The Perception of China in Africa
Millenium Project South Africa Node cites a paper that examines "not only African attitudes towards China’s African presence, but the very considerations informing these views. [The authors] estimate the effects of Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, Sino-African trade, and African notions of democracy and human rights on African attitudes regarding ‘China-in-Africa.’
[The authors] results suggest that the negative rhetoric emanating from much of the surrounding literature tells only part of the story, as African perceptions of China are found to be near equivalent to those held vis-à-vis Western countries. The results contained in this study further illustrate the adverse effects of increasing Chinese imports on African attitudes, and the negligible impact of FDI in this regard. In keeping with mainstream literature, this article further finds that Africans who attach particular value to human rights and democracy are overall largely critical of the burgeoning Chinese presence across the continent. These results are predicated upon a data-set containing twenty African states supplied by Afrobarometer Round 4.
IFTF notes that the assertion that "African perceptions of China are found to be near equivalent to those held vis-à-vis Western countries,” is interesting considering the unique relationship China has had with Africa since the 1950s. According to the "Africa Practice" report, "The Impact of Chinese Presence in Africa," China has, historically, claimed itself a natural ally of Africa due to a shared history of exploitation by imperial powers and has promoted itself as a “de facto leader of the developing world.” It has also maintained relations with “pariah” and embattled governments like those of Sudan and Zimbabwe, which the west has avoided and invests in “high-risk countries” like Burundi and Sierra Leone.
The report asserts that, though China may be putting economic self-interest over the lives and human rights of the people in some instances, it’s not terribly different than “U.S. behaviour toward a country like Equatorial Guinea, where an equally repressive regime enjoys normal relations with the U.S.”
However, the ubiquity of Chinese influence has caused some resentment. According to the study, one newspaper editor wrote: “the roads are filled with Chinese buses, the markets with Chinese goods, and Chinese-made planes are in the skies. Chinese companies are major investors in mining and telecommunications.”
The report also highlights a primary difference in the way Chinese and Western companies and government give aid and invest in Africa. While the “international community ... [has focused] on relief and emergency activities” and other “short-term palliatives aimed at reducing the visible symptoms of low levels of economic productivity.” Not only have Western donors and investors long neglected investment in Africa's
infrastructure, "they are also failing Africa on their own promises to double humanitarian aid." In contrast, “the Chinese government… is also encouraging Chinese companies to invest in infrastructure development in Africa.”
Implications from IFTF:
The report states that in Africa, there is growing resentment that cheap Chinese imports are killing local manufacturing possibilities. In Zimbabwe and South Africa, there have been protests against cheap clothing imported from China.
There is also criticism of Chinese infrastructure projects in which Chinese workers often do the labor, which limits opportunities for the transfer of skills and technology. It is estimated that “nearly 90 per cent of the labour force employed in Chinese construction projects in Angola are Chinese.”
According to the report, the environmental impact of Chinese activities and the failure of Chinese companies to address them, across Africa is another point of increasing discontent.
All of these factors, IFTF feels, suggest China and Africa's relationship will grow increasingly complex, and with tensions likely to escalate.
Sources:Millennium Project South Africa Node March 2010, pages 8
The Impact of Chinese Presence in Africa, 2008