They treated Africa as if a market when the rest of world viewed Africa as an economic basket case
Why Obama is making an African power-play against China
China surpassed the U.S. in total trade in sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, but its increasingly strong economic ties took root in 2000, when then-Chinese president Hu Jintao hosted representatives from 44 African nations in Beijing to establish the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation.Interesting that it took a Canadian, not USAmerican, observer to state the obvious.
That meeting "set a mandate for China to become Africa's largest trading partner," says Richard Poplak, a Johannesburg-based Canadian author and journalist writing a book about China’s growing role in Africa.
It was also an early sign that the Chinese viewed economic opportunity in Africa through a different lens than their American counterparts.
"What the Chinese did that no one else had done before was that they considered Africa as a market — a market for Chinese goods, institutions and services — when the rest of world viewed Africa as an economic basket case and a place for aid programs,' says Poplak.
While the U.S. focused on global security following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Chinese firms began shoring up major contracts throughout the continent that ensured access to Africa's vast resource wealth in exchange for the funding and construction of infrastructure projects like roads, railways and airports.
China also emphasized multilateral agreements with entire regions of sub-Saharan Africa — agreements the U.S. has largely avoided in the past, says Thomas Tieku, an assistant professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. "The U.S., in many senses, miscalculated their approach to Africa. It has always been to focus on bilateral relationships— select a few countries and deal solely with them," says Tieku. "Now they're playing a catch-up game to try to establish equally strong relationships with multilateral institutions like the African Union."
The U.S. will always have to contend with the fact that China is not limited in its economic partnerships by commitments to propping up democracy and freedom, since the cornerstone of Chinese foreign policy is to take a non-interventionist approach with its trading partners, says Tieku.
"The Chinese will come into a country and in practical terms it doesn’t matter who is running the country," says Poplak. "It doesn't matter what system of government your country uses, it doesn't matter what you did last week. They will come in and do business." But, says Poplak, the Chinese business is not always “above board or unaccompanied by what the Chinese would call the culture of gift giving, euphemistically, but it certainly respects African agency in a way that the West never, ever has and still doesn't."
"Many African policy makers are just not interested in hearing about the power of the free market any more.”
Pay attention to that phrase,"non-interventionist approach".
To borrow a phrase from Inigo Montoya, "I do not think that word means what you think it does".
Labels: World power