African countries are not listening to calls to loosen ties with China.
Every third year African and Chinese politicians meet to celebrate diplomatic relations between the two countries at the Forum for African Cooperation (FOCAC). The summit of the Forum will be attended by more African heads of state than at the annual UN meetings, and the FOCAC meetings will be significant milestones in China’s long-term presence on the African continent.
Over the past three decades, China has become the most important partner of many African countries. The importance of the relationship will be seen again in 2021 at the next FOCAC meeting in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Yet the situation at this summit is different from the previous seven.
Donald Trumpin during the presidency, Americans have begun to increasingly criticize China’s role in Africa. In 2020, the Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo accused China of offering African countries only empty promises and shriveled flatness. While the rhetoric used by the Biden administration is unlikely to be as provocative, the U.S. attitude to China’s intentions in Africa is skeptical.
Thus, the coming year may prove difficult for African decision-makers. Their goal is to avoid getting involved in a game that cannot be won. Ghanaian Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta argues that since the end of colonial rule, Africa has been a playing field for competition between the great powers and has not helped Africa in any way.
President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta has warned that Africa is no prize to be fought for. President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa has said that Africa should not suffer from America’s “jealousy” of what China can offer the continent.
The problem the core is right here. For all its reproaches and investments in public health, for example, the United States does not offer the same as China. If you are the leader of an African country, and your country urgently needs new roads, bridges or ports, Chinese finance and Chinese companies are the obvious choice.
“China is still responding to the need for structural change in Africa, unlike the West,” says Johns Hopkins University, representing the China-Africa research project. Deborah Brautigam.
The same goes for telecommunications. Huawei, whose projects in Africa are often supported or responsible by the Chinese state, has not lost a single order on the African continent since the United States began encouraging all countries to boycott Huawei’s technology.
However, the FOCAC meeting in Dakar is unlikely to see any major economic promises from China. Both in 2015 and after persuasion also in 2018, the president Xi Jinping announced a $ 60 billion package of cheap loan packages, grants and investments for the next three years.
Few analysts believe the same would come as a surprise now, as China is over-cautious about funding projects that do not bring it the benefits it needs. But this does not mean that its presence on the African continent will be diminished in any way.
First, China’s role is crucial to Africa’s hopes of overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. China is Africa’s largest single provider of bilateral credit, so it is needed to open up debt restructuring negotiations. President Xi has promised that African countries will have priority access to a possible coronavirus vaccine developed by China.
And even before the coronary virus, China was involved in much more than just infrastructure in African countries. There are up to 10,000 Chinese companies operating in Africa, mostly small businesses. More African students study in China than in the United States and the United Kingdom combined.
The Chinese, in a prominent position, have established extensive networks with their African counterparts, especially in military circles. However, China’s image was tarnished in Africa last year when African immigrants were mistreated in the port city of Guangzhou.
Generally However, Africa has a multifaceted and flexible approach to China. The Pan-African research group Afrobarometer conducted an opinion poll covering 18 countries, published in September 2020. It found that, on average, 59 per cent of respondents were positive about China, only slightly more positively than the United States (58 per cent).
Politicians also do not find it useful to take a stand against China on issues such as the Uighurs in Xinjiang, Hong Kong or Taiwan.
China greatly appreciates the voices of 54 African countries in the UN and other international organizations. In 1971, the votes of African states ensured that the People’s Republic of China was accepted as a member of the UN and Taiwan was separated. China rewards voters in the same way and punishes those who vote differently.
Kenyan officials are known to have looked closely at how China condemned Australia after Australia criticized China’s human rights abuses – and feared what would happen if their country did something similar. Even if African politicians would like to express anti-Chinese views, few believe that in doing so, they would receive support from Western governments.
From The World In 2021 Magazine, translated by InPress. © 2021 The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved.