No. 1006
Delivered February 9, 2007
March 26, 2007
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Talking Points
• China is seeking new markets for its ex-
port-driven economy and access to Africa’s
abundant natural resources, especially sources
of energy.
• Friendly relations with African nations can
bring favorable results for Chinese efforts at
the U.N. African states have been pivotal in
preventing Taiwan from joining the World
Health Organization and in tabling a condem-
nation of Chinese human rights practices at
the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights.
• Chinese policies in Africa are troubling,
especially when they support authoritarian
African regimes, hinder local economic
development, and exacerbate conflicts and
human rights abuses in countries such as
Sudan and Zimbabwe.
• China’s broad energy, trade, political, diplo-
matic, and military interests and activities in
Africa threaten to undermine long-standing
international efforts to promote reg ional
peace, prosperity, and democracy.
Into Africa:
China’s Grab for Influence and Oil
Peter Brookes
Amid festering concerns about China’s burgeoning
global power, Beijing has firmly set its sights on
expanding its influence in Africa. In a throwback to
the Maoist revolutionary days of the 1960s and 1970s
and the Cold War, Beijing has once again identified
the African continent as an area of strategic interest.
But this time, the People’s Republic of China (PRC)
is not interested in exporting international commu-
nism. It is international trade, economics, and political
influence that have got Beijing’s rapt attention. The jury
is still out about whether China’s strong engagement in
Africa is a good or a bad thing. Some have praised Chi-
nese involvement in Africa, while others have called it
“neo-colonialism.” There is no doubt that it is a subject
of intense discussion in Washington, D.C.
Just this week in the U.S. edition of the Financial
Times, in an editorial titled “No Panacea for Africa:
China’s Influence Is Not an Alternative to Neo-
Liberalism,” the newspaper’s editorial staff wrote that
“China’s footprint in Africa becomes more pro-
nounced each time the continent receives another
high-level Chinese delegation.” It continued:
President Hu Jintao’s eight-nation tour of Africa
this week has been no exception. In its wake
we can expect more roads, more bridges, and
airports, more oil deals, more credit and also
more Chinese labor on the continent. We can
also expect more cheap imports.
This article doesn’t cover it all, but it is a pretty good
place to begin a discussion of recent Chinese activity
in Africa.
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Delivered February 9, 2007
No. 1006
What Does China Want in Africa.
It is clear they want something: In the last year,
Chinese leaders have visited half of Africa’s coun-
tries. In fact, Beijing declared 2006 the “Year of Afri-
ca” and promised to make their first major high-
level diplomatic trip of every year to Africa.
Indeed, this week, Chinese President Hu Jintao is
on a 12-day, eight-nation visit to Africa. In Novem-
ber of 2006, Beijing hosted a major summit with
African leaders, which nearly 50 African heads of
state attended. China lavished African leaders with
diplomatic pomp and circumstance, as well as
promises of generous financial, commercial, and
military assistance. Its theme was “The Three 50s”:
50 years of China–Africa relations, the existence of
over 50 African nations, and $50 billion in bilateral
Sino–African trade.
Beijing has also written off at least $1 billion in
African debt, and more write-offs are expected. The
World Bank believes that the Chinese import–
export bank has loans valued at nearly $13 billion
in infrastructure projects in Africa alone. As a matter
of fact, the African Development Bank has chosen to
hold its annual summit in Shanghai this spring in
recognition of China’s increasingly pivotal role in
the region.
But China isn’t doing all of this out of the kind-
ness of its heart. In fact, most might say that China
is seeking new markets for its export-driven econo-
my—now the world’s fourth largest. In addition,
China wants unimpeded—even exclusive—access
to Africa’s abundant natural resources, especially
sources of energy. And don’t forget: As a rising pow-
er, China is also keen on gathering political influ-
ence in Africa.
A Few Words About Energy
Arguably, nothing is driving China into Africa
more than its quest to satisfy its insatiable appetite
for oil and gas. For the past decade, the Chinese
economy has expanded annually at near double-
digit rates, requiring an enormous influx of natural
resources, especially energy.
