Geostrategic Shifts: China’s Influence vs. Western Engagement in Africa

  • 0

The dynamics of influence in Africa’s international relations are increasingly shaped by the contrasting strategies of China and Western nations. China is deepening its footprint across the continent through ambitious infrastructure projects, economic partnerships, and diplomatic moves as the Western powers are compelled to recalibrate their strategies to maintain influence and relevance


China’s engagement with Africa represents a paradigm shift in international relations even with the dual challenge of balancing its strategic interests in Africa with international expectations, particularly amid geopolitical tensions. This tie has been a cornerstone of Chinese foreign policy since the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War in 1947. Interests in Africa intensified with initiatives like the Going Out strategy launched in 1999, encouraging Chinese companies to invest abroad. This strategy not only bolstered China’s economic influence but also stimulated employment opportunities for Chinese nationals through infrastructure projects across Africa.


A report from Statista on Africa-China relations reveals that in 2013, Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) to Africa exceeded that from the United States. The construction and mining sectors were the primary beneficiaries, receiving over 24 billion U.S. dollars in 2020. Also in 2020, Africa’s total export value to China reached nearly 62 billion U.S. dollars.


Western engagement in Africa, historically driven by colonial legacies and later by aid-driven development agendas, faces challenges in this new geopolitical landscape. While traditional partners such as the United States and European Union continue to provide significant financial aid, investments, and technical expertise, their influence is increasingly being tested by China’s proactive economic diplomacy which reflects the traditional Chinese worldview that China is the center of civilization.


Despite criticism from Western nations characterizing Chinese investment as ‘debt-trap diplomacy,’ China has maintained a non-interference policy in domestic affairs, a stark departure from the approach of Western nations. This stance resonates with African leaders prioritizing sovereignty and development over conditional aid and political demands. China’s engagement is often seen as pragmatic and mutually beneficial, fostering a narrative of South-South cooperation and shared developmental goals.


Western nations’ renewed interest in Africa is overdue, given the continent’s vital role in global affairs. Africa’s potential for future economic growth and its pivotal role in the green energy transition, fueled by rapid urbanization, a youthful demographic, and vast mineral resources, necessitate consistent and sustained engagement from Western powers.


The United States has recently turned its attention to Africa, however, these engagements according to reports, have been primarily focused on security issues and do not reveal a substantive strategy for meaningful interaction with the continent. An article by Ana Palacio, former minister of foreign affairs of Spain and former senior vice-president and general counsel of the World Bank Group brought to light the US-Africa trade which declined significantly, from $142 billion in 2008 to $64 billion in 2021.


Similarly, while the European Union (EU) maintains a trade relationship with Africa, it has struggled to establish a coherent approach or expand its engagement into other crucial areas. Criticisms over Europe’s inconsistent energy policies and mishandling of vaccine diplomacy have further complicated its standing.


In January 2023, China’s new foreign minister Qin Gang visited five African nations and the African Union, continuing this tradition of diplomatic outreach. Before him, former foreign minister Wang Yi had visited 48 African countries, while President Xi Jinping conducted ten visits between 2014 and 2020, underscoring the enduring importance of China-Africa relations in Chinese foreign policy.


The last US-Africa summit occurred nearly a decade ago, and no US president has visited Africa since 2015. Former President Donald Trump’s administration showed minimal interest in the continent, further straining diplomatic ties. A significant wake-up call occurred when 25 African countries abstained or did not participate in a United Nations vote last March, which condemned Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. This highlighted the growing disconnect between African nations and Western powers, who have historically used international law to advance their interests.


With substantial financial resources, a vast market for its goods, and a strategic vision encapsulated in initiatives like the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has swiftly become Africa’s largest trading partner. Infrastructure development spearheaded by Chinese firms has transformed the continent, linking previously isolated regions and laying the groundwork for accelerated economic growth.


READ ALSO: Shifting Alliances: The Rise of Russian Military Influence in West Africa Amid US Withdrawal


While China’s growing interest in Africa is largely driven by its need for natural resources to fuel its rapid economic growth, its engagement with the continent extends beyond the pursuit of oil and other raw materials. According to Marina Rudyak, a Sinologist at the Institute for East Asian Studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, China’s involvement in Africa is multifaceted.


“African countries receive support from China in the form of investment, trade, and development aid. In return, China receives political support in correlations between financial flows and the voting behavior of African states in the United Nations when it comes to issues that are relevant to China.” China believes that none of this is what Africa needs,” she added.


Interestingly, African nations do not perceive rivalry between Chinese and Western influence. According to Rudyak, while China is focused on infrastructure projects like building roads, the West offers different types of support. Africa, in turn, utilizes these diverse resources according to its requirements.

Green Bonds and Sustainable Finance in African Markets
Prev Post Green Bonds and Sustainable Finance in African Markets
Tech Solutions for Hunger in Botswana
Next Post Tech Solutions for Hunger in Botswana