Assessing China’s Growing
Influence in Africa
Bates Gill, Chin-hao Huang
& J. Stephen Morrison
hina’s emergence as a rising global power garners increasing attention,
much in Asia, but increasingly also in Africa. China’s new strategic partnership
with Africa, unveiled at the November 2006 Beijing Summit of the Forum on Chi-
na and Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), marks an historic moment in China-Africa
relations. China’s highest leadership actively espoused FOCAC’s ambitious vi-
sion, which was enthusiastically embraced by 43 heads of state and a total of 48
African delegations.
Following the summit, senior Chinese officials, including President Hu Jin-
tao and then-Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing visited 15 different African countries
within the first quarter of 2007. Assistant Minister Zhai Jun’s visit to Sudan,
and the subsequent appointment of Ambassador Liu Guijin as China’s special
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
China Security, Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007, pp. 3 - 21
2007 World Security Institute
Bates Gill holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and Interna-
tional Studies (CSIS). Chin-Hao Huang is a research assistant with the Freeman Chair in
China Studies. J. Stephen Morrison is the director of the Africa Program at CSIS.
envoy for Darfur, in April and May 2007 respectively, drew considerable press
attention. These steps are reflective of Beijing’s acute sensitivities and perceived
need to make a much higher diplomatic investment to work with the interna-
tional community in moving the Annan Plan forward.
At this early stage, how-
ever, there is no guarantee for success with Beijing’s approach. While Khartoum
has expressed its intention to comply with the Annan Plan, its commitment to
follow through is uncertain. As such, Beijing remains vulnerable to continued
criticism from advocacy groups concerned with Darfur for enabling Khartoum’s
China’s expansive engagement has raised hopes across Africa that China will
turn its attention to long-neglected areas such as infrastructure and that its stra-
tegic approach will raise Africa’s global status, intensify political and market
competition, create promising new choices in external partnerships, strength-
en African capacities to combat malaria and HIV/AIDS and promote economic
growth. It also raises nettlesome policy issues and complex implementation
challenges that China will increasingly confront in the future.
For the United States, China’s growing engagement in Africa inherently car-
ries significant implications. Like China, the United States is in the midst of an
expanding phase of engagement in Africa.
The tripling of U.S. foreign assistance
levels to Africa in public health, economic development and good governance,
the substantial enlargement of military commitment since 9/11, and the increas-
ing volume of two-way trade in the private sector, concentrated in the energy
field, reflect rising U.S. interests in the continent. The George W. Bush admin-
istration has also made an unprecedented high-level commitment to Sudan. Up
to now, however, the United States and China have each been largely absorbed
in their separate, respective spheres, enlarging their presence and activities in
Africa with little systematic or substantive reference to the other.
Evolving Approach
China has substantively shifted its approach to Africa. Beijing supported
many liberation movements and other insurgencies in sub-Saharan Africa and
China’s Growing Influence
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
was quick to establish diplomatic ties and supportive economic relations with
newly independent states as they emerged from the colonial era. Indeed, for more
than half a century, the Chinese systematically cultivated solidarity and working
relations with a range of African states. It was a profitable diplomatic investment
which persisted into the post-Cold War era when Western powers were more
inclined to scale back their presence.
Today, China’s Africa policy is carried out on a higher plane and is more com-
plex, multidimensional, ambitious and, ultimately, entails greater risks. The
China-Africa summit in Beijing in November 2006 featured an effusive exchange
between Africa and China’s leadership. China’s
rising economic engagement is tied to conspicu-
ously strategic goals, centered on access to en-
ergy and other scarce high-value commodities.
On the diplomatic front, Beijing has shown a
new determination to complete the process of eliminating bilateral ties between
Taiwan and a dwindling number of African capitals, and to use its accelerating
entry into Africa to consolidate global allegiances and Beijing’s putative leader-
ship of the developing world. Beijing has also taken on a more active role in the
security sphere. China’s contributions of soldiers and police to U.N. peacekeep-
ing operations, concentrated in Africa, have increased ten-fold since 2001. As of
May 2007, China has provided over 1,800 troops, military observers and civilian
police toward current U.N. peacekeeping operations. Three-fourths of current
Chinese peacekeeping forces are supporting U.N. missions in Africa (primarily
Liberia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
Since November 2006, Beijing has taken steps to follow through with its com-
mitments to African countries by announcing that it had canceled US$1.42 bil-
lion of African debt and will cancel another $1 billion in mid-2007.
