Reconsideration of China's Africa Policy and China-Africa Relations
China-Africa modern ties dates back to 1950s and 1960s, during the liberation struggle of Africa against colonialism. There are 26 independent African nations have supported China to regain seat at the UN Security Council in 1971. The longstanding relations between Africa and China has created a fertile ground for China’s “Go Global” policy Partnership between Africa and China is based on core principles of equality, mutual trust and respect, and mutual interest and benefit China-Africa partnership respects policy independence for each partner country to make its own policy and strategy befitting its own situation.
As much as Africa needs China, China also needs Africa China achieved a phenomenal fast social and economic transformation over the past 40 years that marked a successful path of reform and opening up China’s foreign policy towards Africa as evidenced through the previous survey has undergone shifting episodes of activism and relative neglect.
Moreover, benefiting a major state, its foreign policy aims in Africa have reflected not only region-specific concerns but have been fundamentally products of wider international aims such as the Sino-Soviet rift and the cold war. All of these factors contribute to the sense that, beyond what Beijing views as the internal matter of Taiwan, strongest continuities in China’s Africa policy have been found in the rhetoric of third world solidarity and its own self-declared standing as a developing country.
The use of history by Chinese foreign policy makers is clearly aimed at drawing lines of continuity that paper over these shifts and breaks in Africa policy that have been the experience of all external powers engaged in Africa. In this context, the evocation of solidarity politics is carefully employed to suggest a shared sense of identity as fellow third world states whose interests and outlooks on the prevailing international system have remained unaltered over the last 50 years. Caution must, however, be exercised in the use of solidarity because, as Beijing knows, it could potentially raise uncomfortable questions about specific policies pursued or alliances made towards African governments or parties currently in (or out) of power.
At the same time, given that contemporary ties between China and Africa are based increasingly on economic interests, history is called upon in this case to provide assurances that budding commercial ties will not result in exploitation or even some form of colonialism on the part of China. After all, so the story goes, Zheng He dealt with African leaders on the basis of equality, engaged in trade and ultimately left African states and societies alone and intact. Moreover, this commercial activism occurred all before the Europeans even touched the shores of the continent south of the Sahara. Allusions to epochs that long pre-date CCP’s rise to power thus serve a different function in that they deliberately speak to African concerns as to the long-term impact of China’s deepening involvement in Africa.
Nevertheless, the Chinese leadership recognizes that it will need to do more to ameliorate this apprehension in some circles, hence China’s explicit commitment to embark on ‘all round co-operation’ with Africa; that is to say, an emphasis on noncommercial features of the relationship, in the aftermath of the China-Africa Summit in November 2006. While the claims of constancy in China’s foreign policy towards Africa may not bear up well under close scrutiny, nonetheless, in certain respects the discourse emanating out of Beijing today is accurate. If one sets aside the period of Maoist revolutionary activism in Africa, who’s own impulses eventually wreaked havoc on the domestic environment in China itself, the broad framework of Chinese foreign policy has been a fairly well sustained. To a great degree this is because the barometer against which it is measured is the all-purpose vocabulary of the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, whose sweeping generalities are able to encompass a broad range of policies that seemingly transcend the shifts in ideology and application that characterized Chinese foreign policy.
Moreover, physical distance and relatively limited contact have allowed ties to escape the close scrutiny that a more deeply involved external power might otherwise be subject to. More challenging for China’s contemporary relationship with Africa is the changing perception of China’s identity as a developing country. While the admonition that China is a developing country was reinforced by plenty of empirical evidence in the past, this position has been harder to sustain two and a half decades later as China’s remarkable economic growth has put it on the cusp of global economic and political leadership. Indeed, the notion of China’s ‘peaceful rise’, coined by Chinese scholars in 2003 to assuage growing concerns in the west (and substituted in rapid succession by the slogans ‘peaceful development’, ‘harmonious world’ and ‘scientific development’), captures the dynamic of a changing China without suggesting the tensions inherent in its foreign policy.
And yet the challenges to Chinese identity and its implications for a successful foreign policy are as fundamental in Africa as they are in addressing western concerns as to the implications of its rise on the global stage. If China is, as it appears to be, on course to full membership at the ‘high table of powerful states’ then it stands to reason its interests will change and will be reflected in foreign policy choices. There is already some evidence of this taking place; for instance, the fact that Beijing has indicated an interest in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and signed the Paris Declaration on Overseas Development Assistance (OECD, 2 March 2005), suggesting that there may be significant changes in the making.
In addition, Chinese actions aimed at pressuring Khartoum over the Darfur issue demonstrate a willingness to adapt itself to the western agenda. The Zheng He expedition may also be partially aimed at addressing this matter, in that 15th century Chinese technology and commercial prowess was far greater than that found in Africa at the time, but the thinness of the historical record and memory of this event makes it only of limited symbolic value. History in any case is being overshadowed by contemporary experiences and events and will have less and less saliency in shaping African reactions to China.
In fact, Africans have long memories and they are quite aware of the variations in historical experience with China. At the same time, they are conscious of the importance of China as an emerging power and keen to ensure that they are able to extract benefits from Chinese engagement, especially as it appears to be poised to become Africa’s largest trading partner and investor. Like the putative ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States, Renan’s ‘necessity of forgetting’ is crucial to the forging of this new relationship between China and Africa so it would seem that to realize the rhetoric of mutual benefit requires some form of mutual amnesia.
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