Like a troupe of wandering entertainers, Chinese officials trumpet at every possible opportunity that their country’s strategy in Africa is one of political non-interference, equality, and mutually beneficial economic agreements, a stark antithesis from the Western colonial scramble of the past.
China’s aversion from formal alliances and her decision not to comment on any of the numerous human-rights abuses that have been committed by some of her closest African partners supports that.
But whereas Chinese economic schemes aim at oil, the major driving factor of her political engagement in Angola is international credibility. China hasn’t forgotten that it was the African support, in the early 1970s, that led to her acceptance into the United Nations (UN).
With over a quarter of the 193 members of the UN being African, China understands the importance that the African continent can have on her global status. Furthermore, the ever important, for Beijing, One-China policy has found many devout followers in Africa. Out of the fifty-four African nations only four recognize Taiwan—quick hint, Angola isn’t one of them.
Also, the Chinese adherence to non-interference is extremely appealing to the corrupt Angolan officials. The dos Santos regime readily accepts China’s developmental assistance, which comes without any of the Western moralities for reform and transparency, and in return supports her in the international diplomatic stage.
The decision, in 2004, to decline the IMF’s loan due to the attached transparency reforms and adjustment structural policies confirms that. Chinese military contribution in Angola, although limited, compliments her political strategy. Since the dawn of the 21st century, the Angolan and Chinese militaries have exchanged numerous delegations. In 2004, China signed a $6 million agreement to build a training center for the Angolan military. A separate agreement of $100 million to upgrade the military communication systems soon followed (1).
By providing military assistance to Angola, China accomplishes two goals. Firstly, she enhances her status and increases her influence in the country, thus supporting her quest for legitimacy. And secondly, she ensures the stability of the current political status quo, which in return guarantees that her lucrative trade relationship remains unhindered.
More interestingly, China’s endeavor in Angola offers a blueprint to her overall strategy in Africa. In countries such as Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South and North Sudan, South Africa, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Kenya, Mozambique, and Nigeria, to name a few, China is employing the same economic, political, and military incentives in order to gain resources and legitimacy.
And the African continent eagerly embraces such incentives, for more and more African countries turn their gaze towards the East for help and guidance. This is what the pundits call a “dependency relationship.” China’s financial policies reveal that in fact she cultivates an economically unsustainable environment of dependency—which in return translates into political dependency, since the great majority of Chinese businesses that are active in Africa are state-owned.
The African nations not wishing to lose the lucrative, no-strings- attached Chinese loans and investment schemes, dutifully support Beijing’s quest for political legitimacy in the international stage.
Although China’s global status is not yet as influential as that of the US, it has certainly improved since her initial engagement in Africa. With a greatly improved economy, Beijing now gazes more assertively at the world. And it wishes to offer an alternative version of global leadership from what it perceives as Western economic failure and political decadence.
The G20 summit in Hangzhou, is where China will try to make her argument. Although Napoleon was amazingly wrong about Russia in 1812, he does seem to be right about China in 2016.
1) Rotberg, Robert. “China Into Africa,” (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2008).
Featured image courtesy of macauhub.com.mo