Confronting some of the major criticisms of contemporary Sino-African ties
Updated: 2012-05-15 16:12
By Simon Freemantle & Jeremy Stevens (chinadaily.com.cn)
China has shuffled the relative importance of certain political and economic tools, and offered a different style of engagement with Africa. China's bilateral engagements should be seen as a positive-sum catalyst for African governments to further their own economies and diversify their relations.
Despite widespread views to the contrary, China is not offering an entirely different ideology to the "Washington Consensus" for Africa. Marketisation has been a vital ingredient in China's own development strides; no nation has improved its level of economic freedom as swiftly. China's macroeconomic success indicates that more freedom leads to more growth, but stagnant freedom leads to stagnant growth.
The weight of commodities in Africa's exports is high in China-Africa trade. However, it is equally high for each of Africa's major export destinations. This questions Africa's level of economic diversity and industrialisation. For now, natural resources remain Africa's core competitive advantage in global trade. Africa must capture and allocate associated revenues in ways that enhance productivity, promote economic diversification and industrialisation, and improve living standards. In the meantime, China adds diversity and resilience to Africa's economic thrust and global emergence.
Low-cost products are offering stiff competition to Africa's juvenile manufacturing sector. The important challenge facing the continent is not unique to Africa. For instance, in intra-BRIC trade, the composition of Chinese trade is consistent with Africa's experience. Individual African countries need to be smarter and strategic in building complementary competency with China's that attaches to global supply chains.
The lop-sided distribution of economic power, of China over Africa, means that China does have an advantage in negotiating the rules of engagement. However, local considerations have gained traction through learning-by-doing. Meanwhile, China's investment and trade encourage Africa's economic growth, which has altered the way in which the rest of the world views prospects on the continent and Africa's own expectations.
China's engagements have provided rogue states in Africa with a possible trap-door from pressures to reform their political and economic institutions. However, since 2000, only Egypt and Guinea's measured governance effectiveness has declined, while countries like Angola, Nigeria and Sudan have maintained their levels of political and economic freedom. In short, Chinese engagement hasn't necessarily led to a reversion.
China is not squeezing traditional partners out. In terms of FDI stock and flows, China trails advanced economies and faces stiff competition from other emerging markets.
The charge is not only that Chinese support provides fertile soil for poor governance and corruption, but also that the country is free-riding on Africa's past debt relief, adding new layers of additional debt. However, China is a small lender on the continent; Russia forgave USD20 bn in cold war-related debt in 2008.