Africa–China relations

Sino-African relations or Afro-Chinese relations refers to the historical, political, economic, military, social, and cultural connection between mainland China and the African continent.

Africa–People's Republic of China relations
Map indicating locations of Africa and China

AU

China
Africa–Taiwan relations

AU

Taiwan
A map indicating trading routes used around the 1st century CE centred on the Silk Road

Little is known about ancient relations between China and the African continent, though there is some evidence of early trade connections. Highlights of medieval contacts include the 14th-century journey of Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan scholar and traveler to parts of China;[1] the 14th-century visit of Sa'id of Mogadishu, the Somali scholar and explorer;[2] and the 15th-century Ming dynasty voyages of Chinese admiral Zheng He and his fleet, which rounded the coast of Somalia, passing the Ajuran Sultanate, and followed the coast down to the Mozambique Channel. Glass beads and porcelain from China have been discovered at Great Zimbabwe, an ancient city located in present-day Zimbabwe.[3]

Modern political and economic relations between mainland China and the African continent commenced in the era of Mao Zedong, following the victory of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the Chinese Civil War. At the turn of the 21st century, the modern state of the People's Republic of China (PRC) built increasingly strong economic ties with Africa. In 2013, it was estimated that one million Chinese citizens were residing in Africa.[4] Additionally, it has been estimated that 200,000 Africans were working in China, in 2017.[5][6]:99 As of 2021, Eswatini and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland (recognized as part of Somalia) are the only two African states to have official relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan).[7]

Trade between China and Africa increased by 700% during the 1990s,[8] and China is currently Africa's largest trading partner.[9] The Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was established in October 2000, which designated itself to be an official forum to strengthen the relationship between both parties. There have been increasing international concerns over the significant political, economic, and military roles that China is playing in the African continent.

Historical relationsEdit

 
A giraffe brought from Somalia in the twelfth year of Yongle (AD 1415).

China and Africa have a history of trade relations, sometimes through third parties, dating back as far as 202 BC and 220 AD.[10] Ptolemy, writing in Roman Egypt in the second century, knew of China by two separate routes: the silk road and the Indian Ocean trade. He identified two Chinese peoples: the Seres or silk people and the Sinai of the southern trade, whose name probably derives from the Qin dynasty.[11]

The first mention of Africa in Chinese sources was in the Yu-yang-tsa-tsu by Tuan Ch'eng-shih (died 863), a compendium of general knowledge where he wrote about the land of Po-pa-li (Berbera).

In 1071, an embassy arrived in China from an unidentified East African kingdom. Since it was a formal tribute mission (in the eyes of the Chinese), it is described in the official History of the Song Dynasty. The name of the kingdom was Ts'eng t'an and it was said to lie inland and mint its coin. This name is probably derived from the Persian Zangistan, and the title of its ruler, a-mei-lo a-mei-lan is probably derived from the Persian amir-i-amiran (emir of emirs).[12]

Archaeological excavations at Mogadishu in the Ajuran Empire and Kilwa, Tanzania have recovered many coins from China. The majority of the Chinese coins date back to the Song Dynasty, although the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty are also represented, according to Richard Pankhurst.[13] In 1226, Chao Jukua, the commissioner of foreign trade at Quanzhou in the Fujian province of China, completed his Chu-fan-chih (Description of Barbarous Peoples) which discusses Zanzibar (Ts'ong-pa) and Somalia (Pi-P'a-Lo).[14]

Giraffes, zebras, and incense were exported to the Ming Empire of China, making Somali merchants leaders in the commerce between Asia and Africa[15] while influencing the Chinese language in Somalia in the process.

In the 14th century, Moroccan traveler and scholar, Ibn Battuta, made a long journey to Africa and Asia. He reached China in April 1345 after a stay in India before serving as an envoy of Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq of the Indian Tughlaq dynasty to China.[1][16] He wrote:[17]

China is the safest, best regulated of countries for a traveler. A man may go by himself on a nine-month journey, carrying with him a large sum of money, without any fear. Silk is used for clothing even by poor monks and beggars. Its porcelains are the finest of all makes of pottery and its hens are bigger than geese in our country.

The Ming Dynasty admiral, Zheng He, and his fleet rounded the coast of Somalia and followed the coast down to the Mozambique Channel. The goal of those expeditions was to spread Chinese culture and display Chinese strength. Zheng brought gifts and granted titles from the Ming emperor to local rulers. In October 1415, Zheng He reached the eastern coast of Africa and sent the first of two giraffes as gifts to the Chinese Yongle Emperor.[18]

Other accounts mention Chinese ships sinking near Lamu Island in Kenya in 1415. Survivors are said to have settled on the island and married local women.[19][20]

Archaeologists have found Chinese porcelains made during the Tang dynasty (618–907) in Kenyan villages; however, these were believed to have been brought over by Zheng He during his fifteenth-century ocean voyages.[21] On Lamu Island off the Kenyan coast, local oral tradition maintains that twenty shipwrecked Chinese sailors, possibly part of Zheng's fleet, washed up on shore there hundreds of years ago. Given permission to settle by local tribes after having killed a dangerous python, they converted to Islam and married local women. Now, they are believed to have just six descendants remaining there. In 2002, DNA tests conducted on one of the women confirmed that she was of Chinese descent. Her daughter, Mwamaka Sharifu, later received a PRC government scholarship to study traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in China.[22][23]

National Geographic published an article by Frank Viviano in July 2005 about his visit to Pate Island. During his time on Lamu, ceramic fragments had been found which the administrative officer of the local Swahili history museum claimed were of Chinese origin, specifically from Zheng He's voyage to East Africa. The eyes of the Pate people resembled Chinese, and Famao and Wei were among the names, which were speculated to be of Chinese origin. Their ancestors were said to have been indigenous women who intermarried with Chinese Ming sailors when they were shipwrecked. Two places on Pate were called "Old Shanga", and "New Shanga", which the Chinese sailors had named. A local guide, who claimed to be of Chinese descent, showed Viviano a graveyard made out of coral on the island, indicating that they were graves of Chinese sailors, which the author described as "virtually identical", to Chinese Ming dynasty tombs, complete with "half-moon domes" and "terraced entries".[24]

According to Melanie Yap and Daniel Leong Man in their book "Colour, Confusions, and Concessions: the History of Chinese in South Africa", Chu Ssu-pen, a Chinese mapmaker in 1320, had southern Africa drawn on one of his maps. Ceramics found in Zimbabwe and South Africa dated back to the Song dynasty. Some tribes to Cape Town's north claimed descent from Chinese sailors during the thirteenth century. Their physical appearance is similar to Chinese with paler skin and a Mandarin-sounding tonal language. Their name for themselves is "abandoned people", Awatwa in their language.[25]

Contemporary relationsEdit

 
In the 1960s, the People's Republic of China established diplomatic relationships with a host of African countries in quick succession. Pictured is Premier Zhou Enlai meeting with Emperor Haile Selassie on a visit to Ethiopia in 1964.

The establishment of modern Sino-African relations began in the late 1950s, when China signed bilateral trade agreements with Algeria, Egypt, Guinea, Somalia, Morocco, and Sudan. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made a ten-country tour of Africa between December 1963 and January 1964. Zhou Enlai visited Ghana and established close relations with Kwame Nkrumah, who desired a united Africa.[26] Relations at that time often reflected China's foreign policy in general: China "began to cultivate ties and offer...economic, technical and military support to African countries and liberation movements in an effort to encourage wars of national liberation and revolution as part of an international united front against both superpowers".[27]

DiplomacyEdit

 
Members of FOCAC
 
China's permanent seat in the UN in Africa and the diplomatic game of "two Chinas" in Africa

Early modern bilateral relations were mainly affected by the Cold War and communist ideology. China originally had close ties with the anti-apartheid and liberation movement, African National Congress (ANC), in South Africa, but as China's relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated and the ANC moved closer to the Soviet Union, China shifted away from the ANC towards the Pan-Africanist Congress.[28] The Soviets supported Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union, and supplied them with arms; Robert Mugabe's attempts to gain Soviet support for his Zimbabwe African National Union were rebuffed, leading him to enter into relations with China.[29][30][31] China adopted several principles, among them was the support of the independence of African countries while investing in infrastructure projects.[32][33]

In the 1970s, the expulsion of Soviet military advisers from Egypt and Sudan was welcomed with arms supplied by China.[34][35][36] China and Zaire (and Safari Club) shared a common goal in Africa, namely to do everything in their power to halt Soviet gains in the area. Accordingly, both Zaire and China covertly funneled aid to the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) (and later, UNITA) to prevent the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which was supported and augmented by Cuba, from coming to power.[37] China and Safari Club sent assistance to support the Mobutu regime during the Shaba I conflict in 1977.[38]

The Somali Democratic Republic established good relations with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War era. When Somalia sought to create a Greater Somalia, it declared war on Ethiopia and took the Ogaden region in three months with Soviet aid. When the Soviet Union shifted its support from Somalia to Ethiopia, the latter retook the Ogaden. This angered Somalian President, Siad Barre, who expelled all Soviets advisors and citizens from Somalia. China and Safari Club supported Somalia diplomatically and with token military aid.[39][40]

The ministerial meeting, Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), held in Beijing in October 2000 was the first collective dialogue between the PRC and African nations.[41]

For a permanent UN seat for Africa, Nigeria, the largest African country, relies on Chinese support while Egypt looks to the U.S. for backing.[42]

Recognition of TaiwanEdit

The question of Taiwan has been a key political issue for the People's Republic of China (PRC). In 1971, the support of African nations was crucial in the PRC's joining the United Nations (UN), taking over the seat of the ROC on Taiwan.[43] Many African countries, such as Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Zambia have stressed their support for a "one-China policy". Only one African country, Swaziland, still maintains relations with Taipei.[44]

Human rights in XinjiangEdit

In July 2019, UN ambassadors of 37 countries, including Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Congo, DRC, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and other African states, signed a joint letter to the UNHRC defending China's treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region.[45]

Hong Kong national security lawEdit

In June 2020, 53 countries, mostly in Africa, declared their support for the Hong Kong national security law at the United Nations Human Rights Council.[46]

EconomicEdit

In 1980, the total Sino-African trade volume amounted to US$1 billion.[9] In 1999, it was US$6.5 billion[47] and US$10 billion in 2000.[9] By 2005, the total Sino-African trade volume had reached US$39.7 billion before jumping to US$55 billion in 2006, making China the second-largest trading partner of Africa after the United States, which had US$91 billion in trade with African nations. The PRC also passed its traditional African economic partner and former colonial power, France, which had trade worth US$47 billion.[48] In 2010, trade between Africa and China was valued at US$114 billion[9] and US$166.3 billion in 2011.[49] In the first ten months of 2012, it was US$163.9 billion.[49]

There are an estimated 800 Chinese corporations doing business in Africa, most of which are private companies investing in the infrastructure, energy, and banking sectors.[50] Investments from Chinese entrepreneurial migration have culminated in positive (indirect jobs) and negative (displacing local traders) effects in local African societies.[51]

One-third of China's oil supplies comes from the African continent, mainly from Angola.[52] Investments of Chinese companies in the energy sector reached US$78.1 billion in 2019.[53] In some cases, as in Nigeria and Angola, oil and gas exploration and production deals crossed $2 billion[54].[55][56]

In agriculture, Benin and the Sahel countries of Burkina Faso and Mali supply up to 20% US$39.7 million in 2001 to $113.5 million in 2005 (source:intracen.org)</ref> large[quantify] shipments of coffee are imported from Kenya. As for fish products, Namibia remains one of the main[quantify] providers.[57]

During the year 2011, trade between Africa and China increased a staggering 33% from the previous year to US$166 billion. This included Chinese imports from Africa equaling US$93 billion, consisting largely of mineral ores, petroleum, and agricultural products, and Chinese exports to Africa totaling US$93 billion, consisting largely of manufactured goods.[58] Outlining the rapidly expanding trade between the African continent and China, trade between these two areas of the world increased further by over 22% year-over-year to US$80.5 billion in the first five months of the year 2012.[58] Imports from Africa were up 25.5% to $49.6 billion during these first five months of 2012 and exports of Chinese-made products, such as machinery, electrical and consumer goods and clothing/footwear increased 17.5% to reach $30.9 billion.[58] China remained Africa's largest trading partner during 2011 for the fourth consecutive year (starting in 2008).[59]

The need to protect China's increased investments in Africa has driven a shift away from China's traditional non-interference in the internal matters of other countries to new diplomatic and military initiatives to try to resolve unrest in South Sudan and Mali.[60]

During the December 2015 FOCAC meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, China's paramount leader Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion over three years in loans and assistance to the African continent.[61] The stated aim of China's effort was to support factories manufacturing goods for export. Along with roads and ports, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari showed his desire to finish stalled railway projects along the coastline, specifically a 1,400 km railway from Lagos to Calabar representing approximately 200,000 jobs.[62]

A 2020 report synthesizing close to a hundred studies on Africa-China economic relations finds that economic engagement with China supported Africa's economic transformation.[63]

Communications infrastructureEdit

To improve commercial relationships and telecommunication services as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), significant investments in fiber networks have been undertaken. The PEACE Cable (Pakistan & East Africa Connecting Europe) is a 9,300 mile (12,000Km) submarine fiber optic cable owned by a subsidiary of the China-based Hengtong Group and supplied by Huawei Marine; it is expected to reach initial completion in 2021-2022. The Cable’s landfalls in Pakistan provide for low-latency overland connection to China. The Cable’s route is around the Arabian Peninsula, first dividing north into the Red Sea, crossing land in Egypt and then proceeding through the Mediterranean to the Interxion MRS2 Data Center in Marseille, France. The southern fork extends along the east coast of Africa, which in Phase 2 will reach South Africa. Additional landfalls are in Cyprus, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, and Seychelles.[64]

Aid and loansEdit

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Chinese government supported African Independence Movements and gave aid to newly independent African nations. Among the most notable early projects were the 1,860 km TAZARA Railway, linking Zambia and Tanzania, which China helped to finance and build from 1970 to 1975.[65] Some 50,000 Chinese engineers and workers were sent to the continent to complete the project. By 1978, China was giving aid to more African countries than the United States.[66] In 2014, the US gave four times what China gave to Africa in official development assistance.[67]

According to Marxist journalist Martin Jacques in his book When China Rules the World, Chinese aid is "far less restrictive and doctrinaire" and comes with fewer strings attached than Western aid.[68] Unconditional and low-rate credit lines (rates at 1.5% over fifteen years to twenty years)[69] have largely taken the place of more restrictive and conditional Western loans.[50] Since 2000, over $10bn in debt owed by African nations to the PRC has been cancelled.[69]

Scott N. Romaniuk, a researcher at the University of Alberta's China Institute, cautioned that Africa should "beware of 'no strings attached'" regarding development financing from China. He said that China's low-interest loans have been used to trade for extraction rights of proven deposits of natural resources, constraining African countries' future use of these resources.[70] Patrick Bond said, "the conditions on Chinese loans and investments become very clear when the recipient countries have a debt crisis".[71]

In 2015, the China Africa Research Initiative identified 17 African countries with loans from China facing potential default.[72] Kenyan economist Anzetse Were has argued that some African nations' narratives of Chinese debt-trap diplomacy stem from a lack of fiscal transparency and a weaker bargaining position vis-à-vis China.[73]

Allegations of espionageEdit

The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa was built and fully funded by the Chinese government.[74] The Chinese government was alleged to have spied on the computer servers at the headquarters from 2012 to 2017.[75] Chinese officials denied the accusation, yet the African Union replaced their servers after the report of backdoor hacks.[75]

Health careEdit

China has been engaged in a kind of "health diplomacy" towards Africa since the 1960s. Health care development and medical assistance have been among the chief areas of support. Between the early 1960s and 2005, more than 15,000 Chinese doctors travelled to Africa to help treat patients in more than 47 countries.[76]

In 2001, the member nations of G8 formed the United Nations-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria with an initial budget of $10 billion. In 2007, another additional $1.1 billion was approved in Kunming, China, of which 66% was dedicated to Africa.[77] In September of the same year, China promised the Democratic Republic of the Congo to build 31 hospital units and 145 smaller health care centres, a project due to be completed in March 2010.[78][79]

MilitaryEdit

Military cooperation goes back to the Cold War period when China was keen to help African liberation movements. Apart from some traditional allies such as Somalia and Tanzania, China also had military ties with non-aligned countries like Egypt. Military equipment worth $142 million was sold to African countries between 1955 and 1977.[69] In July 2017, China set up its first overseas military base in Djibouti as a logistics facility for peacekeeping missions on the continent.[80][81] Bertil Lintner, as well as various Indian analysts, have described the base in Djibouti as part of China's "String of Pearls" geopolitical and military strategy in the Indian Ocean.[82][83][80]

Peacekeeping missionsEdit

In 2004, China deployed around 1,500 military personnel between Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[69] Since 2011, it has sent infantry troops describable (arguably) as 'combat' forces.[84]

In July 2007, China supported the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1769 and contributed troops to African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).[85] China also has fourteen attachés in fourteen different African countries as of 2007, while eighteen African countries maintain attachés in Beijing.[86]

Arms salesEdit

An increasing number of African countries have shifted their source of munitions from traditional providers such as Russia to China due to the competitive prices offered by Chinese suppliers.[87] Arms sales by China to some African states have troubled critics who point out that some buyers like Sudan are accused of war crimes.[88] Chinese drones have proliferated across Africa, and have been utilized in hundreds of attacks in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria.[89]

Former U.S. military contractor Erik Prince's Frontier Services Group has close ties to the Chinese state-owned CITIC Group and provides security training services to Chinese firms operating in Africa.[90]

CultureEdit

The first overseas Chinese cultural centre in Africa was opened in Mauritius in 1988. Two others followed in Egypt and Benin.[91] The Confucius Institute has twenty centres distributed around thirteen African countries.[92][needs update]

Historically, little is known about early African immigration to China.[93] As economic and political ties have strengthened, many Africans have relocated to China to seek better economic opportunities. Places dubbed 'Little Africa' and 'Chocolate City' are increasingly receiving new immigrants, mostly Nigerians. Most African immigrants, an estimated 20,000 individuals, are concentrated in the area of Guangzhou.[94][95] An estimated 10,000 illegal African immigrants are in China, and police crackdowns have intensified since early 2009.[96]

In contrast, early Chinese immigration to the African continent is slightly better documented. In 1724, a few Chinese convicts were brought as laborers to South Africa from the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia) by the colonial Dutch Empire. In the early nineteenth century, another wave of immigrants were brought to South Africa by the British to work in agriculture, infrastructure building, and mining.[97] In recent years, there has been an increasing presence of Chinese in Africa with one estimate numbering Chinese nationals at one million.[98]

In 2012, China Central Television opened its first office in Africa, in Kenya, which is currently called CGTN Africa.[99]

China has also been increasingly involved in sport in Africa. Since 1970, Chinese-owned companies have been building sports stadiums throughout most African countries. Each project costs dozens of millions of dollars, a fee that China gives as a soft loan. The stadiums strengthen China’s diplomatic and commercial ties with African countries. African governments accept China’s loans because they enable them to promote development projects. On the other hand, concerns have been raised as to the working conditions at these stadiums. Also, some of the stadiums turned out to be white elephants given their meager usage.[100]

BlackfaceEdit

Human rights and advocacy groups for Africans in China have criticized the use of blackface performances on Chinese television, particularly on the CCTV New Year's Gala.[101][102][103]

CriticismEdit

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.[104][105] Increasingly, concerns have been raised by Africans and outside observers that China's relationship with Africa is neocolonialist in nature.[106][107] As a response to such criticism, China issued the Nine Principles to Encourage and Standardise Enterprises' Overseas Investment, a charter and conduct guide for Chinese companies operating abroad.[108]

In 2002, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that China and Africa are making "joint efforts to maintain the lawful rights of developing countries and push forward the creation of a new, fair and just political and economic order in the world".[109]

ZimbabweEdit

The China-Zimbabwe relationship drew the attention of critics. China was accused of supplying Zimbabwe with jet fighters, vehicles, and other military equipment.[110] China declared in 2007 that it was limiting assistance to humanitarian aid.[111] In July 2008, Chinese diplomatic channels asked Mugabe "to behave", though critics see that as a way for China to protect its interests in this country should a regime change.[112]

War in DarfurEdit

Another high-profile event of concern for critics of China in Africa was in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics. Human rights groups criticized China for its supportive relationship with the government of Sudan, which had been accused of mass killings in Darfur.[113][114] China is Sudan's largest economic partner, with a 40% share in its oil,[115] and also sells Sudan small arms.[116] China has threatened to veto UN Security Council actions to combat the war in Darfur.[117] In response, a 2008 editorial in the CCP-owned daily tabloid Global Times stated that "As the Darfur issue is not an internal affair of China, nor was it caused by China, to link the two together is utterly unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair."[118]

See alsoEdit

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Further readingEdit

  • Brautigam, Deborah (2010). The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-955022-7.
  • Cornelissen, Scarlett; Taylor, Ian (2000). "The Political Economy of China and Japan's Relationship with Africa: a Comparative Perspective". Pacific Review. 13 (4): 615–633. doi:10.1080/095127400455350. S2CID 154734964.
  • Dankwah Kwaku Opoku & Valenta Marko (2019). "Chinese entrepreneurial migrants in Ghana: socioeconomic impacts and Ghanaian trader attitudes". Journal of Modern African Studies. 57 (1). pp. 1–29. doi:10.1017/S0022278X18000678.
  • Fasan, Rotimi. "African Studies and Sino-Africa Collaborations: Towards Our “Common Interest”." Journal of African Cultural Studies 33.2 (2021): 194-200.
  • Fasan, Olu. "Like the West, Africa must be guarded in its relations with China." Africa at LSE (2017). online
  • Freeman-Grenville, G.P.S., ed. (1975). The East African Coast. Select Documents form the first to the earlier nineteenth century. London: Rex Collings.
  • Hellström, Jerker (2009). China's Emerging Role in Africa: a Strategic Overview. Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI). ISBN 978-1-84277-864-7.
  • Jedlowski, Alessandro. "Chinese Television in Africa." Theory, Culture & Society (2021): 02632764211012033.
  • de Moraes, Isaías Albertin, and Mônica Heinzelmann Portella de Aguiar. "China-Africa Relations in Political Economy of the World-System: in between excluding-insertion and including-insertion." Relações Internacionais no Mundo Atual 4.29 (2021): 119-146. online
  • Muekalia, D.J. (2004). "Africa and China's strategic partnership". African Security Review. 13 (1). pp. 5–11.
  • Otele, Oscar M. "Introduction. China-Africa Relations: Interdisciplinary Question and Theoretical Perspectives." The African Review 47.2 (2020): 267-284. online