I just read three articles about growing Chinese economic and political influence in Africa. The articles are:
The Next Empire, The Atlantic Monthly, May 2010
China’s New Continent, Time Magazine, July 5, 2010
Look Who’s Leading, Time Magazine, July 12, 2010
The Chinese economy is growing dramatically. They have an almost insatiable need for natural resources to supply their factories, and they are turning to Africa to obtain these resources. There are a couple of different scenarios that these articles discuss. One possibility is that the Africans will see China as new colonists, trying to exploit Africa just like the Europeans did just over a century ago. Another possibility is that the systemic problems in Africa (largely widespread corruption and ineffective governments) will prevent China from doing more than merely purchasing raw resources from Africa.
But the third possibility is that with Chinese money, and the growing professionalism described in the second Time article, African could be transformed. That would certainly be great for the Africans. But it might not be so great for the United States. The first Time article notes that China has now surpassed the United States as the leading investor in Africa. If Africa modernizes with Chinese help, African countries will most likely model their economy on China’s, and will most likely turn to China for a variety of other economic, political, and military advice.
The Chinese, apparently, see Africa as an opportunity. For the most part the United States sees Africa (or at least a majority of the nations on the Continent) as a problem needing to be fixed. The Chinese are building mines to obtain raw material, factories to process the raw material into bulk commodities, and transportation systems to move those commodities to ports for shipment to the factories of China. The United States builds schools, clinics, and water treatment facilities. For all of the admirable high-mindedness of the American projects, it is the Chinese who are raising the standard of living of the people of Africa. In twenty years, if the African economy takes off, I hope the people think kindly of the United States. Because unless things change, their main trading partner will be China.