In May 2007,
China captured international attention when it hosted the annual African Devel-
opment Bank conference in Shanghai. China agreed to make an additional $20
billion pledge for infrastructure development in Africa over the next three years.
Its policy in many instances is tied to ambitious commitments to revitalize
Gill, Huang & Morrison
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
Today, China’s Africa policy
is carried out on a higher plane
and is more complex.
depleted critical infrastructures and invest in strengthening human skills on a
substantial scale. It is not only offi cial China that provides direct economic and
diplomatic support, however, as Chinese companies have become far more active
both as importers of African energy resources and raw materials, and exporters
of Chinese goods and services.
China’s Growing Infl uence
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
China’s FOCAC Action Plan Commitments
Send 100 senior Chinese agricultural experts to Africa and set up 10 agricultural
demonstration sites in Africa;
Set up a China-Africa Development Fund gradually amounting to $5 billion to
support “well-established and reputable” Chinese fi rms investing in Africa;
Increase the number (from 190 to over 440) of items exported to China from
the least developed countries in Africa that have diplomatic relations with
China and are eligible for zero-tariff treatment;
Double development assistance to Africa by 2009;
Provide $3 billion for preferential loans and $2 billion for preferential export
buyers’ credit to African countries in the next three years;
Cancel the interest-free government loans that were due by the end of 2005, for
African countries with diplomatic ties with China and are classifi ed as heavily-
indebted poor countries (HIPCs) and/or least developed countries (LDCs);
Train 15,000 professionals from African countries in the next three years;
Set up 100 rural schools and double the number of scholarships for African
students to 4,000;
Build 10 hospitals and 30 anti-malaria clinics, while providing approximately
$37.5 million for the purchase of anti-malarial drugs; and
Send 300 Chinese young people to Africa over the next three years, under the
Chinese Young Volunteers Serving Africa Program, to support education,
agriculture, sports and health-related programs.
The China International Poverty Alleviation Center, established in mid-2005
to strengthen international exchanges on poverty reduction and facilitate in-
ternational collaboration on poverty reduction, has hosted two 15-day training
courses, allowing visiting African officials to gain a first-hand understanding of
China’s poverty reduction programs in some
of its poorest provinces. The Ministry of Com-
merce and the Ministry of Agriculture had also
jointly sent five working groups to more than
a dozen African countries to plan the estab-
lishment of agricultural technology demonstration centers in order to enhance
collaboration on seed production technologies, water-saving and biological tech-
nologies in agriculture, food security, and animal health and plant protection.
China has also deepened its commitments to help African nations tackle pub-
lic health problems. In May 2007, at the 60
annual World Health Organization
(WHO) meeting in Geneva, then-Minister of Health Gao Qiang announced that
Beijing would donate $8 million to the WHO to build African countries’ capacity
and response mechanisms to public health emergencies. Gao also called on other
member states to increase their aid to strengthen public health systems in Africa
and other developing countries.
Beijing’s proactive engagement with Africa is based on several key factors
that underlie the new Chinese approach.
Chinese officials portray themselves
as seeking only friendly and respectful political linkages with Africa, based on a
legacy of over 50 years of solidarity and development assistance. In Beijing’s view
China’s historical experience and development model resonate powerfully with
African counterparts, and create a comparative advantage vis-à-vis the West.
China emerged from colonial encroachment, internal chaos and economic desti-
tution to achieve spectacular economic growth and infrastructure development.
In the past two decades, its achievements have lifted over 200 million Chinese
citizens out of poverty. In the meantime, China can claim that it has achieved
political stability and increasing international clout. Such a national narrative,
some have asserted, has a powerful resonance in Africa.
Gill, Huang & Morrison
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
China’s historical experience
and development model resonate
powerfully with Africa.
Chinese strategists maintain that Africa is on the verge of developmental take-
off – another idea that is well received in the region – creating an opportune
moment for a more expansive Chinese role. According to this view, Africa has
realized a period of relative stability and calm as compared to the dark days of the
1990s, when protracted conflicts raged in more than a dozen countries. Chinese
interlocutors recognize that while pockets of conflict still persist and require
close international engagement, Africa, by and large, has emerged into a conti-
nent of relative peace and stability, poised to make major developmental gains.
As such, Beijing is keen to get in on the ground floor and be an integral part of
Africa’s impending political and economic transformation.
