01 September 2007

China in Africa

Primary Sources:
14 November 2006: Christian Science Monitor
Pentagon imperative: a spotlight on Africa
5 January 2007: Christian Science Monitor
Pentagon to train a sharper eye on Africa
March 2007: Foreign Policy
A Different Kind of Great Game
9 March 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
China Provokes Debate in Africa
9 March 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
China in Africa: It’s (Still) the Governance, Stupid
15 March 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
Into Africa
21 May 2007: Xinhua (China View)
DRC's finance minister: China's development model beneficial to Africa
5 June 2005: Xinhua (China View)
AU: proper delimitation of boundaries guarantees Africa's socioeconomic integration
July 2007: Esquire
The Americans Have Landed
6 July 2007: US Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa
26 July 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
AFRICOM: Wrong for Liberia, Disastrous for Africa
3 August 2007: Foreign Policy in Focus
Hope in Darfur
4 August 2007: Xinhua (China View)
UN special envoy visits Chinese peacekeepers in DRC
13 August 2007: New York Times
China, Filling a Void, Drills for Riches in Chad
18 August 2007: New York Times
Entrepreneurs From China Flourish in Africa
20 August 2007: GlobalSecurity.org
CJTF-HOA Coordinates Humanitarian Aid for Somalia
21 August 2007: New York Times
China’s Trade in Africa Carries a Price Tag
21 August 2007: China Daily
Nod given to buying overseas shares
Blog Sources:
Thomas P.M. Barnett Weblog
26 August 2007: This week's column
26 August 2007: Two for this week's column
Enterprise Resilience Management Blog
23 August 2007: China in Africa: The Ups and the Downs
Additional sources include Wikipedia and specific links provided below.

A couple weeks ago I addressed in one post the possibility of newfound water resources in the contentious Darfur region of Sudan, and at the end of another post I mentioned China's increasing roles in Africa:
"Note the quote in ESA's news release about early use of the ENVISAT products by Chinese meteorological scientists. China has been investing heavily in resources throughout Africa, especially oil and metals, in order to feed their growing domestic demands. Some in the economic and security community see this (rightly, in my opinion) as Chinese support for development in Africa, which produces positive strategic feedback to China in support for increasing population and industrial demands. Others see China's work in Africa as economic and military competition for the US and the rest of the developed world, another Great Powers struggle that will bring us back to the Cold War. You know what? That's exactly what it is, except now it's dynamic economic investment in Africa instead of an ideological stalemate. It's the best kind of Great Powers competition: who can pour more money and manpower into African science, technology and development the fastest? Will it be the US, the EU, or China? In any case, all parties will benefit, none more so than the African community, and at least there's science in it--hydrology, no less!"

That mention just barely scratched the surface of the topic. In the time since those posts, New York Times reporters H.W. French and L. Polgreen have published a three-part series on the very topic of China's investments in African resources and security. China is going after some of the same natural resources in Africa that have been coveted by overseas colonial powers and native populations for more than a couple centuries: oil, minerals, timber, and gemstones. Proven oil reserves seems to follow the northern sub-Saharan tropical belt, both on-shore as in Chad and Sudan, and offshore as near Niger and the Gulf of Guinea. Industrial minerals including bauxite (aluminum), titanium, copper, and many others are found in abundance throughout the tropical portions of the continent. Timber comes primarily from old-growth tropical forests in the Congo basin, which is heavily logged by commercial and state interests. Gemstones, primarily diamonds in various quantity and quality, are found in select portions of western and southern Africa.

China's economic investment portfolio in Africa seems to follow similar patterns. China's energy and industrial demands at home have prompted exploration for oil reserves in far-flung, ripe-for-development areas, beyond the contentious East China and South China Seas. Some have viewed China's push into Africa as a neo-colonial drive for simple resource extraction and market expansion, and the part of both regional neighbors (India, Japan) and global competitors (US, EU) to band together as a counterbalance. As Tom Barnett suggested recently, this strategy smacks of Cold War containment and remains both politically reductionist and reactionary (I think it's too much of a compliment to call it neo-conservative) and economically counterproductive. Domestically, Chinese individuals have just gained the financial freedom to invest in foreign markets directly, instead of routing such investment through Chinese markets. This opening of the Chinese market could expand significantly the potential for Chinese investment in multinational companies with interests and operations in Africa and the developing world. I've read that tigers can indeed purr, though to most of us it sounds like a low growl...

