By Daniel Hamm
With the opening of Afro-Asian relations at the Bandung Conference in 1955, China gained opportunities to connect with the African continent. China connecting with African countries would help promote third-world solidarity. As these areas developed, their quest for mutual economic development morphed into mutual investment, creating the workings for the Forum on China-African Cooperation (FOCAC). The FOCAC, created in 2000, seeks to bring together leaders of different African countries and the president of China in discussing methods for political, social, cultural, and economic cooperation between China and the continent of Africa. These meetings produce China’s investment plans on the continent, detailing the scope of China’s investment plans toward the political and economic development of African countries. One should look no further than Guangzhou to understand the impact of investment in Sino-African relations as outlined through this plan. Guangzhou, being the central hub of African activity in China, serves as the reflective model of engagement in China’s economic and political imperialistic desire in the region.
China’s portrayed political attitude towards the African continent is one of mutual economic and political cooperation, a relationship in which China invests heavily in the infrastructural and economic development of African countries in exchange for economic and political benefits. According to the FOCAC Action Plan for 2019 to 2021, China plans to expand its investment throughout the continent, especially in the form of credit lines, special funds for development projects, and political stability (MFA). The plan also notes that African countries are appreciative of the work China is doing. (MFA) It would seem that with this, the relationship is mutually beneficial. In Guangzhou, according to local Chinese businessman Michael En, the Africans “really impact the local economy [as they] purchase a lot of goods that [bring] business to [the] local Chinese [and] [provide] jobs for unemployed Chinese people” (Badgley). It seems that the Chinese economy benefits from the presence of African traders and entrepreneurs. Chinese presence on the continent has caused many African entrepreneurs on the continent to “[reach] out to China as a source of useful resources for personal and business progression”, allowing them to jumpstart and sustain successful businesses through “an African-induced process of chain migration and investment” (Mohan and Lambert). On a macro-level, African nations benefit from increased development of jobs, infrastructure projects, and political support. Although the relationship seems like a trade fairytale by benefiting both sides, it is not exactly this picturesque.
Although China portrays the relationship as mutually beneficial, it can be argued that China has a slight yet growing advantage both economically and politically. To the Africans in Guangzhou, it seems that China benefits more from its investment in Sino-African relations than African countries. Many African traders and businessmen in Guangzhou complain about the business uncertainty because of China’s tight visa restrictions, policies that China implemented during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Consequently, obtaining visas to get into China are very hard for Africans, creating a black market for Chinese visas (Coloma). This black market, along with language and cultural misunderstandings and Africans overstaying their visas, has given Africans a negative reputation among the Chinese locals (Lan). China’s restrictions are counterproductive to African businesses in Guangzhou, causing many Africans to either go back to Africa or to other countries in search for economic opportunity (Badgley). Yet, China has benefited economically and politically from its end of the relationship. China’s support of the independence movements in Algeria, Angola, and Southern Rhodesia allowed for the country to take Taiwan’s seat on the UN Security Council (Coloma). It is uncommon to see Chinese products flooding African markets, and it is becoming more of an ambition for the Chinese to flock to African countries to establish businesses. The relationship, even though it was established on mutually beneficial terms, is becoming to look more like imperialism: China wants to thrive on African markets and resources, and while it does pledge to support the continent’s political and economic development through words, its actions, viewed in the eyes of Africans, does otherwise.
Overall, while the emergence of Sino-African relations was built on mutual engagement, a model that was sparked by the “Spirit of Bandung”, the relationship has benefited China in ways that it does not benefit Africa. The stories of many Africans characterize the relationship as slightly neo-imperial even though China portrays it to be mutually beneficial, and one does not have to look further than Guangzhou to see this manifestation.
Badgley , Christiane, director. Guangzhou Dream Factory . Kanopy, Raymar Educational Films,2016, emory.kanopy.com/video/guangzhou-dream-factory.
Coloma, Tristan. “Africa Does Business in China.” In The Best of Le Monde Diplomatique2012, edited by Kristianasen Wendy, by Waterhouse Robert, 225-33. London: Pluto Press, 2012. doi:10.2307/j.ctt183p92w.43
Lan, Shanshan. “Transnational Business and Family Strategies among Chinese/Nigerian Couplesin Guangzhou and Lagos.” Asian Anthropology, vol. 14, no. 2, 2015, pp. 133–149., doi:10.1080/1683478x.2015.1051645.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021).” The 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Sept. 2018, focacsummit.mfa.gov.cn/eng/hyqk_1/t1594297.htm.
Mohan, G., and B. Lampert. “Negotiating China: Reinserting African Agency into China-Africa Relations.” African Affairs, vol. 112, no. 446, 2012, pp. 92–110., doi:10.1093/afraf/ads065.