China is now the world’s second largest energy
consumer, leading Beijing to Africa’s door in an
effort—like the U.S.—to find new sources of energy
and reduce its reliance on volatile Middle Eastern
sources of oil and natural gas. Today, Africa provides
China with 30 percent of its energy imports, meet-
ing 5 percent of China’s energy needs and rivaling
the Middle East as a source of Chinese energy.
Beijing is building ties with African energy sup-
pliers through investment, aid, high-level visits, and
a strict policy of “noninterference in internal affairs”
that some African governments under international
scrutiny find comforting. The People’s Republic of
China has invested billions in resource develop-
ment and infrastructure—and written off billions
more in debt—to help build friendly relationships
with oil-rich African countries. For instance:
• China has $3 billion invested in Nigerian oil,
now the world’s eighth largest oil exporter.
• Beijing has at least $3 billion invested in the
Sudanese energy sector, for a total of $10 bil-
lion since the 1990s.
• In Angola, another African energy giant, a $2
billion credit line for much-needed infrastruc-
ture projects secured Chinese access to highly
coveted offshore oil fields. Today, Angola is
China’s biggest oil supplier, outpacing China’s
previous largest supplier, Saudi Arabia.
While some are critical of China for seeking
exclusive access to oil and gas supplies in Africa,
others applaud Beijing’s willingness to take risks in
markets where some Western energy firms can’t—
or won’t—go for a variety of reasons, arguably add-
ing to world energy supplies, lowering prices, and
benefiting consumers.
What About Politics.
Across the planet, China is aggressively seek-
ing new friends and allies and proving to be a less
demanding alternative to the more scrupulous
relationships nations must have with the U.S.
and Europe.
One of the places China is seeking political influ-
ence at the expense of others is Africa. Think about
it: With over 50 nations, the countries of Africa rep-
resent more than one-quarter of the United Nations
General Assembly—a significant voting bloc.
Friendly relations with African nations can bring
favorable results for Chinese efforts at the United
Nations or U.N. agencies such as the World Trade
page 3
Delivered February 9, 2007
No. 1006
Organization. They can even reduce the number of
states that diplomatically recognize Taiwan: There
are five countries in Africa that still recognize Tai-
wan. For example, in recent years, African states
have been pivotal in preventing Taiwan from join-
ing the World Health Organization and in tabling a
condemnation of Chinese human rights practices at
the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights.
New Markets and
Commercial Opportunities
China also sees Africa as a potential market for its
goods. China–Africa trade soared to $56 billion last
year, an increase of 40 percent over 2005, bringing
critical revenue to some of the world’s poorest
nations. The Chinese economy is still export-driv-
en, and Beijing must continue to find and develop
new markets to ensure that its economy continues
to grow and draw foreign direct investment.
Today, there are over 800 Chinese companies
operating in nearly all African nations. Anecdotally,
I’ve heard stories that in some cases, market pene-
tration and influence are more important than prof-
its for Chinese companies operating in Africa.
Unfortunately, China’s activities in Africa are not
without controversy. Some applaud Chinese engage-
ment in Africa, saying it brings in billions in aid, loans,
and credits—all reportedly without political condi-
tions. Others, disillusioned with Western leaders,
think China might better understand the unique
problems of African underdevelopment. Some say
that diplomatically, the Chinese treat them as equals.
Some Africans and Chinese find common ground
in the view that the West’s historical experiences in
achieving development are distant from the African
experience. They add that the Western model offers
too few transferable lessons for Africa and has gen-
erated too few dramatic success stories in Africa to
be worthy of further consideration.
Beijing supports this notion by promoting the
idea that engagement with the West is overly moral-
izing, conditional, and overly bureaucratic. More-
over, paraphrasing from the Council on Foreign
Relations 2005 report on Africa, China is also
investing and providing assistance in areas that
Western aid agencies have long neglected—physical
infrastructure, industry, and agriculture.
The CFR report also says that China offers Afri-
can nations a financing alternative to Western
donors, the International Monetary Fund, and the
World Bank, providing choices these countries
might not otherwise have. As a Nigerian govern-
ment commerce official said, “The U.S. will talk to
you about governance, efficiency, about security,
about the environment. The Chinese just ask: How
do we procure this license.”
