What to know about China’s ties with Africa, from aid to infrastructure
President Xi Jinping’s tour of four African countries is expected to extend Beijing’s influence on the continent
China’s engagement with Africa has accelerated over the decades as the middle kingdom eyes the world’s second largest continent for opportunities for economic growth and geopolitical influence.
President Xi Jinping’s visits this week to Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius – his first overseas trips of the year – are expected to build ties and extend Beijing’s influence on the continent.
Africa has a role in Xi’s signature programme, the “Belt and Road Initiative”, which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road land and sea trade routes through the building of roads, ports and bridges.
As Xi visits Africa, here is a look at the four key areas where China is expanding its presence on the continent.
Beijing’s multitrillion-dollar belt and road strategy is an extensive infrastructure network of railways, ports, roads and pipelines that aims to connect China with much of the world, including Africa.
China’s involvement in African infrastructure dates back to the 1950s, when it funded and built a railway between Tanzania and Zambia.
Foreign minister Wang Yi said last year that China had so far funded more than 6,200km (3,850 miles) of railways and over 5,000km of roads in Africa. Among them are the US$4 billion Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, a 750km line linking landlocked Ethiopia – home to Africa’s fastest-growing economy – to Djibouti on the coast of the Red Sea.
Also in progress is a US$3.2 billion 472km railway between Kenya’s port city of Mombasa and its capital, Nairobi. When completed sometime in the next 25 years, Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since independence will extend into the countries of South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The list of infrastructure plans also includes a “mega port” in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, a port in Lamu, Kenya, a six-lane highway in Uganda and a pipeline in Tanzania.
Beijing has said it wants to strengthen its defence engagement with African countries to protect both its vast economic interests and the safety of more than 1 million Chinese citizens who live on the continent.
In a move cementing its influence in Africa, Beijing established its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to provide what it said was logistical support to anti-piracy operations in Somali waters.
Meanwhile, it has bolstered its involvement in peacekeeping missions to the war-torn countries of South Sudan, Mali, Congo and Liberia and the region of Darfur in western Sudan.
More than 2,000 Chinese peacekeeping forces are now in Africa, according to China’s assistant foreign minister, Chen Xiaodong.
Also, Chinese warships have escorted 6,000-plus Chinese and foreign ships in the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somalian coast.
At the first-ever China-Africa Defence and Security Forum, held in Beijing last month, Chinese officials assured more than 50 senior African military officials that China would provide “comprehensive support” to African armies, anti-terrorism efforts and cybersecurity tech development to ensure national security and regional stability on the continent.
For some time, China has relied on Africa for a steady flow of natural resources, including oil, copper, zinc and iron ore, to sustain manufacturing at home.
Every day, China receives oil from Angola and Nigeria, gold from Ghana, chromium from South Africa, copper from Zambia and bauxite and other rare minerals from Guinea.
In recent years, Chinese companies, accused of running irresponsible operations that hurt local employees and the environment, have adjusted their strategies by entering the mining industry in Africa through working alongside or buying local mining companies.
China’s Citic Metal recently agreed to spend about US$542 million to acquire a 19.9 per cent stake in Canada’s Ivanhoe Mines, which has three large copper, zinc and platinum-group development projects in southern Africa.
Aid and loans
China has emerged as one of the largest aid donors to Africa in recent years, helping to build public facilities, train engineers and technicians, deploy medical staff and ease the burden of debt on the continent. But some critics worry that China is using its huge aid programme to expand both its soft and hard power.
Its success in setting up more than 80 Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in 41 countries across Africa has sparked concern that the Beijing-funded education centres are undermining local academic freedom by advancing China’s political agenda.