Beijing Consensus:Of Sino-African Relations & Misplaced Romance.Or is it?

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President Xi Jinping’s recent three-country tour of Africa was a sign of an ongoing fundamental shift in the (global) balance of economic and political power,rightly writes Muthoki Mumo for the Africa Review, Sunday March 24. Indeed, in Why the China model isn’t going away, an excerpt of Joshua Kurlantzick’s book Democracy in Retreat  published in The Atlantic, John Williamson, the economist who initially coined the term ‘Washington Consensus’ admitted that the ‘Beijing Consensus’ was gaining ground at the expense of the Washington Consensus-often slammed by critics as unorthodox neo-liberal policies. Three decade-long staggering success has defined China’s model of development.It estimated that seven years from now China’s economy will be the world’s largest by GDP.Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What it Means for Us ,Dambisa Moyo’s latest book whose central argument ostensibly has been dismissed by oil and minerals industry pundits as naive,posits that the world’s resources are in danger of running out because of the huge demand by emerging economies (BRICS). She does however point to the fact that technology might save us.We are today living off 1950s and 1960s oil discoveries,she adds. Kurlantzick suggests that ‘the China model sees commerce not just as a means to empower (and potentially  make wealthy) individuals but also to promote national interests. A state’s principal duty is to perpetually seek its survival and national interests(ideological,security;economic,defence e.t.c) provide the lifeline to this survival and as Realists hold, must be pursued at whatever cost. China’s engagement with Africa is a prime subject for debate today. Foreign policy,a tool of diplomacy, essentially entails ‘what one state does to, or with, other states.’Objectives, and methods and strategies of achieving these very objectives form the bedrock of what foreign policy is.Until the end of 2008,writes Kurlantzick, nearly every top Chinese official still lived by Deng Xiaoping’s advice to build China’s strength while maintaining a low profile in international affairs.It’s since changed.The spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Kenya, one Mr.Wu says that ”China’s engagement with Africa is the most momentous phenomenon over the last decade.”

China in Africa for Oil

China’s race for resources.

However, Africa’s relationship with China carries a ”whiff of colonialism” ,warned Nigeria’s central bank governor  Lamido Sanusi in an article published in the Financial Times two months ago.Arguing that China is employing  extractive policies that are consequently undermining local manufacturing and ‘de-industrializing’ Africa, Sanusi contends that Africa ought to recognise that China-like the US,Britain,Russia,Brazil et al-is in Africa not for African interests but its own.He opines that the romance between China and Africa must be replaced by hard-nosed economic thinking. The 1.3 billion Chinese population drives Beijing to continually hunger for resources. Furthermore, the state’s survival is pegged on it,especially energy security and that much it knows.As a matter of fact it-China, is pursuing bilateral deals with oil/natural resource rich regimes not just in Africa but across the world as well.Notably, ‘China has since ceased being an underdeveloped state and wields as much power to carry out mass exploitation as any global hegemony.Critics have it that the potential for dependence is already visible in the trade imbalances. Kenya-China bilateral trade for instance hit sh.144 billion ($ 1.8bn) in 2010). According to @BD_Africa, in 2009 estimates put Kenyan exports to China at Kshs.2.48 billion compared to imports from China which stood at Kshs 74.5 billion.In 2012 the imports rose to Kshs.169 billion. While China has been offering financial subsidies to Chinese companies to facilitate imports from Kenya in a bid to address the trade imbalance,it has remained the same owing to the nature of goods traded. Kenya mainly exports leather, tea,coffee,sisal fibre,scrap metal and horticultural produce to China.China exports machinery,electronic and electrical goods, textile and fertilser to Kenya.China is Africa’s largest single trading partner and Kenya’s second largest.(Sino-African trade stood at $106 billion in 2010).China in Africa reports that  in ‘recent’ years, Chinese exports to Egypt stood at 4.4 billion and Egyptian exports to China on the other hand totaled a paltry $ 240 million.In Nigeria,reports have it that the China Export and Credit Insurance Corporation is planning on funding new refineries and oil infrastructure in the Western-dominated Nigerian oil industry in the hope of gaining a major advantage in negotiations for offshore oil reserves.

