The Dragon’s Gift? Or A New Colonialism?

Today, China is Africa’s biggest trading partner and one of its largest foreign aid providers. China’s involvement in Africa is not new. China’s aid started in the 1960s in agricultural and infrastructure projects, and China has been substantially increasing its aid, pledging to provide billions more over the upcoming years. With China’s rise in economics and political influence on a global level, their presence in Africa raises a question: Why provide aid to Africa?

Many scholars predict China’s foreign aid as a tool for soft power driven by national interest in Africa’s growing markets and their rich natural resources. While this is one of their highest foreign policy objectives, Deborah Brautigam, a professor of International Development and Comparative Politics at Johns Hopkins University, and also an author of a book called The Dragon’s Gift, says something different about Chinese aid.

Brautigam argues that China has genuine interest in helping Africa due to the lessons China learned from their own socio economic development. Additionally, Chinese aid focuses on infrastructure, production and university scholarship programs which distinguish them from traditional donors whom downplay those programs. Brautigam was impressed with China’s Africa policy and describes Chinese motivations as broader and more long term, which will result in mutual beneficial activities.

On the other side, national foreign policy objective idea is still strong. Alexis Okeowo wrote a report in The New Yorker magazine about China in Africa as the new imperialism. She reported Chinese workers in Africa causing corruption, labor abuse and criminal cover ups. Furthermore, Nigeria’s central bank governor has discussed the possibility of China taking Nigeria’s primary goods and selling them back in the form of manufactured products. He referred it as to the essence of colonialism.

Charles W. Freeman, senior advisor for economic and trade affairs at CSIS, who did research on the Chinese and African relationship, claimed that it is strategic for mutual benefit. He applies donor and recipient relationship which reflects a notion of philanthropic model. Given this, China and Africa appreciate the cooperation with each other as equal and friendly. What we don’t see in Chinese’s approach is “if you don’t I will” attitude.

Is it possibly the fact that China and Africa share a similar history and challenges that create a stronger bond and trust between them? Is it because of the Chinese principle of philanthropic model? It is difficult to say, but we know the Chinese approach both offers opportunity (gift) for Africa to develop and create its own self-reliance, and/or the danger (trap) of dragon’s hidden political claw.

Reference:

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Moody, Thomas. “Review: “The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa.” Think Africa Press. N.p., 28 July 2011. Web <http://thinkafricapress.com/development/review-“-dragon’s-gift-real-story-china-africa&gt;

Okeowo, Alexis. “China in Africa: The New Imperialists?” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 12 June 2013. Web. <http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/06/china-zambia-resources-imperialism.html&gt;

Burke, Samuel. “Is China Buying up Africa?” Amanpour RSS. CNN, 29 Mar. 2013. Web.  <http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/29/is-china-buying-up-africa/&gt;.

Freeman, Chalres W., III. China’s Emerging Global Health and Foreign Aid Engagement. Rep. Ed. Xiaoqing Lu Boynton. Center for Strategic & International Studies, Nov. 2011. Web. 5 Nov. 2013. <http://csis.org/files/publication/111122_Freeman_ChinaEmergingGlobalHealth_Web.pdf&gt;.

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