Containing China in the Developing World










Joseph M. Staub

October 2007




          ?In recent years China has expanded diplomatic relations in Africa and, to a lesser extent, Latin America. In November of 2006, a summit in Beijing between the Chinese government and nearly 40 African heads of state. The summit concluded with China and Africa launching a “new nearly $2 billion in deals. Ten years ago, China’s foreign aid to African countries numbered roughly around $100 million, today that number is closer to $2.7 billion. Closer ties are most evident in Beijing’s increased investment in and booming trade with the African continent. From 2000 to 2005, trade between China and Africa increased from under $10 billion up to nearly $50 billion. [1]What has been motivating Beijing’s increased interests in regions outside their traditional sphere of influence? The main force driving this interest in Africa and Latin America is the Chinese’s desire to gain access to oil and other important natural resources, but it is conceivable that developing close relations with some of these nations might prove beneficial in curbing the United States global influence.


Sustaining Chinese growth.


          ?China’s economy is booming, averaging 9.1% per year for the past decade, and can only be sustained by increasingly high levels of energy consumption. At one time China was the largest exporter of oil in Asia, now they are the world’s second largest importer of petroleum products behind the United States. In addition, China has other insatiable hungers, having become the world’s largest consumer of many other raw materials, including aluminum, copper, and iron ore. Domestic production of oil in China has declined and become increasingly stagnant. Based on the current trends; demand will continue to rise, thus dictating the need for the Chinese to increase both their imports and the number of suppliers in order to avert possible shortages. China currently imports roughly 30% of its oil from Africa, mainly from Angola, Sudan, and the Republic of Congo. Yet, China is wary of over-dependence on its African and Middle Eastern energy suppliers, who all run the risk of “internal political upheaval or terrorist attack.?In addition most of China’s oil imports from the aforementioned countries pass through the unstable Strait of Malacca, where piracy is a concern. This has prompted China to also look towards Latin American energy producing countries that could ship directly across the Pacific. [2]


Chinese interests in U.S. dominated Latin America.


          ?Chinese interests in Latin America include “direct stakes in energy companies, joint ventures with state companies and investment in infrastructure?a style='mso-footnote-id:ftn3' href="#_ftn3" name="_ftnref3" title="">[3] as well as a pledge to invest US$100 billion over ten years. Beijing however appears to be taking a rather pragmatic approach to relations with Latin American countries. The Chinese are aware of the United States? traditional hegemony in the region, and will be careful to not appear as if they are challenging it. China will thus be reluctant to offer political support to Latin American allies like Venezuela, for fear of clashing with the U.S. This does not necessarily mean that in the future the dragon will awake when the time is right and expand its regional influence, but at the present Chinese presence in Latin America is nothing more than a perceived threat rather than a reality. Latin America is heavily dependent economically on the U.S., and is likely to remain so for quite some time. In 2005 Latin America sent only 4% of its total exports to China, whereas 47% went to the United States. Even if China follows through and fulfills its pledge of US$100 billion to the region, it will still be dwarfed by the economic influence of the U.S. The United States should be mindful about China’s involvement in the region but not overly guarded. The Chinese will never become overly dependent on oil from Latin America and they do not consider the region valuable enough to risk provoking the U.S.[4] The issue of containing the spread of Chinese influence is much more pressing in Southeast Asia and the African continent.


Red Dragon rising on the Dark Continent.


          ?The United States and other Western Democracies should be wary of China’s increasing presence in African countries. The Chinese increased need for energy and raw materials was one of the main factors contributing to a surge in global commodity prices. This surge proved to be rather beneficial for the economies of sub-Saharan Africa in 2001-04, when GDP growth accelerated to an average of 4.4%. In 2005, 10% of sub-Saharan Africa’s international trade was with China, a number that is projected to double by 2010.[5] While the Chinese most transparent objective driving their African foreign policy is to secure energy and raw materials, political objectives are also being secured. Recipients of Chinese investment are conditioned to endorse a unified People’s Republic of China, rejecting Taiwanese sovereignty. Thus far forty-eight African countries have cut off diplomatic ties to Taipei and adhered to Beijing’s “one-China? principle. For the most part, China’s aid packages are given without conditionalities or pressures to reduce poverty or cooperate with international financial organizations. This might seem very alluring to African leaders and bureaucrats who may resent such conditionalities placed on their governments by Western donors.

          ?China’s increasing presence in the developing world also means “the spread of businesses with poor environmental and labor regulations and little accountability.?The availability of large amounts aid and diplomatic attention from China with little or no conditionalities imposed on the recipient also serves to undermine the ability of Western donors or multilaterals to encourage democratization and “good governance?in exchange for their aid. According to the tenants of realism, Hans Morgenthau states: ?/span>Much of what goes by the name of foreign aid today is in the nature of bribes. The transfer of money and services from one government to another performs here the function of a price paid for political services rendered or to be rendered.?a style='mso-footnote-id:ftn6' href="#_ftn6" name="_ftnref6" title="">[6] Morgenthau’s statement explains the logic and means behind which Beijing is attempting to accrue natural resources and spread its influence as an emerging player in the international political arena. As the Chinese increase their flow of investment and aid, Western influence, perceived by many Africans as neo-colonial in nature, will undoubtedly begin to diminish.





United States in Africa Past and Present.


