Projects Big & Small: Chinese Money Keeps Flowing to West Africa

Last month’s announcement that Beijing would pick up the tab on the interior decorating costs for the ministerial palace in Guinea Bissau is instructive to anyone who may still not fully understand how serious China is about its relations in West Africa. guinea bissau These guys are playing for keeps and it will be up to the humbled diplomats from the “former countries of influence” to figure out a new strategy of engaging regional governments with their bilateral policies in shambles.  What is so interesting about the Chinese strategy is how comprehensive it is: attending to every detail from a country like Guinea Bissau’s infrastructure to debt restructure and, even an item as seemingly-trivial as new drapes for the Prime Minister and his cabinet.  Just as with classic counter-insurgency strategy, wars are not won or lost on the battlefield but rather in the hearts and minds of the population.  “But redecorating the PM’s mansion isn’t for the people?” you might retort!  Fair enough, but those Chinese interior designers will likely do a bang-up job with their makeover and the hearts and minds of that ministerial cabinet will no doubt be in the good graces of Beijing for some time to come.

What would justify this kind of largesse to a tiny West African country such as Guinea Bissau?  Consider that next door in neighboring Guinea (yes, it is confusing that both these countries have the same first name), Chinese mining companies are digging up piles upon piles of the world’s most valuable mineral ore bauxite.   Guinea is home to world’s largest bauxite reserves and thus plays a critical role for China’s aluminum production that is critical to many products and manufacturing components.

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