27 July 2018
It’s time the world recognized sub-Saharan Africa’s newest economic and military imperialist: Communist party-ruled China.
China’s immense economy needs natural resources and markets to continue generating wealth. Sub-Saharan Africa offers both — rich mineral deposits in particular — so China is there, with money and weapons.
Since China’s major mineral and oil companies are state-owned enterprises, Chinese business strategies and economic aid programs synchronize with Chinese foreign policy. The result is no surprise: In Africa’s autocratic but fragile states, China wields enormous political and economic leverage.
In August 2017, China officially opened its first permanent foreign overseas military base in Djibouti. That did not raise eyebrows. Djibouti already hosts a French and American base. China participates in anti-piracy operations along the nearby Somali coast and had previously operated a support facility in Djibouti.
However, in early July 2018, money followed the guns as China opened the “first phase” of its Djibouti International Free-Trade Zone. The $3.5 billion project follows the revival of the Bagamoyo, Tanzania “mega-port and special economic zone.” China plans to invest $10 billion in that project, which includes improving the port’s land connections with the interior of central Africa. Both projects are part of China’s long term “Belt and Road Initiative” development program that is supposed to accelerate development in participating Asian and African countries.
Mao Tse-Tung’s China trained revolutionary movements throughout the developing world. In the 1960s, Beijing made common cause with African leaders confronting colonial powers. China claimed, with factual support, Western imperialists had stunted African economies. In contrast, Maoist relations with African countries would always be based on what China called “the principle of equality and mutual benefit.
Twenty-first century Beijing continues to try to exploit the Maoist propaganda of equality and mutual benefit, while ignoring the fact that Mao’s Cultural Revolution savaged China’s economy.
Since 1995, China’s expanding semi-free economy has needed resources, especially oil, to feed its 10 percent annual growth.
The BRI is no sure thing, for the developing nation participant or China. China’s huge 2008 Congo development deal signed in 2008 has encountered problems.
A Chinese consortium agreed to build $9 billion in infrastructure in return for access to Congolese mineral resources. The 2008 deal specified China would receive reserves of 10 million metric tons of copper and 600,000 metric tons of cobalt. At the time, analysts thought China would ultimately make a couple of billion dollars on the deal, possibly more. The deal also guaranteed China political access to Congo’s leaders.
Congo, however, could not provide the electricity it promised. By 2012, Chinese operators were buying electricity from Zambia. The expenses have mounted. Business analysts argue China could lose billions.
But what if control was the goal, not profit? One source claimed that Chinese companies own 60 of Katanga’s 75 processing plants and China buys around 90 percent of Katanga’s mineral exports.
China’s actual deeds no longer reflect its altruistic narrative. Here is a telling example. In a June 2017 analysis of the BRI (then known as the Belt and Road Initiative), StrategyPage.com reported: “Africans and Asians living near … Chinese foreign operations complain that China is the major investor in illegal extraction of raw materials and keeping local gangsters and corrupt politicians in business. The Chinese also violate local labor laws with impunity and often hire their own armed security personnel who will shoot to kill if threatened by angry workers or local residents. Keeping local tyrants in power serves Chinese interests when it comes to things like establishing new military bases or preventing other nations from doing so.”
Perhaps it’s not an accident that between 2013 and 2017, Chinese weapons exports to Africa increased by 55 percent. In 2016, The Independent reported 34 African countries use Chinese-supplied light infantry weapons and heavy weapons. The BRI’s goal includes developing markets for China. Africa is definitely a market for Chinese weapons. Extracting minerals, supplying guns — sounds a bit imperialist, doesn’t it?