China’s activities in Africa have long been a target of criticism. Its support of controversial leaders on the continent and massive hunger for resources have led some to question its intentions. Changing that perception has been a key point during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Africa this week.
One key message President Xi Jinping has taken on his visit is that China and Africa are equals. He also says Beijing’s willingness to provide assistance with no political strings attached will continue.
University of Hong Kong professor Adams Bodomo said that so far, Xi is getting the linguistic aspect of the relationship right.
“Words like brotherhood, independence, we will respect your integrity and sovereignty, these are very important for Africa. In contrast with some other parts of the world where leaders come over and say Africa must do this, using the word ‘must do this’, kind of imposing," said Bodomo. "He’s talking the language that Africans like because they feel people who respect them people, who consider them as equal partners, that is something that we Africans will look up to.”
Trade and competition
China’s trade with Africa is massive and totaled about $200 billion last year alone. It also tilts heavily, though, in China’s favor.
Earlier this month, the governor of Nigeria’s central bank warned African countries to shake off their romantic view of China, saying it is a competitor just as much as it is a partner.
Xi is clearly aware of that perception and touched on the issue during a major Africa policy address in Tanzania.
"When seeking its own development, China has always offered as much help and support to African people as it can," said Xi. "Especially in recent years, China enhanced its efforts to assist and cooperate with Africa. China will strictly honor its commitment to Africa."
During the visit, China has pledged to provide professional training to tens of thousands, build up African countries' production capabilities, and extend government scholarships to Africans in China.
At the same time, African countries need to be more intelligent about what they want from China, said economist Aly-Khan Satchu.
“The problem with Africa is that there is no single phone number the Chinese leader can call to speak to Africa. There are so many countries, there isn't one letter box to go to, so in many respects we are too diverse. We need to consolidate ourselves, understand what we want from them, and then go and negotiate with them with one voice. I think that would be helpful and something we need to look at doing," said Satchu.
Analysts say that while the risks remain, there is one way China already is different from the colonial powers of the past - its efforts to build the continent’s infrastructure. And more is coming. China says it will extend a $20-billion line of credit to Africa over the next three years.