Many African govern-
ments also like the Chinese policy of “non-interfer-
ence” in their internal affairs.
African Concerns
But Beijing’s involvement in Africa also has its
critics, including the Africans. PRC firms underbid
local African companies, and Chinese contractors
often use cheap, imported Chinese labor. Some con-
tracts require 70 percent Chinese labor, adding little
to local employment or skill development.
Moreover, cheap Chinese goods flood African
markets, especially textiles, stifling markets that
Africans are trying to develop, causing unemploy-
ment, and shuttering factories across the continent.
And concessionary PRC soft loans have put the
International Monetary Fund and other bank
projects on hold due to concerns about economic
mismanagement and corruption.
More specifically, South African President Thabo
Mbeki recently cautioned that China risks replicat-
ing in Africa a “colonial relationship” of the kind
that existed under white rule. Those are pretty
strong words, especially coming in advance of the
visit of the Chinese president.
Even though South Africa is China’s largest trad-
ing partner, local labor officials have blamed unem-
ployment problems on cheap Chinese clothing
imports. In Zambia, where China has significant
copper mining interests, there has been a political
backlash against the Chinese over labor practices. In
fact, a Zambian presidential contender last year ran
on a political platform wholly criticizing Chinese
1. Vivienne Walt, “China’s Appetite for African Oil Grows,” Fortune, Februar y 15, 2006, at
page 4
Delivered February 9, 2007
No. 1006
presence in the country. According to The Wall Street
Journal, anti-Chinese sentiment bordering on rac-
ism is also bubbling over in Namibia, Zimbabwe,
Angola, and Lesotho.
A Kenyan professor warned of Chinese hegemo-
ny in Africa and asserted that Beijing is pursuing its
own narrow self-interests on the continent—inter-
ests that benefit only Africa’s elites. Some African
critics see China as assisting African governments to
oppress their own people and complain about the
Chinese failure to engage in efforts to build African
civil society and civil society institutions, ignoring
public opinion and needs.
There is also concern about China’s promotion of
its economic model and lending practices. Beijing
actively promotes its development model in Africa,
based on a limited market economy controlled by
an authoritarian government. In some cases, it has
become fashionable for African leaders to argue that
China’s embrace of the continent offers them a new
economic development model that rejects the prac-
tices of the Western free market.
Many African regimes, desperate to invigorate
their struggling economies while maintaining a
strong grip on political power, find China’s modern-
ization model preferable to difficult free-market and
democratic reforms advocated by the U.S. and the
European Union. Many think this is a mistake. The
same Financial Times editorial that I mentioned ear-
lier warned that while the Chinese may attempt to
reassure their new African partners that economic
development is compatible with authoritarianism,
Africans should not turn away from free markets.
There is also mounting concern that Chinese
lending practices are undermining international
debt-relief strategies that have dramatically reduced
the debt burden in Africa. The fear is that Chinese
lending practices may result in the rapid reestab-
lishment of an unsustainable level of debt in Africa
once again. Last October, the World Bank president
expressed the worry that many of Africa’s poorest
countries may be incurring excessive new debt as a
result of unconditional loans made by Chinese
The U.S. Treasury Department put a finer
point on it, calling China a “rogue creditor” practic-
ing “opportunistic lending.”
China in Sudan and Zimbabwe
China’s involvement with Sudan and Zimbabwe
is a glaringly troubling issue for the international
community. Sudan, perhaps, represents the most
troubling example of China’s new Africa policy,
where Beijing combines its drive for exclusive
access to African natural resources with an aggres-
sive political campaign to ingratiate itself with con-
troversial regimes.
While the U.S., the European Union, Japan, and
others sought to impose U.N. sanctions on the
Sudanese regime over Khartoum’s support for what
many are now calling a genocide in Darfur—in
which 450,000 have died and 2.5 million are home-
less—China strenuously opposes Security Council
sanctions. Why, you might ask. Some believe that
China was hoping to prevent international econom-
ic sanctions from interfering with Beijing’s $3 billion
investment in Sudan’s oil and gas industry.
