Is China A Partner Or A Predator In Africa? Its Complicated.

Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden are the duo behind the China Africa Project and hosts of the popular China in Africa Podcast. Were here to answer your most pressing, puzzling, even politically incorrect questions, about all things related to the Chinese in Africa and Africans in China.

Depending on who you speak with, Chinas engagement in Africa is often described in extreme terms as either the best thing to happen to the continent in the post-colonial era or just the latest foreign predator coming to pillage Africa of its resources. With Chinas presence in Africa now stretching across nearly all 54 countries where an estimated 1 million Chinese immigrants now live and hundreds of billions of dollars pass in annual trade and investment, the relationship between these two regions is extremely complicated.

So when critics want to showcase the negative consequences of Chinas presence in Africa, there are countless examples of labor abuses, illegal logging and wildlife trading, corruption and so on. Furthermore, low-cost Chinese imports are placing huge pressure on African companies, which now have to compete at much lower prices. Then there are the human rights concerns where Chinese companies have been accused of exporting equipment used for torture, weapons sent to unstable countries or technology for repressive governments.

Zacharias Abubeker/Getty Images
Ethiopian workers inside the Huajian shoe factory on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Many Chinese companies including Huajian, which has made shoes for Ivanka Trump’s line, have moved to Africa, where labor is much cheaper.

While the negatives are valid and well-documented, they only tell part of the story. The positive side of Chinese engagement in Africa is equally compelling. The fact is that while many people complain about how Chinas massive infrastructure building boom in Africa is being built and financed, not to mention concerns about quality, money from some traditional donors in the West is drying up. African governments really do not have a lot of options when it comes to financing billions of dollars in rather risky infrastructure projects. So the thousands of miles of new rail lines, new digital networks, hospitals and ports that are being built would not have happened on anywhere near the scale without the support of the Chinese.

Beijings commitment to African infrastructure development is a central part of the governments win-win development agenda, also a key message in its propaganda campaign that emphasizes Chinas peaceful rise to superpower status.

So is China a partner or predator? The short answer, according to numerous leading Sino-African scholars, is that this vast complex relationship is not binary and cannot be reduced to either good or bad.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
China’s President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe while South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma looks on during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Johannesburg, Dec. 4, 2015.

It is the same in Africa as it is for Chinas relations with other regions: Both approaches offer oversimplified understandings of the complex interaction among the economic, geopolitical and security dimensions of Chinas relations with the rest of the world, said Matt Ferchen from the Beijing-based Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in a new paper on the perception gaps surrounding Chinas economic and military rise.

Matt joins Eric & Cobus in the podcast above to explain why he thinks views about the Chinese are so polarized in Africa and elsewhere and what impact the Trump revolution in the United States will have on Chinas engagement in Africa.

Join the discussion. Do you think China is making a positive contribution in Africa or do you feel that Beijing is simply following the abusive example set by the continents former imperial powers? Share your thoughts:

Twitter: @eolander | @stadenesque

Read more: