Ever since the Berlin conference of 1883, which Belgium’s King Leopold II called “the sharing of Africa’s cake,” the West has assumed exclusive rights over sub-Saharan Africa. But, while centuries of struggle to end colonial rule and apartheid have not changed this much, now Western influence is being challenged by China, which likewise covets Africa’s rich reserves of minerals and resources.
China is winning goodwill across the continent by tapping into shared anti-colonial resentments – and by treating the continent seriously. The next meeting, later this year, of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (CACF), established to promote trade and investment, will include 46 African heads of state, along with China’s leaders. In any case, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Vice President Zeng Quinghong, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visit the continent regularly.
China’s moves to strengthen its African ties have three objectives: to consolidate secure energy and mineral supplies, to curtail Taiwan’s influence on the continent (which harbours six of the 26 countries with which it maintains full diplomatic relations), and to augment China’s burgeoning global authority.
China has invested billions of dollars in African oil production, mining, transportation, electricity production and transmission, telecommunications, and other infrastructure. In 2004 alone, China’s foreign direct investment in Africa represented $900 million of the continent’s $15 billion total.