Tragically, Khartoum has doubled its defense bud-
get in recent years, spending 60 percent to 80 percent
of its estimated $500 million in annual oil revenue—
half from China—on weapons. Some of these weap-
ons find their way to the conflict in Darfur. Moreover,
with Chinese assistance, the Sudanese government
recently built three weapons factories, complicating
international arms embargos against Khartoum.
The comment of the former Chinese Deputy For-
eign Minister reflects Beijing’s Africa policy: “Busi-
2. Yaroslav Trofimov, “New Management: In Africa, China’s Expansion Begins to Stir Resentment; Investment Boom Fuels
‘Colonialism’ Charges; A Tragedy in Zambia,” The Wall Street Journal, Februar y 2, 2007, p. A1.
3. “No Panacea for Africa,” Financial Times, February 6, 2007, p. 12.
4. Rowan Callick, “Wolfowitz Holds Beijing to Account over Africa,” The Australian, October 25, 2006, at,20867,20640755-2703,00.html; see also World Bank, “Paul Wolfowitz—Interview with Les Echos,” October
19, 2006, at,,contentMDK:21102200~menuPK:34476~pagePK:34370~
5. Michael Phillips, “G-7 to Warn China over Costly Loans to Poor Countries,” The Wall Street Journal, September 15, 2006, p. A2.
page 5
Delivered February 9, 2007
No. 1006
ness is business. We try to separate politics from
business. Secondly, I think the internal situation in
the Sudan is an internal affair, and we are not in a
position to impose upon them.”
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe’s repeat-
ed political and human rights abuses led the U.S.
and the European Union to impose punitive sanc-
tions against the regime. The PRC’s response was to
sell Zimbabwe over $200 million worth of fighter
aircraft and military vehicles. Beijing also provided
equipment for jamming anti-government media
broadcasts from inside and outside the country and
gave electronic surveillance equipment to Harare’s
security services to monitor political opponents.
Zimbabwe, the world’s second largest exporter of
platinum, also gets China’s support internationally.
In 2005, Britain and the U.S. backed yet another
U.N. Security Council resolution condemning
Mugabe’s policies. Meanwhile, Mugabe flew to
Beijing, seeking a handout for his beggared econo-
my and Chinese support at the U.N., which Beijing
gave, killing the resolution.
China’s support for African leaders like Mugabe
and Sudan’s Bashir lends these leaders legitimacy both
at home and abroad, blunting pressure on human
rights, economic openness, and political freedom.
On the evidence, it seems clear that China is rap-
idly expanding its influence in Africa to secure
access to natural resources, to expand Beijing’s
political influence, and even to increase its interna-
tional commercial markets through generous but
self-serving diplomatic, financial, and military assis-
tance. Chinese policies are also troubling, especially
when they support authoritarian African regimes,
hinder local economic development, and exacer-
bate conflicts and human rights abuses in countries
such as Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately, China’s broad energy, trade, politi-
cal, diplomatic, and—yes—military interests and
activities in Africa threaten to undermine long-stand-
ing international efforts to promote regional peace,
prosperity, and democracy in Africa. Africa’s tradi-
tional European colonial and American partners now
find their vision of a continent governed by free-mar-
ket democracies and the rule of law challenged by
Beijing’s scramble for influence and resources.
While China has the potential for doing good in
Africa, the question becomes: “Is China’s approach
the answer to Africa’s problems or is it just a replay
of Africa’s colonial, mercantilistic relationship with
Europe.” Or is it something completely different.
Perhaps it is too early to tell.
As a scholar from a prominent South African
think tank recently put it, “China is both a tantaliz-
ing opportunity and a terrifying threat.”
That is
something both the Africans and the international
community will be struggling to understand and
deal with as China deepens its involvement in Africa
in the years to come.
—Peter Brookes is Chung Ju-Yung Fellow and Senior
Fellow for National Security Affairs in the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at
The Heritage Foundation. These remarks were delivered
in Las Palmas, Spain, on February 9, 2007.
6. Howard W. French, “China in Africa: All Trade and No Political Baggage,” The New York Times, August 8, 2004.
7. Paul Mooney, “China’s African Safari,” Ya l eG l o b a l , January 3, 2005, at