China in Africa: Helping or Harming? by Chaya Levin C'22

Chinese industry is booming in Africa. Twelve percent of overall African industrial production is claimed by China, with 10,000 Chinese firms present throughout the continent. Since 2000, China has become Africa’s largest trading partner by a significant margin.  

Following the Cold War era, Chinese entrepreneurs capitalized on the lack of international attention on Africa due to the world’s preoccupation with restoring political stability in Europe. Aware of the abundance of natural resources found throughout the continent, Chinese businesses entered the African market. Chinese business leaders established trade agreements and formed relationships with African leaders, who provided Chinese firms with access to African resources and the ability to build infrastructure.

Chinese business has positively impacted African society; it has created 300,000 jobs, and has reduced prices of goods and services in Africa by as much as forty percent as a result of improved technology. Furthermore, this economic reality has fueled projections that Africa could nearly double its manufacturing output from $500 billion today to $930 billion in 2025.

However, despite the growth China has stimulated throughout the world’s poorest continent, many regard this development with skepticism and even distaste.

Several African politicians including Zambian politician Michael Sata have accused China of tirelessly exploiting the resources of the continent, with no consideration for the wellbeing and progress of African society. Put simply, to many, China has become the modern-day colonizer.

In response to these accusations, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi stated that "we absolutely will not take the old path of Western colonists." However, many African leaders remain unswayed and increasingly cautious.

In addition, African leaders fear that their economies will become inextricably linked to China’s, leading to political and social dependency as well as debt. Issues such as corruption, language and cultural barriers, and concerns for environmental safety also present challenges for the further development of the relationship.

Overall, these matters remain unsolved. Although Chinese investors have made long term investments in the African market, the so-called “colonizers” may need to satisfy African leadership for the partnership to remain lucrative for both parties.