Usa And China In Africa A Cold War Politics Essay

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China's increasing influence has captured attention of many policy makers and obviously scholars in Africa itself, the United States, and in the former colonial master-Europe (Chris Eden 2007:05). Different scholars have interpreted Chinese influence in Africa differently; some think that china's engagement in Africa is driven by economic needs. That is the desire to build a strong long term trade partnership with Africa and the entire developing world. Others think that china is involved in Africa for a short time. They think that china's presence in Africa is a short term resource grab which moreover pays no attention to African needs like environment and human rights. Whereas others think China's involvement in Africa is a well planned long term move aimed at displacing western values in Africa under the guise of south-south cooperation. They warn that this would result into control of Africa politically. (ibid) Let's first take a look at the genesis of south-south cooperation:

The Bandung (capital of Indonesia) conference of 1955 was a blessing to Africa. It was because of Bandung conference that Africa managed to capture the attention of China. Since then until the end of the 1980´s, china's foreign policy in Africa was directed at supporting independence struggles in order to get rid of colonialism in Africa and propagandize China's communist ideology. Then the beginning of a new century also meant a change in china's foreign policy. After the first Sino-African forum in 2000, the Chinese government put more emphasis on tightening its trade relationship. This resulted in the increase in china's trade and investment in Africa (Hasan 2009)

Currently, Africa already provides 25 percent of China's oil requirements and overall trade between China and Africa quadrupled to $39 billion from 2000 to 2005. It is expected to reach the $100 billion mark by the end of 2010. The competition for Africa's resources between America and China is real. (Andreas 2008)

Many analysts and commentators believe that the stage is set for a period of massive competition between the USA which is still the world's only fully-fledged country with almost all kinds of powers, and the new kid on the international scene, China. It is as if Africa with its wealth of natural resources will be the centre for the new contest between china and America. Whether Africa will benefit from this competition is a matter of time. But, the question which is not clear is whether China really intends to help Africa or whether the contest will lead to a more fierce war-that may be worse than the previous cold war between America and Russia. (Ibid­­)

Therefore, this paper attempts to shade more light on the questions that are emerging out of the contest between America and China for hegemony of Africa and its resources- of course. These questions, among others, include: Is there any possibility in African countries backing either China or US in the new contest for Africa? What could be China's strength in terms of investments in Africa? Is there any possibility of china Overshadowing US influence in Africa? Will Africa gain more by allying with the new entrant­-China or by sticking to America? How has America responded to Chinese influence in Africa? This paper finally concludes by recommending further on the contest between competition between America and China and the two competitors could a void confrontation in Africa.

Literature review

After September eleventh, America concentrated more on the fight against terrorism and hoped that all the great powers would unite against the common cause. However, China started showing signs of reluctance to do the same as exemplified by it approach towards North-Korea. Skeptics started doubting Chinas interest in fighting the world enemy-terrorism. Instead China put more focus on strengthening trade relationship and investments in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America. (Friedberg 2005)

"…Realists go on to note that as China gets more powerful and the United States' position erodes, two things are likely to happen: China will try to use its growing influence to reshape the rules and institutions of the international system to better serve its interests, and other states in the system -- especially the declining hegemon -- will start to see China as a growing security threat. The result of these developments, they predict, will be tension, distrust, and conflict, the typical features of a power transition" (Ikenberry 2008:01)

It is argued that China is trying to resurface after 150 years of weakness and being sidelined at the world scene. Shirk argues that for 2000 years, China had the biggest economy until of recent in the 19th century when it was surpassed by the United States. Since 1970s, it's noted that China embraced central planning a long side market economy and these enabled it to become one of the world power (Shirk 2007)

A short look at history tells us that powers rising usually provoke war. For example the rising Athens was deemed to be the cause of Peloponnesian war, the rise of Germany and Japan was believed to be the major cause of the last two world wars. Let's not forget that the rise of America in the last century also led to cold war as Russia felt threatened. Basing on the above historical events, it calls for predictions on the consequence that the rise of China may bring. Of course, like any other previous superpowers, the United States would wish to maintain its hegemony, Will this be possible? Or at least, will this lead to a cold war given the rise of china? "if the two sides manage to avoid a shooting war, a cold war with China would wreak havoc in the United States and through out the world" Shirk (2007:05)