What really caught my eye on this issue was a topic mentioned in the first article in a recent New York Times series on Chinese investment in Africa that discussed oil development in Chad. In the southern region of the country, where Chinese are immigrating in droves, oil companies have committed to wholesale development of communities in the region in order to support their own workers as well as the native population with necessary water, sanitation and power projects. These vital services will establish the base sustainability of China's presence there, allowing for continued access to energy sources in high demand as well as the employment of local people, the elevation of a regional population from poverty, and the opening of new markets for Chinese goods and services.

The Chinese interests in Africa are largely economic and commercial, but not necessarily in the colonial sense. China does maintain a small overt military presence on the continent, with a peacekeeping force in the DR Congo, but otherwise their military commitment to the continent remains limited to high-level advising to client states. On the commercial side, China has been identified as a major supplier of weapons to states and ruling groups in such areas as Sudan, where the arms trade and Sudan's exports of oil to China have become intertwined since the late 1990s. Given the history of cooperation and the exchange of commodities and weapons between China and Sudan, and the potential influence that China may be able to exert on the Islamic Sudanese government, Germany and Britain have recently called for the Chinese to help resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

Despite the lack of military presence in Africa, China brings with it all of the culture and work ethic that can be expected in a population eager to effect growth in its industry, economy, and participation in global trade. China seems to approach Africa not as a problem but as a possibility; not as a mystery, which may or may not have a solution, but as a puzzle which has a solution, you just have to fit the pieces together right. China developed its culture over many centuries but its advanced industry and infrastructure over just a few decades, just as Africa needs.

The holistic approach that Chinese businesses and investors bring to new business in Africa seems entirely consistent with eastern ways of thinking that are explored in The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett, who found in numerous studies among US and Asian groups that cultural heritage affects strongly how one sees the world and deals with problems and opportunities. Eastern subjects had difference distinguishing foreground objects in a picture from their surroundings and were more likely to subject their personal wants and needs to those of a larger group, suggesting a greater focus on context and the interaction among system components, as well as a greater willingness to work in a collaborative setting on team-oriented projects. Conclusions about the western mindset tended toward individuality and an atomistic viewpoint, the willingness to break a problem or a picture or a project down to its component parts and to address each individually, in assumed isolation from influences by, and interactions with, the other parts.

Learning by example (and mistakes, and trial-and-error), changes in the American way of meeting the world may be coming too. The US presence on the African continent is growing with the recent establishment of the Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), and the activation next year of a new DoD regional command dedicated to the continent. But it's no longer just about military interventions. The structures of these efforts is somewhat different than other, older DoD commands, as in Central Command (southwestern Asia) and Southern Command (South America). The new Africa Command (AFRICOM) is intended to combine both the warfighting and peacekeeping roles of the US government, with considerable input and participation from the US State Department and related agencies such as USAID. The presence of these groups was recently instrumental in the coordination of medical aid relief to Somalian hospitals, where supplies had come to critical levels and Somalis caught in the fighting there had remained untreated.

Africa was a pass-through actor of the Cold War, a collection of pawns in the proxy maneuvering between superpowers who were more interested in preventing the loss of strategic allies to the opposition than in the development and exploitation of natural resources. I'm not saying that resources were not a goal of the superpowers at all; the armaments industry through much of the Cold War required continuous supplies of light metals and other materials such as industrial-grade diamonds, and population growth throughout the world required timber and the expansion of energy-producing regions. However, during the few low-intensity proxy conflicts and interventions of both Soviet and American powers in Africa throughout the Cold War, interests in the development of resources remained secondary to ideological and political posturing and, of course, the arms trade.

There seems now to be some new thinking on African involvement, and it is oriented on commercial investment and development instead of ideological and political positioning. Sure, there are sectarian and ethnic and logistical issues to be solved across the continent, and these may require all of the collective will of the interested in order to be overcome so that stability and peace can take root. Multinational corporations, and the yuan and the dollar, have taken the lead in one of the greatest challenges that both Tom Friedman's Globalization and Tom Barnett's Connectivity will face. The first steps are to stabilize the livelihood of the native populations, and that takes water and food before industry and productivity. Apparently, this is all well within China's plans for the forging of partnerships and the development of resources on the African continent.