China Courts Africa
As an aspiring superpower, China has needs: money, raw material resources and the political support of other nations, among other things.
Beijing has a specific strategy to solve these issues: the African solution. More than any other superpower, the Chinese government is building economic and political influence in economically poor but resource-rich African nations.
Take Zimbabwe as an example. China sent crates of T-shirts to help support the ruling party in parliamentary elections. Despite the West’s arms embargo on Zimbabwe, China has begun to deliver 12 fighter jets and 100 trucks to Zimbabwe’s army. The Chinese donated cobalt-blue tile for the roof of President Mugabe’s $9 million mansion—also designed by a Chinese business. A Chinese business reportedly “provided a radio-jamming device for a military base outside the capital, preventing independent stations from balancing state-controlled media during the election campaign” (Christian Science Monitor, March 30).
President Mugabe himself refers to the Chinese as “our good friends”—for good reason. It is difficult for a ruler whose agricultural program has crippled his country and who has a known record for human rights violations to find support from any nation, much less one as influential as China.
Why would the Chinese support a despot like Mugabe? Two reasons: 1) He provides them with money. To take one example, between 2003 and 2004, China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp. signed a series of contracts worth $300 million to rebuild Zimbabwe’s electricity grid. 2) Beijing wants as much political support, as it opposes the U.S., as it can get. The Wall Street Journal put it: “China is courting other countries to support its plan to reassert political authority over Taiwan and seeking a counterweight against U.S. power in global bodies such as the United Nations” (March 29).
Zimbabwe is one country in an African region now filled with Chinese activity, apparently free of the ethical limitations that lock U.S. businesses out of similar opportunities. When Ethiopia went to war with Eritrea in the late 1990s, the U.S. greatly reduced its presence and China moved in. Now “Chinese companies have become a dominant force, building highways and bridges, power stations, mobile-phone networks, schools and pharmaceutical plants. More recently, they have begun exploring for oil and building at least one Ethiopian military installation” (ibid.). In 1997, the U.S. government barred Sudanese oil investment by U.S. companies because the Sudanese government sponsored terrorism and committed human rights violations; since that time, China has invested $2 billion in the Sudanese oil industry. Last year, China deflated U.S. efforts to levy sanctions on Sudan by threatening to use its veto within the Security Council, protecting its oil investment despite genocide in the region.
These activities are only a small sampling of China’s dealings in Africa, which span the continent. They do illustrate, however, the ethical boundaries Beijing is willing to cross to oppose the U.S., to bring African resources to China, and to establish itself as a bona fide superpower.