China is believed to be the biggest buyer of America's exports and makes a lot of dollars which it loans to the United States to cover up its financial deficits. The question remains; can such a relationship allow the two countries to resort to any form of war for example cold war or a war of sanctions? Shirk (2007:05) argues, " even if Washington imposed economic sanctions on china and china retaliated by selling some billions of dollars of American government debt it owns, American interest rates would shoot up, our economy would slow to a crawl, and a global recession would result" she also reasons that a hostile relationship with china would make it hard or the two governments to work on pressing issues like environment, HIV/AIDS, Avian flu, epidemics and of course Americas major threat- terrorism.

Analysts warn that any attempt by China to downplay America will definitely lead to a war, whether cold war or otherwise. It is said when America outcompeted Britain as a superpower, the two countries were unable to wage war against each other simply because they shared common values and culture which is not present between the communist China and the so called democratic America.

China has done so many things which the world and America in particular could not expect. To make it worse, China is believed to be the country that spends most on military. What does this imply for the next 30 or 50 years? It is estimated that China spends close to 100 billion dollars on its military. Obviously, many believe that as economic growth increase China will also strengthen its military. One American, Paul Kennedy, argued, "wealth is usually needed to underpin military power, and military power is usually needed to acquire wealth" (ibid: 09)

Actually the Chinese military has grown to the extent that they have started bragging. The Chinese officials have started to publicly claim that they want to build and strengthen their military and by 2050, China will be able to defend it self against American intervention and of course defeat the Taiwanese. DengXiaping had instructed the Chinese never to take themselves high on the international scene. He reasoned that this would allay fears of its strength and this would avoid international conflicts. He warned Chinese to hide their capabilities, use their time and get something done. Deng's reasoning was that until china is strong it should adopt a very low profile on foreign policy. Shirks (2007)

In 1974 Deng Xiaoping was quoted as saying: "If one day China should change her colour and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world, and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her as social-imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it" (Mohan 2008:01)

However, contrary to his instructions, the Chinese have started admitting that China is changing steadily from being a regional power to a global power. Whether China is strong to a level Deng had predicted is still not known. But the fact is that he warned China to make it public only when it is strong. So, now the fact that China has started admitting publicly leaves many questions un answered. Should we think that they are strong now? Or is it a mere rhetoric?

Compared to 40 years ago for example, (Shirk 2007), argues that by 2005, China had risen to the fourth position as the world's power trailing Germany, Japan and of course the US. Considering the power purchasing parity method, China was the second to US.

China and Africa

Almost every thing that is in Africa attracts China. Africa is the continent that is endowed with natural resources including copper, oil, and gold, tin among others. China needs all these resources to support its booming industries. On the other hand, Africa needs to develop its telecom systems, railways, roads, schools, textile industries among others. All these needs have been a blessing in disguise to China since China utilizes such opportunity to provide such African needs in exchange of resources for example oil which is badly needed to fuel Chinese factories. Blenford (2007)

All these dealings between China and Africa leave America and the west in general il at ease since their companies are already complaining of China's competition. China up to now insists that it is not in any way interested in being hegemony in Africa. Instead China says it seeks a "peaceful co-existence", and it wants to put African countries to a development path. (ibid: 02)

In 2006 November, China called a meeting of African leaders and not less than 35 African continent presidents attended. Also, there were other 48 African delegates. It was taken to be the biggest delegation ever held by China commemorating 50 years of Africa-China diplomatic relationship. China gave the delegates a red carpet reception. The resolutions of this meeting inter alia included; extensive economic cooperation between China and Africa, political cooperation, cooperation on the UN reform, combating terrorism, promoting Africa as a free nuclear zone, stopping the illegal arms trafficking, and assistance on how to manage natural calamities. However, it should be noted that economic discussion dominated the debate. (Lyman and Dorrf 2007)

