China’s African Front

DAKAR – China’s sacred text is not a holy book like the Torah, the Bible, or the Koran. Instead, it is The Art of War by Sun-Tzu. Sun’s core belief is that the “ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting.”

So it is no surprise that cunning and deception form an essential part of Chinese diplomatic and corporate culture. Indeed, down through the ages they have served as the touchstone for Chinese leaders’ survival and success.

Nowadays, we are witnessing the application of Sun’s ideas in Africa, where China’s prime objectives are to secure energy and mineral supplies to fuel its breakneck economic expansion, open up new markets, curtail Taiwan’s influence on the continent, consolidate its burgeoning global authority, and clinch for themselves African-allocated export quotas. (The Chinese takeovers of South African and Nigerian textile industries are good examples of this strategy. The textiles exported the world over by these industries are deemed African exports when in reality they are now Chinese exports.)

Astutely, China has sought to place its African investments and diplomacy within the context of the old non-aligned movement and “Bandung spirit,” an era when many Africans viewed China as a brotherly oppressed nation, and thus supported efforts by the People’s Republic to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, to replace Taiwan. And, of course, China offered firm backing for Africa’s anti-colonial struggles and efforts to end apartheid.