Posts Tagged ‘Angola’

Why the US just doesn’t have a chance against the Chinese in Africa

Friday, December 10th, 2010

No doubt Africans across the continent likely reacted with puzzlement to one of the latest revelations from the stream of leaked United States diplomatic cables from the controversial whistle-blower website Wikileaks.  After a century of aggressive United States economic, political and military engagement in Africa, particularly during the Cold War, it is laughably ironic Washington is somehow dismayed that China’s foreign policy in the region may not be entirely benevolent.

While history may conclude that the ends did justify the means in the resolution of the Cold War, Africa undeniably paid an extraordinarily high price for its role in American foreign policy during that period.  Whether it was Washington’s alliance with brutal dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Jonas Savimbi in Angola or its support of the apartheid government in Pretoria as an anti-communist bulwark.

By any measure, the United States was, and remains, deeply invested in Africa for its own, narrow geo-political interests.

So when considered in that context, it is somewhat surprising that the United States appears to be dismayed that China, like other countries, is aggressively pursuing its own economic, political and even military interests in Africa.

In a memo transmitted from the United States Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria on February 23, 2010, Washington’s top diplomat on African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, said: “China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons, China is in Africa for China primarily.”

The fact that Carson framed the issue in moralistic terms is fascinating because it reveals so much about how the United States still regards its foreign policy as somehow above the fray, almost with a divine sense of self-righteousness.  Implicit in his response is that Washington is in Africa not for its own interests but for the benefit of Africa in pursuit of some “altruistic” purpose.  Again, this must seem painfully ironic to those familiar with the history of American foreign policy on the continent.

The Assistant Secretary of State goes on to explain that Washington’s tolerance of Beijing’s engagement in Africa does in fact have its limits if China crosses one of the White House’s so-called “tripwires.”

“Have they signed military base agreements? Are they training armies? Have they developed intelligence operations?  Once these areas start developing then the US will start worrying,” Carson said.

So the United States seemingly has nothing to worry about until Beijing embarks on a policy to significantly enhance the militarization of its African foreign policy?  Right? Well, it appears that Washington’s perspective adheres to that old adage if you think you’re a hammer then the rest of the world just looks like a bunch of nails.

If Carson’s narrow-minded focus on the militarization of Chinese foreign policy is the benchmark of when to “worry” about the competition from the Chinese and his characterization of China’s engagement in Africa in such stark moralistic terms, then the United States truly does not understand the challenge that it is up against and likely stands only a slim chance of mounting an effective policy of its own.

For an American, such as myself, it’s hard to decide whether to laugh… or cry.

A Behind the Scenes View of the Chinese in Africa

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

For most outsiders, the Chinese operations in Africa run largely as an opaque mystery.  Seemingly every Western book or in-depth news article on the subject features the same complaint of not receiving any help from either Chinese officials or businesses there about how the mechanics of their investments in the region function.   Basic questions like how are factories acquired or what kind of support do Chinese embassies offer local businesses in the region largely go unanswered.

The Chinese in AfricaFor some perspective on these issues, I came across a fascinating bulletin board site (BBS) that offers remarkable insights into the inner-workings of Chinese business on the continent: The site is exclusively in Chinese, so for the benefit of CTP’s English-only readers, here are some highlights of recent entries:


How Chinese Businesses in Africa see the

Chinese Embassy

One entry submitted by a writer with the handle “Old African Trader” posts what appears to be an open letter to the Chinese government appealing on behalf of business leaders for more help from Chinese embassies on the continent.   The posts starts by saying how much pride there is seeing the Chinese flag rise over Africa and the emergence of China as a global power.  However, he goes on to sharply criticize the government for its lack of support of small businesses operating in Africa:

although Chinese African exchanges are deepening and broadening and more investors are coming to Africa, and everyone can say that those in Africa live a lonely, solitary life devoted to work and the embassy offers almost no help to these businesses”


If this writer is accurate, it offers a fascinating insight into the limitations of the “public-private partnership” that so many outside observers take for granted when evaluating Chinese investments in Africa.  On several occasions in Kinshasa and elsewhere, U.S. diplomats expressed their frustration that Chinese businesses had an unfair business advantage over American companies because of the close diplomatic/corporate relationship that allegedly exists among Chinese enterprises investing in Africa.  Yet this open letter exposes that there are limits to the Chinese government’s support of businesses.  Where Chinese embassies draw the line on what business to support is hard to know, it’s obvious that major State Owned Enterprise (SOE) multinationals operating mining and telecommunications concessions among other deals in places the DRC are very likely getting a lot of support from the embassy whereas medium and small investors, as the writer appears to represent, may not be getting very much assistance.