China’s policy-makers are also confident that a state-centric approach to Africa
will build strategically on Beijing’s core strengths and align with the stated pref-
erences of African countries. For Beijing, such an approach plays to its strengths.
Its Africa policy is not complicated by private domestic constituencies and inter-
est groups, allowing quicker and more decisive ac-
tion. China’s largest economic and business activi-
ties in Africa are dominated by state-owned and/or
state-influenced companies, giving official Beijing
another leg up in political and economic competi-
tion in Africa. China lacks well-developed, independent business and civil soci-
ety sectors, which for now leaves the full responsibility for carrying forward its
vision in the hands of state leaders and official diplomats.
Most important, Beijing’s approach with Africa fits squarely within China’s
global foreign policy, including important initiatives in Southeast Asia, Central
Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Africa is seen as integral to Beijing’s
strategic ambition to advance a “new security concept” that can ensure China’s
peaceful rise as a global power and strengthen relations with key neighbors and
regions. Through its overarching global approach, China’s leadership seeks to
sustain China’s internal development and political stability at home, legitimize
the historic benefits of China’s rise within the international community, and
achieve its long-term goal of a more multi-polar, equitable and “democratic” in-
China’s Growing Influence
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
Beijing’s approach with Africa
fits squarely within China’s
global foreign policy.
ternational system. In the words of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokes-
man Liu Jianchao, today, “China needs Africa.”
It needs Africa for resources to
fuel China’s development goals, for markets to sustain its growing economy and
for political alliances to support its aspirations to be a global influence.
Emergent Challenges
The payoffs to China financially and politically may ultimately be very signifi-
cant and alter Western understanding of what kinds of intervention can achieve
durable results. However multiple risks also attend China’s expansive engage-
ment in Africa. Business calculations on major investments are murky, and many
will likely turn out bad. The bet that China can transform Africa’s infrastruc-
tures where others have failed awaits proof of success, and challenges are surfac-
ing for Beijing in translating its vision of a strategic partnership with Africa into
a sustainable reality.
The expectation that China can have significant sway politically and displace
the influence of others must take into account Africa’s sensitivity to anything
that smacks of neocolonialism, and how callous and indifferent “petropowers”
in Africa have become as global energy markets tighten. In selecting energy-rich
Angola and Nigeria as preferred partners, and in choosing to closely support
Zimbabwe, China has selected three of the most corrupt and difficult environ-
ments to build relations in. In Ethiopia, Niger and Nigeria, the wave of kidnap-
ping incidents demonstrates that Chinese investments are becoming increasing-
ly vulnerable to local conflicts and instability. In Sudan, Beijing finds its partner
embedded in enormous political and moral controversies of its own making. In
South Africa, it has entered a place of acutely high sensitivities to encroachments
upon sovereignty.
Beijing is beginning to encounter serious challenges, such as criticism by a
Zambian presidential candidate during the 2006 elections that China engages
in unfair mine labor practices
and South African trade union opposition to the
flooding of South African markets by Chinese textiles.
In addition, environmen-
tal networks, human rights advocacy groups and a widening array of civil society
Gill, Huang & Morrison
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
organizations in Africa have begun to exert a stronger push back.
Some adjust-
ments in approach, such as voluntary textile export quotas for South Africa, have
now been set in place. While in Namibia in February 2007, Hu made a special
point to meet with Chinese entrepreneurs and expatriates in the region, urg-
ing them to respect investment rules, labor issues and broaden their engagement
with the local community.
As China deepens its economic and corporate engagement in Africa, it is be-
ginning to sense increasing tensions and competing interests between the vari-
ous government agencies involved, which includes the Ministry of Commerce,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administra-
tion Commission and provincial governments.
Different government actors
bring different interests and leverage points to the debate about Africa policy,
as well as varying capacities to see those interests served within China and with
regard to Africa. For example, increasingly market-oriented Chinese enterprises
– and their state-related shareholders back in China – are primarily interested
in profit-making in their international operations. While understandable, it is
unclear how these enterprises will proceed if profit-seeking complicates or con-
tradicts broader Chinese government policy in Africa. In short, the complex web
of internal decision-making processes, the stove-piped nature of the Chinese bu-
reaucracy, and the government’s limited capability to dampen the “reputational
risks” posed by the Chinese diaspora business community all reflect the increas-
ing difficulties for the central government to coordinate and implement official
In addition, China will need to work assiduously to overcome obstacles tied to
language, culture, religion and racial bias. Because Chinese is not widely spoken
in Africa, Chinese diplomats, businessmen, technicians, doctors, peacekeepers
and other “cultural ambassadors” must learn languages widely spoken in Africa
– such as English and French – in order to be most effective. Similarly, future Chi-
nese engagement in Africa will need to take into greater account the exceptional
religiosity of African societies and develop an official approach, now largely ab-
sent, for engaging religious leaderships. Religious organizations, Muslim and
China’s Growing Influence
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
Christian alike, provide a broad and widening range of social services, especially
in education and health; have extensive linkages with their counterparts outside
Africa; and have a strong public voice on matters of public debate. Within the
global Christian world, the Protestant and Catholic communities in Africa are
the fastest growing in terms of membership and participation. Africa’s 300 mil-
lion Muslims comprise highly complex, dynamic and variegated communities.
