China In Africa

In an interview with Asia Times reporter Doug Tsuruoka, Brookings Fellow and former US Treasury emissary to China David Dollar assesses the scale and impact of Chinese investment in Africa.

Overall, Dollar’s assessment is bullish: China stabilizes Africa. “China is basically a stabilizing and positive force in Africa. There are a lot of different aspects to Chinese investment there. One important part is Chinese loans for infrastructure. Quite a few African countries are making good use of these. China has been providing an average of a little more than US$5 billion in loans over the last few years. That’s very supportive.”

Dollar thinks China’s aims are mainly economic, not political or imperial: “China has had diplomatic relations with African countries for a long time. Beijing also has political objectives. But this big surge in investment is fairly recent, so something has changed. . . . Chinese economy is slowing down. It has excess capacity. . . . So it’s natural at this stage for some of their capital to be looking around the world for new opportunities.”

But empire has often followed foreign investment and trade; once you put money into a place, and start building stuff, you have an interest in protecting the investment. China is “developing a blue water navy. They are going to need more military bases around the world. So Chinese involvement in Africa also has political and strategic ramifications.”

About a million Chinese have moved to Africa in the past two decades. They bring China with them, creating Chinatowns all across the continent: “you often have these little communities develop. They bring a lot of different types of workers. They bring chefs to cook Chinese food, teachers for their children, and medical personnel so people can speak in Chinese if they go see a doctor. . . . quite a few Chinese seem to be deciding that there are a lot of opportunities in Africa. So much so that they want to stay and become part of self-perpetuating communities.”

Here’s a future to contemplate: African natural resources + Chinese investment, ingenuity and business savvy + African religious fervor + China’s growing Christian population. The mind boggles.

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