As China Gains, Will Southern Africa?

China and southern Africa have received growing international attention in recent years, but for very different reasons. As a rising, rapidly modernizing power, China – already a permanent member of the UN Security Council – is now on the verge of coveted G8 membership and a powerful role in the World Trade Organization.

By contrast, southern Africa is beset with problems. Its position in the world economy is marginal – tenuously plugged into global investment flows and dependent on northern markets for its commodity exports, tariff preferences, and financial aid. South Africa is a notable exception, offering the best prospect for driving regional economic integration, but it, too, has chronic social problems and, compared to East Asia, anemic economic growth.

What implications does China’s emergence onto the global stage hold for southern Africa? Can China help lift the world’s poorest region out of its deep economic and political malaise?

In theory, at least, China’s rapid growth, if it continues, offers southern Africa a highly promising economic opportunity, not least by underpinning commodity prices and thus boosting southern Africa’s terms of trade. This, in turn, would support fragile balance-of-payments positions throughout the region, potentially assisting with pervasive debt-repayment problems.