“China, the new ‘Santa’ or a continuation of the Enlightenment project: Performing Anamnesis with the Chinese ‘saviour’ on the block.
Meiz M. Majdoub Snr.
(Senior Financial consultant)
Andy Kusi-Appiah Snr.
(Queen Elizabeth Advanced Scholar,
Societal Transformations, 2019)
In our first installment we saw that the motives of the fathers of the partition were not to develop Africa for Africans, but rather, to supervise the ‘savage’ Africans to use the mechanistic tools developed and manufactured by the West to produce economic commodities for the West’s consumption.
In this installment, we shall look at some background information regarding China and what it intends to do with the African sub region.
China and the logic of the enlightenment project
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) obscures more that it reveals. PRC claims that it believes in the self determination of nations, and is in direct opposition to the expansionism of colonialist and neocolonialist powers. PRC also claims that it opposes all kinds of hegemonism (baquan and ingdaoquan). However, a journey down memory lane in Chinese philosophical thinking indicates that ‘hegemony’ is something encouraged. For example, baquan, mainly refers to coercion (using force) because the Chinese character ‘ba’ literally means to rule by force, and the term lingdaoquan, by contrast, denotes rule legitimated by public consent and alludes to the Confucian political thought of ‘wang’, first illustrated by Confucius in The Analects thus: ‘… if remoter people are not submissive, all the influences of civil culture and virtue are to be cultivated to attract them to be so’ (Legge, 1: 308–309). PRC’s definition of hegemonism therefore coheres with Gilpin’s conceptualization of hegemony, which is: “…the leadership of one state…..over the states in the system.” (see Gilpin, 1981: 116). And yet PRC claims that it opposes all kinds of ‘hegemony’, maybe they are referring to ‘hegemony’ directed at them.
Based on what PRC reveals in its official policies and pronouncements, the PRC articulates a foreign policy which is based on a desire to prevent or limit the development of ‘hegemony’ (as practiced by Western powers), while at the same time ‘trying to carve out space for itself as its economy continues to grow’ (See Ian Taylor’s book “China and Africa: Engagement and Compromise”, first published in 2007). In the 1970s, couched in the language of ‘combating ‘anti-hegemonism’, PRC allied with the United States in a bid to check what it perceived as Soviet influence in the developing world, especially Africa (Segal, 1982; Lim 1987; Levine, 1988). However, PRC decided to curb its over-dependence on America’s ‘security umbrella’ in the 1980s after President Regan of the United States of America sided with Taiwan against PRC’s self-determination. At this time, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) decided to go ‘solo’, and widen its international linkages (Taylor, 2007), using the same rhetoric of ‘anti-hegemonism’ and appeals to sovereignty and non-interference.
In 2006, PRC released a policy document, directed specifically at Africa, which asserted that its relations with Africa will be based on: ‘the principles of independence, equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs (China’s Africa Policy, 2006: 4). Underneath this policy lies a pre-Revolutionary Chinese ‘feeling of superiority and….determination to become a great power’ (Chao, 1986: 21) which compels its leadership to attempt to project PRC’s presence and reputation abroad. The developing world (and this includes all of sub-Saharan Africa) is one area where Beijing has pursued its ‘development of common interests with [the] ‘Third world’ to raise PRC’s global stature and increase Beijing’s bargaining leverage with the United States’ (Swine, 1995: 87). PRC’s motives directly mimics that articulated by the Enlightenment project, which became the ‘map’ through which the cultural ‘other’ is thought about, portrayed, discussed and analyzed.
The People’s Republic of China and fragmented Africa
As mentioned earlier, people of the global south have now woken up from their long slumber, and have become increasingly aware of the damage done literally and figuratively to their way of life. The stage is now set for the ‘other’ to look for ways of asserting their sovereignty and moving on their lives. Enter the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with a lot of money, skilled human resources and a desire to build an empire based on Chinese ‘hegemony’. It is exactly against this background that sub-Saharan Africa (sSA) finds itself being seriously ‘courted’ by another emerging global giant – The People’s Republic of China (PRC). Even though PRC has had a long history of cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa that relationship pales in comparison with what is currently going on – the massive scale at which PRC is investing in sub-Saharan Africa is unprecedented, and often raises serious questions from observers, both from Africa and elsewhere.
PRC started developing close ties with sub-Saharan Africa just a few decades ago.
As part of PRC’s African policy, it has sought to revise the world’s economic and political system, which it sees as hostile in the first place by providing massive financial supports for infrastructure developments only dreamed about just a couple of decades ago. Since the latter part of the long 1980s, trade between PRC and its sub-Saharan African partners has increased over 40-fold, and direct PRC investment has also increased astronomically (Chen and Nord, 2017). In 1995 for example, exports to the west accounted for 90% of sub-Saharan Africa’s exports, fast forward to 2015 and the figures had completely changed – new partners such as Brazil, India and PRC account for a whopping 50%+, with PRC alone accounting for more than half of that (IMF, Direction of Trade Statistics). In 2005 alone, trade between PRC and sub-Saharan Africa jumped 39% to $32.17 Billion (BBC News, January 6, 2006). In addition, by 2014, PRC was the single largest source of sub-Saharan Africa’s imports, most of that being manufactured goods followed by machinery, and food and beverages (COMTRADE, United Nations). As succinctly put by Chan and Nord, PRC’s investment-heavy, export oriented growth model has made it a growing and strong importer of cheap commodities (Chen and Nord, 2017:3). PRC is also a big consumer of natural resources, it accounts for more than 40% of the world’s metal consumption and more than 10% of the entire world’s crude oil, and more than 20% of agricultural crop consumption. Southern Africa is a particular hub of Beijing’s attention as it was here that PRC first engaged with the anti-colonial movements and expanded the most energy, and it was in Southern Africa that PRC has expanded its economic range. However, a string of recent Chinese mining closures in sub-Saharan Africa suggests that returns on investment in traditional commodity sectors are falling. Norimitsu Onishi has documented the economic effects of the closure of copper mines in Zambia in the December 2, 2015 edition of the New York Times, and Benjamin Robertson reported the closure of the iron ore mines in South Africa in the April 8, 2015 edition of the South China Morning Post. Cameroon has also seen the postponement of an iron ore project in 2014. Data from PRC’s Ministry of Commerce also corroborate this, i.e., the number of approved projects has been falling since 2014.