There are also increasing pressures on China to embrace greater transparency
and do more to harmonize its donor activity in Africa with ongoing international
assistance, especially with respect to debt. Chinese practices of tying loans to
African commodity exports are contradictory to existing lending practices set
forth in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
agreements. In late 2006, the European In-
vestment Bank and the International Mon-
etary Fund (IMF) warned that China’s
emergence as a major creditor is creating
a wave of new debt for African countries.
The question of debt sustainability was also raised by the former World Bank
president Paul Wolfowitz in October 2006.
Washington is particularly con-
cerned with Africa’s borrowing patterns and the impact this may have on the
long-term effectiveness of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt re-
lief initiative and the related $31 billion debt relief package for Nigeria, concluded
at the 2005 Group of Eight Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. Most dramatically,
in September 2006 the U.S. Department of the Treasury reportedly labeled China
as a “rogue creditor” practicing “opportunistic lending.”
A large part of Western concerns over Chinese lending practices stems from
the fact that at the present time there is no systematic sharing of data by Chi-
nese ministries with international and bilateral donors deeply invested in Africa,
or with African participants in the emerging strategic partnership launched in
Beijing. Effective bilateral or multilateral mechanisms have yet to be established
at a broad international or country level for integrating assistance and avoiding
duplication. China’s approach makes little reference to how its efforts will relate
Gill, Huang & Morrison
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
China must work assiduously to
overcome obstacles tied to language,
culture, religion and racial bias.
to those of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the IMF,
World Bank and other international assistance organizations. There is mounting
concern that Chinese lending practices undermine the debt relief strategies de-
vised over the past decade in cooperation with African states and regional bodies
that have dramatically reduced the debt burden in Africa. The fear is that Chi-
nese lending practices may encourage the rapid recurrence of an unsustainable
debt burden in Africa.
In May 2007, the World Bank and the Chinese Export-Import Bank signed a
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would enhance collaboration on
road and energy investment projects in Uganda, Ghana and Mozambique.
MOU is a step in the right direction to further engage China to become an impor-
tant actor in the global donor system and creditor to African nations.
Darfur: The Elephant in the Room
The question of responding to humanitarian crises, such as Sudan’s Darfur re-
gion has become one of the most formidable challenges for Beijing in translating
its vision of a strategic partnership with Africa into a sustainable reality. It is fac-
ing persistent pressure to support humanitarian interventions, and Beijing has
begun to realize that adhering to a formal policy of noninterference and putting
it into consistent practice will be difficult.
U.S. critics often focus narrowly on China’s pursuit of energy as the best ex-
planatory lens through which to understand China’s policies in Sudan. Some
American voices argue that the Chinese engagement in Africa is predominantly
a form of crude mercantilism and political interventionism that directly threat-
ens U.S. interests and calls for confrontation, condemnation and containment.
An array of human rights advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations,
for example, have placed intense pressure on the U.S. government to take deci-
sive, punitive measures in response to the situation in Darfur, including calls for
forced humanitarian intervention and branding the 2008 Beijing Olympics as the
“Genocide Olympics.”
In fact, China’s expansive engagement in Sudan (and in Africa on the whole)
China’s Growing Influence
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
is a complex new reality which we only partially grasp: fast moving, multidimen-
sional and long range in its various impacts. The Darfur issue, in particular, is a
case in point where Chinese policy has made subtle, incremental shifts. China
faces increasing debate and complexity over its policy choices.
Progressives in
the Chinese policy-making elite argue that Sudan’s oil assets are not worth pur-
suing in the long run, and have suggested scaling back relations with Khartoum
in an attempt to burnish China’s image and international reputation. Conversely,
there is a tendency among Chinese conservatives to argue that the United States
and other Western countries are merely trying to force China out of Sudan to get
to its oil.
