The recent standoff between the two Asian nuclear powers, India and China, spawned 20 dead Indian soldiers alongside a shackled prime minister in Delhi seeking to save face. As a retaliatory measure, seemingly nothing short of charade though, India’s Modi mandated banning 50 Chinese mobile applications including TikTok and WeChat. Considerable number of analysts recount India’s response as sheer symbolic for it cannot go any further in sanctioning the Chinese economy, for instance, that Beijing’s tentacles are well entrenched in the Indian economy.
The ubiquitous Chinese presence in the global market did not exclude the African continent. However, the Sino-African partnership has not yet culminated in a conflict for the actual imbalances or political leverage to be revealed.
Even more significant has been the process of interlocking the continent’s economy with that of China, consequently leading to enacting pro-Chinese policies serving the long sought-after goal of reining the world order.
As part of the Chinese debt-trap diplomacy, China is exerting unprecedented investment schemes in various sectors including construction, technology and communications. Edging past European and American investors who previously got the lion’s share in the African market revenue. China has elevated from a minor investor to becoming Africa’s biggest economic partner with over 10,000 Chinese state-owned and private enterprises operating across the continent.
For example, Chinese presence in Africa’s construction market accounts for 50 percent as well as 12 percent of the industrial production and manufacturing. Chinese mega infrastructure projects include a $4.5 billion Addis Ababa to Djibouti Railway, $11 billion mega port and economic zone in Bagamoyo in Tanzania, and a $12 billion coastal railway in Nigeria.
In terms of communications and technology, Chinese ZTE and Huawei, have rapidly maintained considerable presence on the continent despite being late-comers. Their newly acquired leadership role in Africa could be traced to indomitable political and economic support from the Chinese state. State support, consequently, enabled both tech giants to provide low interest loans to customers alongside other prerogatives that rendered competition subverted.
On top of this, the booming market of smartphones is now so attractive that it allowed the Chinese company, Transsion to gain a strong foothold and dominate over the market providing cell phones of Tecno and Itel. In 2018, the company’s share in the market stood for 50 percent. Its low prices and customization of products exclusively pertained to the African customer—introducing Amharic fonts for instance—has underpinned its unmitigated success in subduing any local competition.
Why target Africa?
Although the Chinese expansion in Africa could have promising features, such as boosting employment, introducing know-how techniques in the aforementioned sectors, and providing innovative products and services, it might take a special toll.
As the world’s factory that is jockeying for global domination, myriads of raw materials and natural resources are needed to fuel the rapidly rising Chinese economic commitments globally. Africa already accounts for 90 percent of the global supply of cobalt and platinum, a 50 percent of global gold supply, and 35 percent of the global stock of Uranium. What is more interesting is that 75 percent of the world’s coltan, which is key to Chinese smartphone production, happens to be African.
What’s the lesson from India?
Ranging from failed retaliatory measures in India to seizing control over the newly-erected port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, in 2017, due to defaulting on paying off the Chinese debt, the breakneck Chinese expansion in Africa, and interlocking the African economy with the Chinese could be reckoned to be a neo-colonial project of economic facet. In other words, shackling Africa’s economy with overwhelming Chinese debts as well as flooding African markets with Chinese products eliminating any sort of competition will ensure the following: an easy flow of the above mentioned resources to an ever demanding Chinese economy; gravitating more allies toward the Chinese camp, culminating in boosting global political influence; fulfilling China’s beloved new Silk Road project.
It is time that Africa’s Chinese policies shifted from passive-aid-loan relations to reinvigorating local production in order to circumscribe the growing Chinese encroachment.
Bishoy Sadek is a writing fellow at African Liberty. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the British University in Egypt, and he is an MA student at University College Dublin