Foreign Policy Watch: India-Africa

Chinese scramble for Africa


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Chinese scramble in Africa

Chinese Foreign Minister has visited Eritrea, Kenya, and Comoros in the first week of January as part of a five-nation tour.

Why in news?

  • Chinese FM was observing a 32-year-old Beijing ritual of visiting Africa at the beginning of every year.
  • In fact, China’s links with the continent go back farther than the last three decades.

China-Africa Ties: A backgrounder

  • In the Cold War years, as the US and Soviet Union jousted for influence over Africa, China maintained an ideological presence on the continent.
  • In 1966, after Kwame Nkrumah was ousted in a coup while he was in Beijing, the Chinese put up the Ghananian independence leader for a few days before he decided to leave for Guinea.
  • Since the 1990s, China has successfully used its old ties with several African countries to remodel the relationship, using the abundant natural resources of the continent to service its own massive growth.

[A] Strategic gestures

  • Diplomatic establishments: China has a special envoy to the Horn of Africa where Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya are located. It shows the strategic importance of this Indian Ocean region for China.
  • Military bases: Since 2017, Beijing has had a military base in Djibouti with 400 soldiers of the PLA, in close proximity to French and an American base.
  • Railway lines: A Chinese-built railway line connects Djibouti to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

[B] Infrastructure Projects

  • Tanzania: The first Chinese infrastructure project on the continent was the 1,860-km Tanzania-Zambia railway in the 1970s — the first transnational railway in Africa.
  • Zambia: In addition to carrying passengers, it transported ore from Zambian copper mines to the port city of Dar-es-Salam in Tanzania.
  • Kenya: China has undertaken major Belt and Road initiatives in Kenya. Recently, there was held completion ceremony of the Chinese-built oil terminal at the port city of Mombasa.
  • Comoros Islands: In the Comoros Islands, off Mozambique, China has made many development assistance.

[C] Loans and trade

  • For a dozen years, China has been Africa’s biggest trading partner. Undoubtedly, the balance of trade is heavily in favour of China.
  • Two-way trade in 2020 was $ 187 billion, according to the ‘China-Africa Annual Economic and Trade Relationship Report 2021’.
  • The top five African recipients of Chinese investments are South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Ethiopia, and Zambia.
  • While the main investments in countries across Africa are in infrastructure construction projects and mining, China is also investing in transport, scientific research, and the services sector.

[D] Others

  • China has huge demand for African ivory, abalone, rhinoceros tusk and materials from other endangered species.
  • This has taken a significant toll on conservation efforts.

Major Chinese accomplishments

  • The question of Taiwan has been a key political issue for China these days.
  • In 1971, the support of African nations was crucial in China’s joining the United Nations (UN), taking over the seat on Taiwan.
  • Many African countries, such as Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Zambia have stressed their support for a “one-China policy”.

Criticisms of Chinese Scramble in Africa: A neo-colonialism in making

  • There are a variety of critical perspectives scrutinizing the balance of power relationship between China and Africa, and China’s role concerning human rights in Africa.
  • Increasingly, concerns have been raised by Africans and outside observers that China’s relationship with Africa is neocolonialist in nature.


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