J.Kurlantzick postulates that Beijing, having recognized that it is decades away from challenging American military power,its leaders have realised they can compete in other ways i.e. promoting their development and as other countries learn and adopt aspects of the China model, they will become more likely to align with China and share China’s values. To this end, China, he says, embarked on a decade-long effort to amass Soft Power. These efforts have included expanding the international reach of Chinese media (state-backed international TV channel Xinhua reaches over 65 million viewers outside China,as per China’s own figures, apparently).Plus, you’ve heard of CCTV-Africa right? This soft power strategy has also entailed a rapid and substantial expansion of China’s foreign aid programmes. China surpassed the World Bank as the biggest source of external lending to developing nations in 2009 and 2010,reported the Financial Times. China, like other traditional donors either offers normal aid and export credits or goes for the lines of credit and resource supported loans. The soft power tool has as well included ”outreach to foreign students, providing scholarships, work-study programmes and other incentives to young women and men from developing countries. For instance, the number of foreign students studying in China grew roughly from 52,000 in 2000 to 240,000 in 2009,writes Kurlantzick. ”Broadening the appeal of Chinese culture by opening Confucius Institutes-programmes on Chinese language and culture from Uzbekistan to Tanzania has also been part and parcel of this soft power undertaking.”. You have no idea how my classmates scrambled for free Chinese lessons at the Confucius Institute at school.Confucian (Chinese) civilization is but one of the eight competing civilizations.

Chinese-built AU HQ.

Chinese-built AU HQ in Addis Ababa.

Dambisa Moyo,Zambian-born and internationally-renowned author and economist,she of the globally-acclaimed Dead Aid; Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a better Way for Africa‘ in a recent interview with China Daily intimates that she’s a big Sinophile because she recognizes that we-Africa, need China’s investment, jobs and trade. Cumulatively,China’s investment in Africa hit $20 billion by end of last year.Moreover,trade between China and Africa multiplied from $10 billion in 2000 to $200 billion in 2012,according to the Chinese Embassy spokesman in Kenya. Says she-Moyo,” Americans are not prepared to write big cheques to drive trade and job creation in Africa anymore.” Save for the continued militarization of Africa through AfriCom I’d add! Dambisa defends Beijing’s so-called state-capitalism model as the hallmark of Western capitalism given that it has focused on trade,job creation and infrastructure build-out.

The spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Kenya, Mr. Sgifan Wu outlines how ‘Third World’ benefits from China. He contends that ”many Africans view China’s engagement in Africa as an opportunity to finally rise up and be counted among the great nations and that China and Africa need each other to realise common development, to maintain peace and stability and to speak for developing countries in the international arena.” Speaking for the ‘South’  has been somewhat achieved,I’d say through the Non-Aligned Movement and the G-77,today known within UN circles as G-77 plus China.(G-77:Group of 77 was established in 1964 by a group of 77 developing countries in the UN.Still in existence albeit with an increased membership, the G-77 aims to promote collective economic interests,mutual cooperation for development and negotiating capacity on all major international economic issues within the UN system).Mr.Wu mentions that China has consistently called for larger representation of developing countries,particularly African,within the United Nations Security Council in line with the long overdue rare UN reforms,in addition to safeguarding their interests at the UN Security Council.Out of the 2000 Chinese companies operating in the continent,85% of their work force is comprised of local employees and with continuous training in highly technical areas,Wu says,the numbers keep rising.

Infrastucture cooperation china-africa

He points out that China’s increasing its investments in the manufacturing sector with the aim of ”promoting industrialization and production in Africa by Africans.”It’s not lost on him that that there are concerns,genuine ones at that, of China’s role in Africa and thus he concludes that ”despite its imperfections, its role in Africa is broadly welcomed as it prioritises the provision of basic needs in Africa.”

Much as some ,most African pundits hold the view that the current relationship between China and Africa is a win-win situation considering the dynamics,while embracing the Chinese,Africa shouldn’t lose sight of the fundamental need to foster intra-African trade (African integration) and solidarity.China proposes a new world order that is favourable to Africa,a new world order characterised by mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nation-states,equality and mutual benefits and mutual non-aggression.Question is,would China abide by its perspective on a new  world order when it (not if) becomes a superpower?Your guess is as good as mine!

The following would prove useful:

  1.  Triumph of the Mercantilists
  2. China threat forces British rethink of Kenya policy
  3. The myth that is no-strings attached ‘aid’ to Africa
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