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China's massive growth over the last two decades has brought with it a similarly explosive need for energy resources, a need that as of yet cannot be fulfilled by domestic reserves. Thus, China imported 3.5 million barrels of oil per day in 2006, and that number is expected to increase to 13.1 million barrels per day by 2030 (Hanson 2008). Subsequently, "as the world's second-largest consumer of oil, and with only limited national resources, China is attracted to Africa's relatively underexploited petroleum and other natural resources" (Alden 2006). China's efforts in this area have become increasingly overt, to the point that "China's state oil company, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), has invested heavily in partnership with national petroleum (and natural gas) interests in the Sudan, Angola, Algeria and most recently Gabon." Furthermore, as Alden notes, "China has used a range of other economic instruments -- financial assistance, prestige construction projects and arms sales -- to cement ties with these oil-producing states." As part of this, "Beijing secured a major stake in future oil production [in Angola] in 2004 with a $2 billion package of loans and aid that includes funds for Chinese companies to build railroads, schools, roads, hospitals, bridges, and offices; lay a fiber-optic network; and train Angolan telecommunications workers" (Hanson 2008).
However, China's booming economy has created other needs as well, such that "food security is a growing concern" (Alden 2006). With this is mind, China has invested heavily "in agriculture, ?sheries and related secondary production facilities in Africa," going so far as to have "China's Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation (MOFTEC) [state] that 'Chinese-invested companies engaged in the production of farm machinery, agricultural processing and small product trading targeted for the world market will find immense business potential [in Africa]'" (Alden 2006). In this way, one may see how China's longtime partnership with Africa has allowed it to segue relatively seamlessly into using the resources and emerging markets offered by Africa as a way to shore up its own strategic interests.
Before concluding this study, it is necessary to examine one more aspect of China's changing relationship with Africa, because it has huge ramifications for global politics following the emergence of this new neo-imperialist power. In short, the geographical ramifications of China's ascendancy represent a fundamental shift for the larger world, because "China presents an emerging challenge to Western political and economic dominance, as its phenomenal economic growth drives increasingly significant diplomatic, investment, trade and aid relations with Southern partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America" (Mawdsley 2007). Not only does China's decision to use the development of Africa for its own domestic ends herald a fundamental shift in the relationship of the two areas, but it also represents a realignment of power across the face of the globe, such that a largely abandoned (by Western countries) continent will become the site of the most important geopolitical machinations for at least the next two decades. In turn, this will bring with it the likelihood for greater conflict, because as Mawdsley notes, "China is accused of undermining efforts to improve transparency and accountability in Africa by financing and supporting authoritarian leaders and states, by supplying arms in conflict situations, by doing business without 'ethical' conditionalities, and by taking advantage of corruption." Furthermore, "the post?9/11 security agenda has included a greater focus on 'failed states', counterterrorism activities and development [so that] compared to the 1990s, these concerns have contributed towards a much higher profile for much of Africa, and it is now firmly back on the West's geopolitical map" (Mawdsley 2007).
By focusing on the development of Africa, China has ensured that the economic and strategic discussions of the coming century will focus on the emerging economies and states, and not on the reinvigoration of former imperial powers in Europe and the United States, at the same time that these former imperial powers see Africa as the source of many of their national security threats. Thus, just as China is increasing its presence in and reliance on Africa, the Western powers are focusing their attention on the continent from a military perspective, increasing the likelihood of a confrontation between these two classes of imperial powers, a confrontation that remains without a definitively predictable winner considering the decreasing power and influence of the twentieth century empires.
China has a rich history of diplomacy and mutually beneficent cooperation with Africa, but over the course of the last decade this foreign policy has gradually migrated from that of equal partners to one of neo-imperialist power in the form of China and subtle colony in the form of Africa. For much of its history, China was careful to separate itself from Western nations when it came to Africa, choosing to approach the continent in a holistic manner rather than strictly through the lens of colony and then failed states. Thus, where Western nations engendered resentment and distrust through their many ineffective attempts at aid programs, China was able to present itself as a friend and equal, a developing country no more or less developed or worthy of respect than those nations in Africa. Following the end of the Cold War, this foreign policy began to shift, because China no longer needed to establish itself as a distinct political player from the U.S.S.R., and instead was able to focus on the development of its domestic economy and priorities.
The explosive growth China saw over the next two decades led to exponentially greater energy, food, and market needs, such that China has begun a process of realignment with Africa, such that its efforts on the continent are almost entirely geared towards ensuring that Africa will be able to supply the energy and food resources for China to continue growing as well as the kind of emerging markets China needs to tap if it is going to build a robust middle class into its relatively poor population. However, the very same resources which may help to cement China's meteoric rise to global power are eyed hungrily by the faded, twentieth-century imperial powers of Europe and United States, such that China's realignment of the global geographies of power will bring with it an increased likelihood of conflict, not only between China and its more obvious competitors but between Africa and the world. By finally cashing in the political and economic advantages afforded by over a half-century of mutual respect and diplomacy, China has set the stage for the key geopolitical battles of the twenty-first century.
Alden, C. (2006), "China in Africa," Survival, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 147-16.
Hanson, S. (2008), "China, Africa, and Oil," Council on Foreign Relations.
King, K. (2006), "Aid within the Wider China-Africa Partnership: A view from the Beijing
Summit 1," University of Hong Kong & University of Edinburgh.
Large, D. (2008), "Beyond 'Dragon in the Bush': The Study of China -- Africa Relations," African
Affairs, vol. 107, no. 426, pp. 45-61.
Mawdsley, E. (2007), "China and Africa: Emerging Challenges to the Geographies of Power," Geography Compass, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 405 -- 421.
Mohan, G. & Power, M. (2009), "Africa, China and the…[continue]
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