China’s policy towards Africa over the last year has shown several new trends that illustrate Beijing’s evolving priorities and strategies in the continent that will have significant implications for African Nations.
Peace & Security in Africa.
In an unusual shift in policy, China has assertively enhanced its direct involvement in Africa’s security affairs. Two months into Xi Jing ping`s reign, Beijing unprecedentedly dispatched 170 PLA combat troops to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali. This was in contrast to China`s policy of only contributing non combat troops to UN missions. It remains to be seen whether this move changes the PLA`s operating principle of “no combat troops on foreign soil”. China’s choice in dispatching combat troops for the first time in recent history does suggest rising interests, enhanced commitment and a direct role in maintaining peace and security of Africa.
In a further unprecedented and surprising move, China under Xi engaged in open intervention in the South Sudan conflict through direct mediation. In 2013, China’s envoy for African affairs, Ambassador Zhong Jianhua, paid no less than 10 visits to Africa to coordinate positions and mediate in the South Sudan issue. Again, in January 2014, in a rare display of overt political intervention, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly called for an immediate end of hostilities in South Sudan. At Ethiopia’s invitation, Wang Yi traveled to Addis Ababa to meet with rebel and government delegations. He openly urged “immediate cessation of hostilities and violence,” and publicly called for the international powers to back the Ethiopian-led mediation efforts. Given China’s considerable oil stake in South Sudan (China imported nearly 14 million barrels of oil from South Sudan in the initial 10 months of 2013), many believe that China is gradually abandoning its long-term “non-interference” principle to protect its overseas economic interests.
Under Xi Jinping, China has continued its naval missions in the Gulf of Aden whilst enhancing its security cooperation with Djibouti on such matters as local logistical supplies and emergency assistance. China has dispatched a total of 16 ships to the region and escorted over 5,300 ships.
China’s increasing direct involvement in the peace and security affairs of Africa is also reflected in its rising financial and military contribution to the main regional organization—the African Union (AU)—to help boost its security role in the continent. In 2013, China provided $1 million in assistance to the AU to support its mediation and coordination efforts in the Mali conflict. It has also provided military material assistance to African nations involved in the AU peacekeeping missions under the same framework.
China’s rising involvement in Africa’s security affairs is motivated by multiple considerations: primarily the instability and conflicts in Africa have increasingly become a direct challenge to China’s economic presence in Africa. China has reflected on its expensive lesson during the Libyan civil war in 2011, and is known attempting to take the initiative in preempting similar situations. Equally crucial is President Xi Jinping’s desire to build China’s leadership role and image on the international stage, peace and security issues in Africa being the perfect platform for such a goal.
New aspects of Chinese Economic Cooperation with Africa.
China has expanded its financing to Africa. In a little over a year, China has issued over $10 billion in loans to African nations, and promised a further $20 billion to be leant before 2015. The emphasis of these loans lies in China’s new priority of financing infrastructure, agricultural and manufacturing industries in Africa, a strategy that shifts away from its traditional investment in Africa’s extractive industries.
China is further strengthening its cooperation with African nations on developing their manufacturing industries. In the case of Ethiopia, the country is trying to become the center for manufacturing in Africa based on Chinese investment. This would serve to facilitate a shift in China’s own position in the world supply chain and transfer some of its manufacturing industries to Africa, which is eager for industrialization. Whilst this does not necessarily indicate an abandonment of the energy and natural resources Africa has to offer, it does suggest that China is trying to diversify its investment in Africa in pursuit of new investment models whilst defusing criticisms on China’s “exploitation” of African resources.
Diversifying the Chinese-African Political relationship.
In separate strategy to improve China’s image in Africa, Xi Jinping`s government is presently eagerly engaging the African media to propagate China’s virtues and beneficial investments in the continent. Under the “China-Africa People to People Friendship Action” plan, Chinese embassies across Africa are seeking collaborations with African NGO`s and have implemented dozens of projects. Although these projects are primarily implemented by NGO`s, they serve to diversify China’s aid model in Africa and promote exchanges and cooperation with society.
During his first year in office, Xi Jinping`s government has demonstrated a major new and diversified policy towards Africa and we wait to see the evolving relationship between the two.