Before this conference, China had been seriously increasing its economic power in Africa. The hosting of this conference left many of us suspicious of the motive of this conference. Actually, western observers thought that the aim of this meeting should not be underrated as previously thought. China has extended its multibillion dollar investments to many African countries including the African oil rich giants like Nigeria, Angola, Sudan and the rest. Billions of loans have been given out to boast African agriculture, public buildings, roads, railroads, and textile industries. What stabs America in the aback is Chinas investment in Zimbabwean arms sector and of course supporting dictators in Sudan (Lyman and Dorrf 2007)

Surely, the Chinese investments in Africa are steadily increasing and it is hoped that the trend is likely to continue. Chinese themselves have started boasting of their economic power in Africa "…Chinese investments in Africa have reached $6.27 billions, covering trade, manufacturing and processing, resources development, communication and development. China has completed 720 projects in forty nine countries and launched another fifty eight, all financed by preferential loans. China has cancelled $ 1.3 billion of African debt and has promised to raise 440 the number of products from least developed African countries that can enter china duty free" (Lyman and Dorrf 2007:20)

Acting in fulfillment of the November conference, China promised to double the aid to Africa, and cancel all debts owed by countries in Africa that arose due in 2005. It also promised to establish African development fund worth $5 as an initial capital to Chinese investors in Africa. China also promised to train ten thousand professionals in addition to fourteen thousand it had trained before, set up 10 agricultural centres, and start 5 trade economic zones. It is alleged that there are thousands of Chinese in Angola- the oil rich giant, and thousands in other African countries with Chinese investments (ibid)

African response to Chinas influence

Africa also seem to be happily receiving Chinese aid, and comfortable with Chinas diplomacy. America and the west in general tie their aid to economic reform, democratic governance, human rights, and so on. This is contrary to the Chinese aid which comes with none of the aforementioned conditionalities. China boasts of its approach and most African leaders have liked it. The Chinese are fond of saying "business is business, politics is politics" (Lyman and Dorrf 2007:20) China, claims to respect countries' sovereignty and that is why it does not want to mix politics with business.

Obviously, all African leaders would not want to see interference by big powers in their local politics. Analysts suspect that this might give China an edge over the United States of America. It should be noted that like any other western countries, one of the American foreign policies is the promotion of liberal democracy. That is why it ties its aid to democratic values like promotion of human rights. This is none of China's business. I guess that is why countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan are leaning toward China. The question still remains, will other countries follow suit? I think it is too early to predict the future trend, time will tell.

However, it should be noted that some sections of Africans are not happy with the Chinese influence. African businessmen complain of the cheapness of good coming from China, and they say, it has been a setback to them because locally manufactured goods lose market leading to closure of local factories which ultimately lead to unemployment. Peace builders also claim that China does not care about other African pressing issues like rampant conflicts and the dire need for peace as exemplified by Chinese approach in Sudan and Zimbabwe. This however, does not disqualify the Chinese efforts to persuade Sudan to allow UN peacekeepers in Darfur (Lyman and Dorrf 2007) Chinese influence in Africa cannot be underestimated.


The United States believes that there is no way it can secure its interests in Africa unless it supports democracy in Africa. The US thinks that democratic African countries will better manage their economies and enhance trade with the US. Thus, the US aims at strengthening African institutions to enable the continent meet their own needs as well as fulfilling the US's interests such the fight against terrorism (Lyman and Dorff) 2007) Democracy in Africa took root in the second half of last century. It started weak but kept on taking shape. Currently, not less than 2/3 of African countries practice electoral democracy. African organisations like the Africa union have vowed never to recognize any African leader to ascend to power with popular vote. For example it shunned the coup d'états in Mauritania, Togo and others. However, it should be noted that much as Africa may be catching up democratically, its institutions are still not strong. It is argued that elections were hurried in Africa without first strengthening responsible electoral bodies and other relevant institutions. The media, especially private media, which is considered as a vital player in is poorly funded and faces a lot setbacks from governments. The civil society engaged in advocacy, much as it may claim to be doing its job; it is still weak and does not have political support. The west (US and Western Europe) have not kept a close eye on to the governments that violates human rights. A case in point is Zimbabwe and Sudan which have been shunned for their human right violations (ibid)

