Trade, Empires, and Subjects: China-Africa Trade Relations - A New Fair Trade Arrangement or the Third Scramble for Africa?
Trade, Empires, and Subjects: China-Africa Trade Relations - A New Fair Trade Arrangement or the Third Scramble for Africa?
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This paper examines the opportunities and pitfalls that renewed Sino-Africa trade relations presents for Africa, traces the evolution in China-Africa partnership discourse, identifies the basic legal and policy framework of the unfolding relationship, and calls for a clear Africa policy regarding China. The paper will also seek to identify the core characteristics of China’s partnership with Africa. The emphasis is on the trade and investment dimension of the Sino-Africa relations.

The year 2006 was dubbed “China’s Year of Africa.” Since 2000, the interest of the People’s Republic of China (“China”) in Africa has grown steadily. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (“Forum” or “FOCAC”) was created by Africa and China and formally launched in October 2000 to serve as a vehicle for promoting China-Africa friendship and cooperation. In October 2000, Beijing hosted the ministerial conference of the Forum (“First Ministerial Conference”). The Second China-Africa Forum on Cooperation was held in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, from December 15 to 16, 2003. More recently, the Beijing Summit & Third Ministerial Conference on China-Africa Cooperation took place in November 2006. In January 2006, the Chinese Government, for the first time, issued an African Policy Paper. Since January 2006, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have paid friendly visits to at least 10 African countries.

Emerging discourse on the China-Africa relationship depicts China either as the new imperial power or as Africa’s benefactor. In the West, reaction to China’s involvement in Africa has bordered on suspicion and paranoia. Policy makers and analysts in the West are concerned that China could gain control over Africa’s vast and untapped natural resources, particularly the continent’s energy reserves. The current struggle over Africa’s resources evokes worrying memories of an earlier scramble for pieces of the continent in the late nineteenth century by Western European powers and in the 1950s and 1960s by Eastern powers, principally China and Russia. China’s involvement in Africa has serious implications not only for Africa and Africans but also for U.S. security and energy interests. Instead of paranoia, this paper calls for guarded optimism regarding the deepening relationship between Africa and China. With China confident emergence on the global stage as the economic empire of the future, it would be ill-advised for African leaders to turn their backs on the sleeping giant. However, while there is much that Africa could gain from the relationship, African leaders and Africans must guard against imperialism of any sort and shy away from arrangements that threaten sustainable development in the continent or undermine respect for human rights and human dignity. Most important, African leaders must push past Beijing's rhetoric of anti-hegemonism and develop clear policies to guide the continent’s engagement with China. Drawing on the rich but sad lessons of the scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century, African leaders must avoid the economic, political and legal pitfalls of the past and position the continent to benefit from strategic relations with countries that Alpha Oumar Konare, the President of African Union (AU) Commission, rightly refer to as ‘partners of the future.’

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