Chinese critics are also quick to point out that the United States – by
dealing closely with such countries as Equatorial Guinea – is just as likely to en-
gage in an uncritical embrace of autocratic, corrupt and unstable regimes.
No less important is the fact that Chinese views on Darfur are shaped by dis-
cussions with African states. Many leaders in sub-Saharan African states find
Khartoum’s actions in Darfur offensive on human rights, religious and racial
grounds. Khartoum’s full compliance to follow through with the Annan Plan is
questionable, and the inability of the international community to bring great-
er stability to Sudan mean in practice that African Union peacekeeping forces,
including troops from South Africa, Rwanda and Nigeria, remain under grave
strain and cannot be reliably sustained, placing the force under considerable risk.
China for its part is susceptible to be called to account within Africa for enabling
Khartoum’s intransigence and impeding the efforts of the African Union.
As a result, a gradual shift in Chinese thinking is exhibited in several concrete
actions taken by Beijing to exert additional pressure on Khartoum. The Chinese
ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, has become very active and
was widely credited in gaining Sudanese acceptance for the Annan Plan in No-
vember 2006.
In February 2007, there were unrealistically high hopes that Hu might compel
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to accept the hybrid force. In public, China
continued to emphasize its economic ties with Sudan and made new pledges of
support, including aid for the building of a presidential palace. Understandably,
these announcements drew international opprobrium.
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
Gill, Huang & Morrison
In private, Hu reportedly personally intervened to press al-Bashir to stick to
his commitments. And prior to leaving Sudan, Hu delivered a rare public state-
ment that outlined “four principles” as the basis for an international approach to
The first, not unexpectedly, reaffirmed the principle of noninterference.
But the fourth principle seemed to contradict the first, saying that “it is imperative
to improve the situation in Darfur and living conditions of local people.”
is about as close as a Chinese leader has come to publicly support the emerging
notion within the United Nations and the broader international community that
governments have a “responsibility to protect” their citizens from harm.
Furthermore, in March 2007, China’s main economic planning agency, the
National Development and Reform Commission, released a public document in
conjunction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce,
noting that Sudan had been removed from the latest list of countries with pre-
ferred trade status.
According to the announcement, Beijing would no longer
provide financial incentives to Chinese companies to invest in Sudan. This latest
move appears to be a signal of Chinese disaffection with al-Bashir’s unwilling-
ness to comply with his commitments to implement the Annan Plan.
The announcement was welcomed by the U.S. State Department and came
shortly before Chinese Assistant Minister Zhai Jun arrived in Washington to
meet with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer for the
second round of U.S.-China subdialogue on Africa in March 2007.
The inaugu-
ral dialogue was formally launched in November 2005 under the auspices of the
U.S.-China Senior Dialogue process initiated by former Deputy Secretary of State
Robert Zoellick.
While the first bilateral meeting on Africa focused largely on
formalities, the second subdialogue in early March 2007 focused on the specific
issues of debt sustainability, peacekeeping operations, Chinese companies’ repu-
tational risks in Africa, and transparency in the extractive industries. On Sudan,
the Chinese reportedly acknowledged the need for the international community
to step up efforts and become more active in leveraging their respective influ-
ences on Darfur.
In April 2007, Assistant Minister Zhai Jun visited Sudan to get a fuller under-
standing of the tense political relations between Darfur and government leaders
China’s Growing Influence
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
in Khartoum. Zhai was also the first senior Chinese official to visit the internally
displaced person (IDP) camps and to meet with a wide range of faction and mili-
tary leaders as well as local refugees in Darfur. The visit has allowed Beijing of-
ficials to engage in a dialogue with the concerned parties and to make a clearer
assessment of the current realities of the humanitarian situation in Darfur.
Shortly after Zhai’s visit, Beijing announced the appointment of Ambassador
Liu Guijin as the special envoy to Africa. Liu, a seasoned diplomat, has taken on
the Darfur issue as a top priority. Liu has visit-
ed Sudan at least twice since his appointment
and conducted diplomatic consultations with
concerned parties in Addis Ababa, Brussels,
Paris and Pretoria to help move the agenda
forward in Darfur. Following Khartoum’s acceptance of an expanded peacekeep-
ing force in Darfur in June 2007, Liu reportedly stated that Beijing had been using
“very direct language” as well as its “own wisdom” to persuade Khartoum to ac-
cept the A.U./U.N. hybrid force.
