Heidi Kingstone on the motivation behind China’s relations with Africa
Steven Spielberg’s conscience finally got the better of him. The Oscar-winning director resigned as ‘artistic adviser’ to the upcoming 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics last night. His “energy”, he said, “must be spent on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur.”
It is ‘energy’ that is at the root of all this commotion. China buys about two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports.
Eighteen months ago, in November 2006, China hosted a two-day summit for 48 African leaders, a symbolic moment signalling how important Africa is as a partner in China’s rampant development, but the relationship between Africa and China is not new. It began with the Chinese ‘offer of friendship’ at the 1955 Bandung Conference, and even before that in the 15th century when Zheng He sailed to the Horn of Africa.
Today Africa’s rapidly growing relations with China are often explained by China’s insatiable need for the continent’s natural resources. “While this is true,” says Prof. Calestous Juma, who teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where he directs the Science, Technology and Globalisation Project, “a large part of the shift is because China serves as an economic role model for the continent.” China is a startling example of how a region can rise from poverty within a generation and become a dominant player on the global scene.
This liaison has captured the West’s imagination. Not so surprising, perhaps, when you consider that China-Africa trade has swollen from about $10 billion in 2000 to an expected $50 billion this year. China now imports more than 25% of its oil from Africa.
Both the Africans and Chinese say the relationship is based on mutual understanding, mutual need, and common experiences, particularly when it comes to understanding the horrors of colonization and poverty.