As China’s Xi Jinping Visits, Africa Asks: What Are We Getting Out of This?
Chinese trade with African countries was nearly $200 billion in 2012. But after years of embracing China, some Africans say that China is taking more than it gives back.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is touring parts of Africa this week, celebrating ever-closer economic ties that have made Beijing the continent’s biggest trading partner. But the bloom is off their initial romance, as each side finds previously unseen flaws in its partner.
“The honeymoon is over,” says Deborah Brautigam, an expert on China and Africa at Johns Hopkins University. “Now they are working on their relationship. It is not purely harmonious by any means.”
Indeed, China and Africa may be going through something of a “seven-year itch,” say some observers. It has been that long since 48 African leaders gathered at an unprecedented summit in Beijing to embrace China, and now some influential African voices are grumbling about whether their continent has benefited sufficiently from that embrace.
The figures are startling: Chinese trade with African countries has leapt fourfold in six years to reach nearly $200 billion in 2012. There are now between 1 million and 2 million Chinese businessmen and women in Africa, according to the government here (which does not keep accurate count). Chinese investments in Africa are worth more than $20 billion.
“Generally speaking, China has fulfilled the expectations it had seven years ago for its relations with Africa,” says Niu Xinchun, a researcher at the Chinese Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a government-linked think tank in Beijing.
But in recent weeks, two prominent Africans have wondered aloud about their own expectations. “We have had some bad experiences with Chinese companies in this country,” Botswana’s president Ian Khama said in a recent interview with the Johannesburg-based Business Day newspaper.
In the future, “we are going to be looking very carefully at any company that originates from China in providing construction services of any nature,” he added, saying other African leaders shared his views.
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