The rapid economic development of China has had an indelible impact on the China-Africa relationship in the 21st century. One obvious sign is the expanding economic and trade cooperation between the two areas. Trade volume has grown from $10 billion in 2000 to more than $220 billion in 2014, at a growth rate of 21 times. Chinese investment in Africa has also grown from $500 million in 2000 to more than $32 billion in 2014, which is a growth rate of 63 times. At the same time, the African economy has achieved continuous growth. In the past 10 years, growth of average GDP in the African region is at more than 5 percent, one of the fastest in the world. It can be said that China has become an important impetus in the growth and revitalization of the African economy.
Yet the huge gains achieved by the China-Africa relationship has also created panic among Western nations. Articles [that stipulate] “China is looting African resources” are frequently published, with writers claiming that China is committing “new imperialism” in Africa. While China has imported large amounts of petrolatum, minerals and original materials from Africa, [it has also] exported industrial products to Africa, which is common practice in international trading. China is only one of the buyers; it has never tried to monopolize African countries’ economic lifelines or control their political processes. In fact, “South-South cooperation” is the heart of China’s African policy, with equality and mutual benefit at the core.
In a fundamental way, China-Africa trading is no different from America-Africa and Europe-Africa trading. China is buying from the international market at a reasonable market rate; it has never tried to squeeze the prices with African countries. The quantities China imports from Africa are also not more than those by Europe and America. Take crude oil for example: According to data released in 2014 by the American Energy Research and Development Administration, the total amount of crude oil China imported from Sub-Saharan Africa is at 22 percent of the region’s total, while Europe imported 28 percent of the total. Due to impact from the shale gas revolution, America has increased its own supply of petroleum recently, but 13 percent of the crude oil from Sub-Saharan Africa was still exported to America. If one takes into account the oil-export quotas from Libya and Algeria in North Africa (more than 70 percent of their crude oil is sold to Europe), China actually imports less than 20 percent of crude oil from Africa.
In order to grow, Africa has looked to the West for the past 50 years with no success. The prescription the West gave Africa has repeatedly been the Washington Consensus; it has asked African countries to develop according to its standard and system. Africa has not benefited from it, but has instead fallen into severe political, economic and social crises. Now, Africa is looking to the East, using a system put in place via the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000, and putting the China-Africa relationship on the fast track.
Unlike the past, the three engines powering the quick development of the China-Africa relationship are trade, investment and infrastructure-building. Self-generated economic growth in Africa has far outshone its over-dependence on external Western aid. For the people of Africa, China-Africa cooperation has shown benefits in many areas, such as infrastructure-building, medical care, education, housing and more. The cooperative mechanism between the two regions has benefited African countries in physical and psychological ways. China’s success in Africa should make Western countries reflect and not conduct a moral critique.
The “new imperialism” theory the West has espoused reflects a defensive emotion, a demonstration of the passive mentality of the zero-sum game. Western media has not looked to Africa’s growth and development, but rather saw China as a political competitor in Africa. According to data released in 2015 from the Pew Research Center, more than 70 percent of Africans welcome Chinese investment, which shows that for Africa, China is not one of the feared “new imperialists,” but a new development opportunity.