          ??/span>The United States spent billions in Africa during the Cold War attempting to align nations with the West and contain the spread of communism. In fact much of Africa became a proxy battlefield for U.S.-Soviet competition during the 1970s and 1980s. The United States gave billions in the guise of foreign aid to countries that served strategic U.S. interests or aligned against the Soviets, such as natural resource rich Zaire (Congo). The U.S. often made promises to contribute to sustainable economic growth, peace, and security, but the priorities of supporting Cold War objectives frequently outweighed their desire to contribute significantly to African development. Much of the aid given to African nations went directly from the U.S. into the hands of corrupt leaders, and did little to contribute constructively to tackling the plethora of problem facing the continent.

          ?The immediate post-Cold War years saw a decline in U.S. involvement and interest in Africa as the result of the disastrous intervention in Somalia and the Clinton administrations failure to deal with the Rwandan genocide. Ultimately the U.S. became impatient trying to achieve unrealistic short-term goals, and an inability to sustain funding. The United States also placed a higher priority on other significant global developments. This contributed to the widely-held African view that the United States was an unreliable partner. A 1995 Department of Defense Security Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa stated that “ultimately we see very little traditional strategic interest in Africa.?a style='mso-footnote-id:ftn7' href="#_ftn7" name="_ftnref7" title="">[7] After the events of September 11, the United States under the Bush administration reevaluated Africa’s strategic importance. The 2006 National Security Strategy stated that “Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high priority…our security depends upon partnering with Africans.?a style='mso-footnote-id:ftn8' href="#_ftn8" name="_ftnref8" title="">[8] This Bush administrations newfound interest in Africa in terms of American national security concerns sounds promising, but how will a plan be implemented. The U.S. has in the past spent more time and money responding to African crises than it has helping African states develop means to prevent crisis from arising in the first place.


Containing the Dragon:


          ?The United States for far to long has reduced its strategic interests in Africa to simply securing energy resources and countering terrorism. Rather it was only considered convenient, not integral, to the U.S.?physical welfare and economic affluence to address humanitarian and development challenges. The more the United States views Africa as significant to its long term strategic interests, the more likely effective solutions to these challenges will be sought. The more tactical and involved the U.S.?strategy in Africa is, the more appealing it will be. Offering aid and investment, with lots strings attached will ultimately fail to win over the support the U.S. so desires. The Chinese have begun to offer an enticing model of development which is more hands-off than Western democracies, and this would appear to be more appealing than submitting to a host of perceived neo-colonial demands. Africa’s strategic importance in the global system may appear to be lagging because of the extreme poverty that exists in some regions and the internal disorder that plagues many states, but if the U.S. does not move to counter China sooner than later it might be to late.

          ?It has been suggested that overall prosperity created by a democratic market could conceivably cause reforms along democratic lines to spontaneously emerge. Before a democratic market is able to appeal to parts of Africa, the Chinese will have already undermined any attempts to spread further democracy, because their foreign aid and investment model is one that does not push for increased democratic values and more transparency within the government. Many Africans are wary of Western intentions, perceiving them as an act of neo-colonialism. America’s influence and economic power in Latin America has kept China at arms length, but its waning power in Africa has allowed China to put its foot in the door. The Chinese could conceivably be poised to create a coalition of its own, as it musters support across the developing world. The Chinese are not just investing money and increasing trade with African nations; they are promoting Chinese cultural and language studies as well as providing scholarships to gifted students to go to a university in China. The Chinese are not just trying to line the pockets of Africans; they are trying to cultivate the minds and hearts of African elites. The United States must mobilize to ensure that the Chinese respect territorial sovereignty. It would be easy to discount Africa as a lost continent in the eyes of the west, but the fact of the matter is that if western democracies do not act to contain China’s emerging influence in the developing world, then places like Africa might be lost to another alliance, one spearheaded by China.













Works Cited


          ?"A Cautious Welcome." Economist. 3 Feb. 2007. 27 Sept. 2007 <>.


          ?"Africa and China." Economist. 3 Nov. 2006. 24 Sept. 2007 <>.


          ?Chaveas, Peter. "A Renewed Interest: US-Africa Engagement." Harvard International Review (2007): 58-62.


          ?"Growing Energy Nexus." Economist. 10 Apr. 2007. 25 Sept. 2007 <>.


          ?Morgenthau, Hans. "A Political Theory of Foreign Aid." The American Political Science Review os 56 (1962): 301-309. JSTOR. University of Georgia, Athens. 27 Feb. 2007.



[1]             ?"Africa and China." Economist. 3 Nov. 2006. 24 Sept. 2007 <

[2] "Growing Energy Nexus." Economist. 10 Apr. 2007. 25 Sept. 2007 <

[3] "Growing Energy Nexus." Economist. 10 Apr. 2007. 25 Sept. 2007 <

[4]             ?"Growing Energy Nexus." Economist. 10 Apr. 2007. 25 Sept. 2007 <

[5]             ?"A Cautious Welcome." Economist. 3 Feb. 2007. 27 Sept. 2007 <

[6]         ?Morgenthau, Hans. "A Political Theory of Foreign Aid." The American Political Science Review os 56 (1962): 301-309. JSTOR. University of Georgia, Athens. 27 Feb. 2007.


[7] Chaveas, Peter. "A Renewed Interest: US-Africa Engagement." Harvard International Review (2007): 58-62.

[8]             ?Chaveas, Peter. "A Renewed Interest: US-Africa Engagement." Harvard International Review (2007): 58-62.