At the fourth round of the U.S.-China Senior Dialogue held between June 20
and 21, 2007, discussions between Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte
and Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo covered a range of key bilateral and glob-
al issues, including Darfur. A couple of constructive developments resulted from
this meeting. First, the State Department’s official statement at the end of the di-
alogue acknowledged the Chinese characterization of Darfur as a “humanitarian
crisis” (as opposed to genocide).
Second, the two sides agreed that the various
subdialogues, including those about Africa, should continue in order to deepen
mutual understanding and enhance collaboration in areas of common concern.
In assessing the March and June 2007 dialogues between Washington and
Beijing, it appears that there is greater consensus on hot spots in Africa such as
Darfur, in part because there is congruence in Beijing’s evolving approach and
Washington’s outlook. As such, continuing to see China’s economic, political or
diplomatic activities in Africa as a zero-sum game would be counterproductive.
This emerging trend is an encouraging sign in the early stage of this debate; the
challenge will be for Washington to make a strong commitment to sustain the
Gill, Huang & Morrison
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
China is susceptible to be called to
account within Africa for enabling
Khartoum’s intransigence.
momentum at a high diplomatic level to understand the Chinese perspective and
continue to test China’s intentions systematically.
Africa: Test-Case for U.S.-China Relations
China’s ambitious, new high-profile role in Africa challenges the United States
to think far more comprehensively and strategically about how it will engage
China on Africa matters in the future. It comes in a period of major parallel ex-
pansion of U.S. commitments in Africa, propelled by growing U.S. national inter-
ests in Africa in terms of global infectious diseases, energy security, counterter-
rorism and global security, and the promotion of good governance. The tripling
of U.S. foreign aid that has occurred during the Bush administration has included
the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a five-year $15 billion
program, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a major initiative aimed at
strengthening the economic performance of well-governed states, many in Af-
rica. U.S. military engagement in Africa has expanded significantly, especially in
the Horn of Africa, the Sahara/Sahelian zone, and the Gulf of Guinea maritime
zone. In 2007, for the first time ever, the United States has announced its inten-
tion to create a separate U.S.-Africa combatant command. Following the ouster
from power of the Islamist movement ruling in Mogadishu by the Ethiopian mili-
tary, U.S. forces in early 2007 significantly stepped up counterterrorism activi-
ties in southern Somalia, targeting suspected al-Qaida members. U.S. investment
in Africa’s energy sector, and its dependence on Africa to meet its rising energy
needs, have both steadily expanded, in parallel with a similarly robust pattern
of rising Chinese oil dependency on Africa. Within the next decade, the United
States will rely upon Africa for 20 percent to 25 percent of its oil imports.
Given the rising parallel interests in the continent, what direction should
U.S.-China relations take regarding Africa. First, and most importantly, there is
a need for a more strategic approach by the United States if a costly U.S.-China
clash in Africa is to be avoided and if opportunities for fruitful collaborations
are to be pursued effectively. A strategic approach can build on the reality that,
broadly speaking, the United States and China share a range of common interests
in seeking a more collaborative and constructive bilateral relationship. Most ob-
China’s Growing Influence
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
viously, the two sides have become deeply intertwined economically. In addition,
recent experience has affirmed that the two countries stand a far better chance of
dealing effectively with the many security challenges they face – from stemming
the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea to securing energy supplies to
tackling the problem of global climate change – through cooperation and healthy
competition rather than confrontation.
This deepening interdependence also underscores the need for a strategic vi-
sion in the U.S. approach to China-African relations that recognizes that U.S.
action taken in one sphere can have unintended and potentially negative reper-
cussions in another. That was demonstrated dramatically in CNOOC’s defeated
bid to purchase UNOCAL, which was widely
believed within Chinese policy-making circles
as proof of U.S. determination to prevent the
rise of a Chinese global energy firm and be-
came an impetus to accelerate the formation
of strategic relationships in Africa.
China is increasingly in a position to move
resources and make decisions in the context of Africa in response to U.S. actions
elsewhere that touch on China’s perceived global interests. The United States
should assume there will be additional unforeseen surprises of this kind in the
future, but work to avoid them as much as possible.
