Colonialism requires three things, none of which China is currently doing.
- A large transfer of population from the mother country to the colony.
It is estimated that there are one million Chinese individuals living in Africa. While that may sound like a lot, remember Africa is a continent with 1.2 billion people. Chinese people make up less than 0.1% of the population. For comparison, the percentage of Americans living in Mexico is eight times as high.
We can definitively say that there has not been a signifiant population transfer from China to Africa.
- Displacement, subjugation, assimilation, or annihilation of the native population.
Since Chinese people make up such a small portion of the population, displacement and annihilation of the locals are impossible. Ironically, it is more likely that the Chinese expats will become assimilated into the African populace instead.
While there are 10,000 Chinese firms operating in Africa, they are there only at the African governments’ permission, so subjugation is definitely out the window.
- Total economic and political control over the colony.
Actually, this is the last thing China wants. China doesn’t want to govern another country and all the trouble that comes with it. Instead, they want to expand their influence. Developing Africa through loans and investment helps secure a trading partner and ally.
In a more general view, Africa is mixed up in the conflict between a rising China and America.
The overriding goal of each state is to maximize its share of world power, which means gaining power at the expense of other states. But great powers do not merely strive to be the strongest of all the great powers, although that is a welcome outcome. Their ultimate aim is to be the hegemon—that is, the only great power in the system.
To challenge US hegemony, China is playing from its traditional rulebook.
“Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected .”
For years, Western banks and investment institutions tried archaic and largely ineffective Africa investment models. Therefore, Africa was labelled as an underdeveloped, violent backwater and largely ignored.
The West forgot about Africa, but China remembered.
In 1980, nearly every African country had a higher GDP per capita than China. China was also considered a poor “third-world” country. But due to Deng’s reforms and economic liberalization, China propelled itself to the world stage.
China now sees Africa’s raw energy and ambition as an echo of the forces that were unleashed by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms of 1978.
In the next ten years, China plans to invest 175 billion dollars into Africa, dwarfing the 14 billion promised by the US. Unlike US investment however, Chinese investment comes with no strings attached.
Chinese investments target areas critical to economic development and stability: industrialization, agriculture modernization, infrastructure, financial services, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction and public welfare.
In addition, thousands of entrepreneurs and businessmen have moved to set up shop in Africa, seeking the same economic miracle that happened in 1980s China.
No country bases policy on altruism. A rising Africa advances the political goals of China.
First, it secures China a reliable source of raw materials. Africa is estimated to contain 90% of the entire world supply of platinum and cobalt, half of the world's gold supply, two-thirds of world manganese and 35% of the world's uranium. It also accounts for nearly 75% of the world's coltan, an important mineral used in electronic devices, including cellphones.
But more importantly, it expands Chinese influence onto another continent. China is already the preeminent power in Asia. If China can rise to a position where it exerts major control over essential economic elements such as the utilities sector and telecommunications in African countries, while also developing military influence, then it also holds considerable political alliance in those nations.
African leaders should be careful in this new arena between the US and China. The best outcome for Africa would be to play off both sides like during the Cold War. The worst could lead to political and economic subservience. Whatever happens, the only certain thing is that it will forever change Africa.