China has been increasing its economic ties with Africa. News reports say it’s because of the country’s growing need for natural resources, especially petroleum, which some African countries have in abundance. The Wall Street Journal says China is also realigning itself politically and militarily, to help turn itself into a global superpower. Howard W. French is the Shanghai Bureau Chief for the New York Times, and has extensively reported on the China-Africa connection. He’s also the author of “A Continent for the Taking – the Tragedy and Hope of Africa.”
Mr. French says China is very focused on its economic goals and is not interested in getting involved in the internal affairs of any African country.
He says, "The Chinese are absolutely unabashed in saying “business for us is business”; we’re not going to get wrapped up in a whole lot of other issues about how you govern your own society, that’s not their concern, and you have to take that into account in watching how they proceed to secure opportunities and to invest and how you’re going to compete against them, obviously."
Mr. French says the United States takes a value-oriented approach, which can lead to complications.
He says, "The United States has a more nuanced and conflictual position and one might say fraught with self-contradiction and maybe even hypocrisy. We proclaim our attachment to values like democracy and human rights and certain rules of business, avoiding bribes and things like that, but the record is really a very mixed one in Africa on all of these scores. Even in the last year or so, there have been allegations of major corruption, influence peddling, bribing to obtain contracts and things like that by American companies – I think Halliburton is one of them, in Nigeria. So we have the virtue of proclaiming certain ideals, but we haven’t necessarily always lived up to them."
The New York Times Bureau Chief says if China can contribute to economic success in Africa, it will increase opportunities to expand its influence in other areas.
"I think the additional concern of liking to have political support at the United Nations, especially in its competition with Taiwan for allegiance in terms of votes at the U-N, so they will want to spread the money very widely in Africa," he says.
Mr. French says the United States has been increasingly inattentive to Africa since the cold war. He says outside of economic interest in African oil and minerals, much of the continent’s affairs seem to be what he calls a “headache.”
He says, "This has enhanced a sense of opportunity in places like China, and I would say India is also headed down this road -- big emerging countries that are seeking political friends, economic opportunities, and are seeking supplies of natural resources."
Mr. French says the past and present U. S. economic approach to Africa will have increasing consequences down the road.
He says, "China is moving with breathtaking speed across the globe to identify places, opportunities and to invest heavily and to really gain a foothold, and this is going to pose a particular challenge to the United States. And in Africa, where the United States has in the last 15 or 20 years shown a declining interest, it’s going to be really difficult to quickly reverse gears."
Whether or not the United States does “reverse gears,” there is evidence of awareness and concern. Walter Kansteiner, a former U-S assistant secretary of state for African affairs, is quoted in a recent news report as saying, “China has simply exploded into Africa.” And U-S representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and vice chairman of a House subcommittee dealing with Africa, says, “China’s increasing engagement in Africa is a concern and we need to focus on it before Beijing becomes fully established.”