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Is China helping or taking advantage of Africa?
Many in the West view China’s presence in Africa as an attempt by Beijing to turn the continent into a new colony to solve both its shortage of natural resources and its overpopulation issues. While there is some – or even a lot of – truth to this, China has developed a special relationship with a number of African nations because of its non-Western approach to developing countries.
Indeed, whereas the West always treated African nations as basket cases which badly needed help, China viewed its African associates as equal partners from the onset. And unlike the West, Beijing never insisted on reforms, transparency or political changes as a condition for offering loans or infrastructure aid for example. And in some instances, China’s presence has transformed stagnant economies into booming industries.
Let’s take Ethiopia for example. In 2008, its government took the decision to allow foreign interests to invest in its manufacturing sector. Its GDP per capita was US$325 that year. Last year, it reached US$707, a 117.5-percent increase over a few short years. Thanks to Chinese cash, the country’s manufacturing capacity has risen, the unemployment rate is down 15 percent – only 15 percent because Chinese businesses only use Chinese workers – and Ethiopia now boasts Chinese-built roads and railways which enable the country to export its goods.
But the two countries’ partnership did not only benefit Ethiopia. China got access to natural resources, land, food, energy…and a new market for its goods. What matters though is that the relationship was – and remains – one of mutual benefit.
What’s interesting these days is that Africa is in a stronger position to negotiate with China. The East Asian country needs Africa’s natural resources more than ever before. It still needs its markets to survive as a superpower. It still needs its land to export its growing population.
Because of their strong negotiating hand, African nations should not be afraid of opening their markets to Chinese cash. And when negotiating with China, they should keep in mind that the East Asian country needs them as much as they need it right now.
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