Compared to china, the United States has had an overwhelming influence on Africa for quite long period of time. For example, the US has worked tooth and nail to see peace return to Angola one of the oil giants in Africa. It is argue that the relative peace in Angola that has been achieved over the last 30 years has great implication on the supply of oil to US. It is argued that US has not left its tradition of promoting good governance. For example in Angola, the US has always emphasized democratic governance, protection of human rights and of course the rule of law (Lyman and Dorrf 2007)

Much as the US may be interested in Angola's oil, it also seeks to improve different sectors in Angola. Such sectors inter alia include: education, public health, poverty, public health, poverty alleviation, institutional capacity building, through international organisations and bilateral support. They argue that US has also been involved in the horn Africa; in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. It has been involved in wide range of issues including democratic governance, solving border wars, e.g. between Ethiopia and Eritrea and not forgetting the war in Somalia. (ibid) This is not to say that America is not involved in the rest of African countries. America's influence is felt in almost all African countries. In this case, Angola is used as a case study to portray what America is generally doing in Africa

American response to Chinese influence in Africa

In the last two years, the US came up with a new plan for strengthening security in Africa. It planned a special force for Africa called African command (AFRICOM). According to US, Africom is intended to carry out a variety of activities. American officials have consistently claimed that Africom is mainly intended to carry out military programs and enhance African security environment under the auspices of US government. From the US perspective, the Africom is intended to among other things combat terrorism and boost capacities of local troops. And this has been going on for example in Mali, Niger, and Chad (Dickinson 2009)

However skeptics are still worried of what the actual US mission is. They think it is a strategy designed to protect its interests in for example energy sector, or as strategy to militarize foreign aid, and generally to preserve US hegemony in Africa. Most Africans saw American move as provocative and as an insult. Most states in Africa refused to host Africom saying that it was a form of neocolonialism. It should be noted that Africom never explained its mission clearly and so Africans felt suspicious save for Liberia which offered to host it (ibid)

The decision by America to establish such a force in Africa at a time when every one is increasingly getting worried of Chinese influence in Africa leaves some us in doubt. Is the US trying to prepare for any possible confrontation with China in future? Or is it mainly trying to fight against terrorism? Or are there other hidden motives? The fact that out of 53 African leaders, only Liberian president welcomed and offered to host Africom, there must be something to fear.


China is a big force to reckon with. In 2007 the Asia times reported the military influence of China in Africa. It is not yet known whether the AFRICOM is in response to Chinese military presence in Africa. China sources say, China has a force of not less than 1200 soldiers in Africa including UN peace keepers. They are involved in military technological assistance, training among others. Chinese military offices are located in almost all African countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, Morocco, Mozambique, Liberia, Algeria, Libya, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt Nigeria, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe (Puska 2007)

The Asian times, once reported, "China's military-to-military activities in Africa, including defense attache presence, naval ship visits, arms sales and other missions to support military cooperation can be expected to expand to keep pace with China's growing national interests throughout the region. An increase in its diplomatic military representation and overall presence may inadvertently be encouraged by the establishment of the new United States Africa Combatant Command, if China feels a new combatant command impinges on China's security interests in the region" (ibid: 02 This shows that both America and China may be preparing their military in Africa to safeguard their interests while at the same time compeering for military dominance in Africa


Basing on the analysis of America-China contest in africa, it is recommended that African countries should resort to their former strategy of non aligned movement. This is because by allying with one of the contestors, it will annoy the other and this might lead to stabing of Africa in the back. The bottom line is that Africa should play a strategist role where by it should be ready to reap from both sides. If America outlines good and favourable plan for Africa , it should be welcomed, if China does the same, it should be welcomed also as long as Africa can benefit without compromising its interests and the interest of the the two competitors. Africa should also be given a permanent seat at UN security council in order to voice its security concerns loudly. At the end of last year, Africa clicked one billion people, whereas other members of security council like Russia does not even make a half of African population but it is represented at the UN security council. It is also recommended that further studies should be carried about the influence of China in Africa, the competition between America and China in Africa and how the two could avoid confronting each other.


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