival by regularly extracting resources, in turn, China’s economic interests have added to this and continued inequality in underdeveloped countries of Africa. Literatures highlight the corrupt relationship between African elites and Chinese officials who are benefiting at the expense of African citizens. Langan (2017: pg.100) points out China as accompanying such regimes in Angola during the presidency of Dos Santos who gave China access too much of the countries resources with major disparities in the spread of the wealth gained from the agreement. To other scholars such as Kolstad and Wiig (2011: pg.46) these interventions are seen as a continuation of the exploitation of Africa that mirrors the situation that the region was in during its colonial period. The exploitation is now performed through a different economic and political model and an extension of dependency but at the hands of a developing country.
Through the literature on Sino-African relations, it is obvious that there is a growing relationship between the two regions. Most Sub-Saharan African states are in need of investments to promote economic development and sustainable infrastructure, in return Africa is able to provide natural resources such as raw goods and energy. As China aims to grow its economy, scholars such as Butts and Bankus (2009: pg. 4) stress Africa’s position in allowing China to continue to consume and develop. The relationship is unique in the fact that Western countries are no longer the key players in investments, China holds the main interest in the region by using a model that completely contrast that on the west (Cheru and Obi, 2010: pg. 1).
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