Old-World Consorting: China, Africa, and the European Union


Sino-African trade relations are becoming stronger by the day –this is now an indisputable fact.  However, because there is a discrepancy between their interests and positions, the concerned parties all view and evaluate this fact very differently.

The Chinese government believes “that this new type of Sino-African strategic partnership relation is the result of the passing of the torch of traditional Sino-African friendship and, in accordance with Chinese and African basic mutual interests, conforms to the current era’s trend of peace, development, and cooperation.” On the other hand some European media organizations and government employees consider the influence of China’s continual expansion into Africa to be the manifestation of “neocolonialism”.

This sort of bifurcation is not difficult to understand. When it comes to the abrupt rise of China, Africa represents a new marketplace and new opportunities. Whilst on the European front considering the traditional culture and economy already existing in Africa, China’s arrival poses a threat to Europe’s political ties with Africa and their current positions and vested interests within the region.

The discrepancy between Chinese and European interests in Africa has led some analysts to worry that this may lead to friction and maybe conflict. However Anna Katharina Stahl, in an article published in the European Foreign Affairs Review, pointed out that this sort of worry is truly unnecessary.

In her opinion, some of the new practices adopted by China in Africa will not only drive the EU to integrate and harmonize on pertinent issues, but will also encourage the EU to reexamine and reconsider their own relations within Africa. Furthermore, the possibility of initiating cooperation between China and Europe in Africa will also consequently increase.

In taking a look through history, Stahl points out that although China is viewed by many as a “newcomer” in mainland Africa, a bond between China and Africa has in fact existed for quite some time. Although China has never declared suzerainty over an African state and has previously shared with Africa the identity of being a ‘third world country’. Whilst also Africa was considered by China to be an important ideological front during the Cold War.

In comparison to the EU nations that have traditionally had relations within Africa, the extent of China’s close economic cooperation with Africa is still far inferior. Since the advent of the 21 century even though Sino-African trade has witnessed extraordinary growth goods imported to or exported from China only accounted for 10% of Africa’s total foreign trade in 2007, whereas over 40% of Africa’s imports and exports were bought from or sold to nations of the EU. Moreover up until 2009 Africa’s total trade with China still came to only about one third of Africa’s total trade with the EU.

However, although there exists a disparity in volume of trade, Stahl found that China’s enthusiasm  towards the development of cooperative economic relations with Africa far surpassed that of the EU. Traditionally EU-African trade relations have for the most part operated in the private sector, last year however the EU committee responsible for industrial and corporate development publicly stated that they were lacking the necessary means to directly stimulate or actively encourage European companies to invest in Africa.  In sharp contrast, the Chinese government attaches the highest importance to investment in Africa.

Not only through opening a forum for Sino-African cooperation to foster closer ties with the governments of African nations, but also by actively encouraging Chinese companies to “go forth” to Africa and seek opportunities for development.

Furthermore, in contrast to the EU nations, China prefers to uphold Zhou Enlai’s Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence by refusing to meddle in Africa’s internal politics. For instance some African government employees who are harshly condemned by the EU are nonetheless able to receive warm welcomes in China.

These political factors will undoubtedly have a great influence on the direction of the development of economic cooperation.

[ Original content by Tao Yu of CNPolitics, translated by Dagny Dukach and made available to Fair Observer ]

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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