Integral to any such approach, however, will be the expectation that – owing
to weak state institutions, high incidence of conflict and relative economic fragil-
ity of most African countries – developments in Africa, independent of U.S.-Chi-
na relations, will repeatedly test U.S. and Chinese approaches and their resolve
to work collaboratively. It will be no less important to anticipate that enduring
philosophical, ideological and programmatic differences, mutual suspicions and
misunderstandings, and competitive tensions will sustain the risk of a clash of
U.S.-China interests in Africa. Hence the special need to anticipate flash points
in approaches to Africa and manage them preemptively: most importantly, at this
point, are crises such as Darfur, sensitive assistance issues such as debt and har-
monization of donor approaches, and access to energy resources.
Gill, Huang & Morrison
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
A far more strategic approach
is needed if a costly U.S.-China
clash in Africa is to be avoided.
For the United States, such a strategic and anticipatory approach to China-
Africa relations will demand a greater openness to engage China through multi-
lateral channels, such as within the United Nations, within major international
economic and financial institutions, and within Africa-based multilateral bodies
such as the African Union. The slower pace and tough diplomatic work of con-
sensus building will prove frustrating, but has the potential to pay long-term
dividends in providing greater awareness of Chinese policies and preferences and
fostering more constructive and cooperative responses from China.
More specifically, a strategic approach can also be strengthened through a de-
liberate focus on strong, shared interests in Africa. In the sphere of public health
and infectious diseases in Africa – such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and avian influenza
– the United States and China have both taken global leadership positions and
aim to improve their policies in addressing the weakness of infrastructural ca-
pacities and health workforce shortages.
On matters of conflict resolution, peacekeeping capacity and counterterrorism
in Africa, there is a substantial convergence of perspectives and approaches. Dif-
ferences persist with respect to Darfur, yet in the U.N. Security Council there has
been recent progress in quietly aligning diplomatic approaches to Sudan. In their
shared role as permanent members of the Security Council, China and the United
States have shared decision-making power in shaping U.N. peacekeeping opera-
tions in Africa, which account for 65 per-
cent of total operations worldwide. Each
has professed a rising interest in invest-
ing in African peacekeeping capacity. On
matters pertaining to al-Qaida’s threat to
Africa, there are no significant divergences of opinion or approaches. Indeed, im-
proved future maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, for instance, will benefit
China’s energy security as much as that of the United States. At the same time,
U.S. encouragement of a greater role for China will need to be tempered by Bei-
jing’s continued traditional support for state sovereignty and nonintervention.
The same inherent shared economic and political interest exists with respect
China’s Growing Influence
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
A greater role for China must be
tempered by Beijing’s support for state
sovereignty and noninterference.
to ensuring predictable, long-term and stable governance in Africa, better in-
tegrating Africa into the global economy, building trade capacity and lowering
poverty. The measure of success in the coming years will be whether the United
States and China build a record of concrete collaborations in Africa that create
new facts on the ground, reveal the scope of shared interests, promote African
well-being and guard against impulsive action that aggravates tensions and re-
sults in a damaging confrontation.
Finally, with urgent foreign and security policy concerns elsewhere around
the world, and with several major and growing U.S. diplomatic, humanitarian,
developmental and security initiatives in process in Africa already, there is a risk
that U.S. policy-makers will be unwilling or unable to give China’s expansive
presence in Africa the priority, time and policy energy it requires: this would be a
mistake. The opportunities and interests present themselves now as a chance for
the United States to assess China’s approach to Africa more accurately, engage
China more effectively, and work to shape outcomes in Africa that are beneficial
to Africans, as well as Chinese and Americans.
The November 2006 Addis Agreement (also known as the “Annan Plan”) called for a three-
step expansion of an A.U./U.N. hybrid force in Darfur and for Khartoum to commit to a
ceasefire in the region.
For the latest literature on the growing importance of Africa to U.S. strategic interests and
expansive Chinese engagement in Africa, see Gill, B., Huang, C. and J. S. Morrison, China’s
Expanding Role in Africa: Implications for the United States (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic
and Independent Studies, 2007); Lyman, P. and J. S. Morrison, More Than Humanitarianism: A
Strategic U.S. Approach Toward Africa (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2006); Vines,
Alex, “China in Africa: A Mixed Blessing.” Current History (May 2007) pp. 213-219; Broad-
man, Harry, Africa’s Silk Road: China and India’s New Economic Frontier (Washington, D.C.: World
Bank, 2007); Goldstein, A., Pinaud, N., Reisen, H. and X. Chen, The Rise of China and India: What’s
in it for Africa. (Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2006); and
Alden, Chris, “China in Africa,” Survival, Vol. 47 No. 3 (Autumn 2005) pp. 147-164.
