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China’s interests have moved from Africa to other regions ripe for trade

Makram Rabah

Published: Updated:

While growing up in the 1980s, my generation was lucky to enjoy several cartoons and animated series, many of which were dubbed in Arabic as was the trend. Amongst them was Astroganger, a super robot whose mission was to fend off alien invaders intent on stealing natural resources from Earth before moving on to other planets.

This fictitious series parallels how China has approached much of its expansion, particularly in the African continent. China’s role in Africa has visibly increased over the last few decades, mainly looking for resources, crude oil, investments and trade partners, and even going into security and the military sector. Accused by foes and some allies, they claim that China is a resource hunter currently plundering Africa.

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Over many centuries Europe was guilty of abusing and enslaving Africa, leaving it to recover demographically, socially, and economically. Consequently, these nations looked east towards potential partners, such as Russia and China, yet the results have not always been satisfactory.

Contrary to the infrastructure funding and expertise offered by the West, China does not care about the long-term development of the countries it enters but is never disrespectful to them.

Africa’s urban development boom and its urgent need for infrastructure led China to come in as the savior and cater to the need for these booming metropolises. Chinese companies have had the most significant share of these African infrastructure projects, with as much as 40 percent involving Beijing in some way.

China’s Africa exodus means that it will look for new grounds, perhaps shifting to the Middle East, writes Makram Rabah. (File photo: Reuters)
China’s Africa exodus means that it will look for new grounds, perhaps shifting to the Middle East, writes Makram Rabah. (File photo: Reuters)

China’s relationship with Africa isn’t limited to its production capacity and comparative prices to the West; Beijing is structuring partnerships for these infrastructure projects as loans and not grants. These countries have placed on themselves, entering into many claims debt traps that won’t end well for them.

As it stands, it’s estimated that Africa owes over $153bn to China, which Beijing coincidently insists on keeping the content of the monies secret and, in some cases, has gone as far as to deny their existence.

Keeping such loans secretive reflects negatively on these nations’ young citizens, who will discover the exuberant debt they owe late in the day. Some of these loans include the loanee relinquishing national assets and resources in case of default.

This lack of transparency is enough to doubt China’s sincere approach to development and best business practices.

Overall, these policies do not help develop the democracies of these nations that, for many, were caught up in civil wars for decades and governed by authoritarian regimes.

China has never presented itself to be an agent of liberalism, nor has it ever proposed that it has a humanitarian mission to achieve. Its soft power and Belt and Road Initiative have always prioritized trade over culture and, more importantly, over freedom and democracy. However, democracy to China is a commodity that is insignificant and is not monetized in any way. To look at it otherwise through a western liberal lens is short-sighted.

More alarming is that China has gradually decided to scale back its involvement in Africa and lessened its investment in infrastructure and loans. While many equate this to the pandemic, others see it as China’s gradual exit of Africa after depleting its resources and profiting from its trade there.

Suppose one is to disregard the economic aspect. In that case, the most alarming fact is China remains involved in an axis of tyranny, with ties to Iran a case in point.

China’s Africa exodus means that it will look for new grounds, perhaps shifting to the Middle East, starting in the supposed rebuilding of Syria. While, as a whole, China has adopted a policy of non-interference, many of its gestures or lack of only end up empowering the forces of chaos that Iran leads in the region.

Undoubtedly, China can be the true superpower it aspires to become. Yet, these aspirations should not come at the expense of weak or desperate nations. Nor should they be a gateway to further chaos and instability. China has projected itself as a third way for the longest time, but it has failed to introduce policies that suggest it will become a sustainable force for change and progress. This is the only true sign of greatness.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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