Toothpaste Factory Seeks African Trade Partner

牙膏外盒If you are interested in importing “Angola” brand toothpaste to Africa, then this post will be of interest. The author of this post appears to be seeking business partners in Africa to import this toothpaste.  What’s most interesting about this post is the advertised price of the toothpaste at just 1.2 RMB per unit.  This sheds some light on China’s low-cost export strategy that we have been discussing on CTP.  At just 1.2 RMB per unit, this toothpaste is affordable for a wide-spectrum of consumers at the lowest end of the economic spectrum.


Togo Sinocar Auto Sales and Repair

[Welcomes/Greets] Togo-based Chinese Friends

togo sinocarIf you happen to live in the small West African country of Togo and want to either purchase a Chinese-made vehicle or get your “Great Wall” car repaired, then Togo Sinocar is the place to go.  The author of this post, seemingly the owner or manager of Togo Sinocar, explains how this venture is the first Chinese auto sales and repair company in the country.  Togo Sinocar has 10 employees and two Chinese engineers to serve the community.  What’s most interesting here is the range of services they offer. In the U.S. or Europe, an auto repair or sales dealer does just that, whereas with Togo Sinocar, the list of services is much broader. In addition to emergency tow services they’ll also help you secure either your Togo or international drivers licenses as well.

There are hundreds of other posts on this BBS that are worthy of exploration, some very personal about finding lost relatives who went to Africa and those searching for love in Africa.   We’ll bring you more posts in the coming weeks as this site offers a truly unique view into Chinese life on the continent that is hard to come by even among those living there.

What Americans Don’t Understand About China’s Rise in Africa

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Most Chinese people do not fully understand the extent to which Americans disregard events beyond their own borders.  It’s completely understandable that Chinese observers get confused on this front because from their vantage point the United States is usa_china_oila far more open and globalized country than China is today.  So how can it be that major geopolitical shifts go completely unseen by the American people?  Well, they do.  And none more significant than what is currently underway across the African continent where the United States is on the verge of being displaced by China as the continent’s largest investor, according to several reliable estimates.   “OK, so what?” the skeptic might say.  Investment patterns change with time and sometimes the United States will be on top and sometimes it won’t.  Fair point.  However, I invite you to consider the consequences of one very important development in Africa: oil.

  • Across Africa, from Algeria in the North to Angola in the South, China’s state-owned oil majors are investing tens of billions of dollars in exploration and extraction.
  • In Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa’s smallest countries yet one of the continent’s largest oil states, Chinese oil companies are displacing American majors as the country’s preferred foreign oil partners.

“Interesting, but not earth shattering,” you might counter.  What’s the catch?

  • Unlike American and international oil companies, according to journalist Richard Behar, Chinese oil companies are not extracting oil to put it on the international market.  Instead, the Chinese are locking up the oil just for themselves, taking it off the market entirely.  This has two important consequences for Americans to consider:
    1. The United States is constantly seeking ways to minimize its dependence on both Middle Eastern and Venezuelan sources of crude.  With China locking up exclusive oil contracts in Africa, the challenge of finding new, non-confrontational sources of oil becomes much more difficult.
    2. China’s decision to move that oil directly into own system and not into the international market has the potential to reduce overall supply and introduce new pricing pressures on already rising crude prices.

The United States has made remarkably little progress in overhauling its energy policy and reducing its dependence on imported oil.  Given the current domestic political realities where it will be difficult to impose radical changes on an economically beleaguered American electorate, it would be foolish to expect any radical adjustments in either energy policy or energy taxes.  So with China’s aggressive moves in Africa, Americans may soon wake up one day to learn that the days of enjoying cheap energy have finally come to an end.