Yu. George, “Africa in Chinese Foreign Policy,” Asian Survey, Vol. 28 (1988) p. 8.
Gill, Huang & Morrison
China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
For a specific breakdown of Chinese contribution to the various U.N. peacekeeping mis-
sions, see
Wallis, W. and G. Dyer, “Wen Calls for more access for Africa,” Financial Times, May 17, 2007,
htt p: //www.,dwp_uuid=5cdb1d20-
The following points draw from Gill, B., Huang, C., and J. S. Morrison, China’s Expanding Role
in Africa: Implications for the United States, pp. 6-13.
Gill, B., Huang, C. and J. S. Morrison, China’s Expanding Role in Africa: Implications for the United
States, p. 5; also see Swann, C. and McQuillen, “China to Surpass World Bank as Top Lender
to Africa (Update 2),” Bloomberg, Nov. 3, 2006,
Baldauf, S. and J. J. Schatz, “Chinese leader’s almost triumphal trip to Africa,” Christian Sci-
ence Monitor, Feb. 9, 2007,
Liu, Melinda, “Pragmatism or Principle.” Newsweek International Edition, Nov. 10, 2006, http://
“Never too late to scramble,” The Economist, Oct. 26, 2006,
Schearf, Daniel, “Environmental Groups Say China’s Role in Africa Leading to Backlash,”
Voice of America, May 18, 2007,
Gill, B. and J. Reilly, “The Tenuous Hold of China Inc. in Africa,” The Washington Quarterly,
Vol. 30 No. 3 (Summer 2007), pp. 37-52.
Parker, G. and A. Beattie, “EIB accuses China of unscrupulous loans,” Financial Times, Nov.
28, 2006,; Beattie,
A. and E. Callan, “China loans create ‘new wave of Africa debt,’” Financial Times, Dec. 7, 2006,
“Paul Wolfowitz - Interview with Les Echos, Oct. 19, 2006,” World Bank, see http://econ.
Phillips, Michael, “G-7 to Warn China over Costly Loans to Poor Countries,” Wall Street
Journal, Sept. 15, 2006,
“China Eximbank and World Bank Come Together to Sign Cooperation Memo,” The
World Bank, May 21, 2007,
“China and Darfur – the Genocide Olympics.” The Washington Post Dec. 14, 2006, http://
See official Congressional record for written statement of J. S. Morrison and B. Gill on
“China and Sudan,” submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Commit-
tee on Feb. 8, 2007, available at
Robinson, Simon, “Time Running Out,” Time, Sept. 10, 2006.
“Diplomat Views China’s Role on Darfur Issue, Stresses ‘Even-Handedness,’” Qiushi, June
1, 2007.
“Hu puts forward principle on Darfur Issue” China Daily Feb.5, 2007, http://www.china-
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China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007
McGregor, Richard. “Iran, Nigeria, Sudan off China incentive list,” Financial Times, Mar. 2,
The Senior Dialogue was between the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and his Chinese
counterpart, the Vice Foreign Minister. Both sides discussed the broader strategic vision of
U.S.-China relations at this level. They agreed that discussions on the specific issues (e.g., on
Darfur, the Middle East, etc.) will be conducted through “subdialogues” between the relevant
U.S. Deputies Under-Secretary of State in charge of the different regions of the world and
their Chinese counterparts at the Assistant Ministerial level.
At the official level, the United States and China in 2005 began to take some steps to
think through their increasingly complex and interdependent relationship in a more con-
structive and strategic way. This effort, known at the “senior leaders’ dialogue,” was led by
the United States then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who called for China to
join the United States in becoming a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system.
Both sides agreed to hold bilateral subdialogues on key regional issues. The door was thus
opened in Washington to begin thinking more seriously about an effective U.S. strategy for
engaging China on Africa.
“CNOOC seeks expansion in Africa,” PRC Ministry of Commerce, Jul. 20, 2006, http://
Russell, A. and W. Wallis, “China puts Private Pressure on Sudan,” Financial Times, June
19, 2007. See also “Special Repreesentative of the Chinese Government on the Darfur Issue
Holds a Briefing for Chinese and Foreign Journalists,” PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May
29, 2007. See
“Conclusion of the Fourth U.S.-China Senior Dialogue,” U.S. Department of State Media
Note, June 21, 2007,
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China Security Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007