China’s “New Colonialism” in Africa

Addison Scufsa

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Last September, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced that China would be investing around $60 billion dollars into many different African nations via a variety of loans, grants, and imports. This record investment deal is the second in four years made by Xi Jinping and is seen as an attempt to expand the now-famous Belt Road Initiative, an attempt to expand Chinese trade and influence around the world. 

The deal comes in several forms, namely interest free loans, grants, promises to import goods, and credit lines. The Chinese government uses these funds to secure oil and other raw materials that are essential for the large factories in Eastern China. Africa is abundant in many key resources of the future, yet has little capital to access and extract these expensive materials. By investing in Africa, many experts say they are ensuring a constant supply chain of resources in times of need and to continue to grow the economy at the same rate. 

Africans are excited about the deal, with the vast majority of African Union leaders supporting the funds and buildings. Many of the biggest projects in recent years in Africa have been partially or entirely funded by the Chinese. The new African Union Headquarters in Ethiopia, a hydroelectric dam in Angola, and a proposed financial district in Cairo were all or will be constructed by the Chinese government. This is the other, more politically motivated part of the deal. 

Despite many Africans favoring the deal and welcoming the Chinese loans with open arms, critics in the West have grave concerns about the investments and call it “New Colonialism”, a term harshly rejected by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa at the China-Africa summit. The United States and European nations have traditionally invested in Africa at a far greater rate than any other nation, yet many say the West has overlooked the continent due to its extreme poverty and constant strife. China says they are simply stepping in to fill this void. 

Claims of colonialism by China were only reinforced when the first overseas Chinese military base was opened in Djibouti in 2017. This large “People’s Liberation Army Support Base” is meant to serve as a logistics base for Chinese operations against piracy in the Gulf of Aden, another move by Xi Jinping to win over the support of key African leaders. The base also marks a crucial step in the peacekeeping operations of the Chinese army in Africa, a presence that has not been felt despite the numerous UN interventions during the last 30 years on the continent. 

Western media and experts also claim the Chinese are abusing African trust by providing predatory loans that they know will never be repaid. This is in order to claim the property when the African nations fail to pay their debts off, essentially giving China territory in exchange for a small investment. China has repeatedly denied this occurrence as have several African leaders. The IMF has stated that 40% percent of low income African nations are at risk of defaulting on their debts. These debts are bringing about concerns of corruption amongst Chinese banks and key figures in African governments. 

Investments by China are only set to grow over the next decade, bringing about many new projects to several African nations. Although the price may be steep for these countries, their leadership and their people say it is worth every penny. As ties between China and Africa grow closer, Western calls of colonialism are sure to only get louder.