China-Africa Trade… What is it all about?

China and Africa Relations

Trade between Africa and China can be traced back to 200 B.C. as evidenced by Chinese coins found in Somalia. Starting in the 21st century, Africa and China have had strong trade relations. Trade between the two countries has gone up by 70% since the early 1990’s.

China’s largest trade nation is Africa, followed by the European Union and then the United States. However, the United Kingdom and the United States have begun to raise eyebrows at the political and economic position that China is playing in Africa. In the 1950’s, China signed a trade agreement with Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria and Somalia which cemented their friendly relationship. However, the ties between these two countries were affected by the arrival of the Cold War. At the time, China held an anti-apartheid stance. But as Chinese and Soviet Union ties began to weaken, the relationship between Africa and the Soviet Union grew. When the Soviet Union and Chinese bond crumbled, so did China’s support for the African National Congress.

Trade between China and Africa

China receives many supplies and materials from Africa. About 1/3 of China’s oil comes from the nation of Angola and has a $24.8 billion trade value. Burkina Faso and Mali are the main suppliers of cotton to China, supplying about 20%. The Ivory Coast provides China with cocoa, Kenya supplies coffee and Namibia provides mainly fish. Trade is not the only thing China is interested in. The Asian nation has also helped provide medical care. Beginning in the 1960’s and ending around 2005, China has sent over 10,000 doctors to Africa. In 2007, China pledged to build 31 hospitals in Congo over the course of three years.

More than Just Trading Goods

Chinese ambassador, Pan Hejun, says that China wants to be on good terms with Africa not just for the supplies, but also to form an alliance in the education and health fields. He goes on to provide an example of the country of Malawi. Even though Malawi is a country that does not provide China with abundant resources, China still wants to maintain a good relationship with them. As China’s energy needs grow, the more it will depend on Africa. More than half of China’s oil comes from countries in the Middle East. China, in return, exports electronics, communication equipment and equipment for transportation to Africa. The Chinese-African trade had reached $126.9 billion in 2010 and increased by 30% in 2011.

Chinese Business Relations

African nations enjoy the hands-off policy that the Chinese government has adapted. China does not tell African nations how to run their countries. Despite the lucrative trading game, some Africans are frustrated with how China handles business in Africa. Thousands of Chinese companies run their businesses in Africa. However, Africans argue that China does not hire Africans and are paying local companies a lower rate. Chinese companies that in fact do hire African natives have been accused of not upholding fair labor standards. In the Chinese run mines of Zambia, managers have banned all union activity. In the past, protesting poor working conditions is forbidden as some African workers were shot at for participating in such a revolt.

China-Africa Economic Relationship

Some reports claim that Chinese trade does not operate as a whole but operates under individuals, some of which include investors and agencies of the state. While trade is an important aspect for these two countries, it is not the only relationship. Many Africans are immigrating to China for a better life despite the language barriers. Zambia’s president, Michael Sata, has been anti-Chinese in the past. However, once he was elected president, he decided to welcome Chinese investors and businesses instead of kicking them out. China is welcoming of Africans as well. China has encouraged students from Africa to study at their schools, find work or just visit the country. The relationship between China and Africa goes far beyond just trade.

Chinese-African trade relations have a strong history and will continue to strengthen in the future. With China supporting the independence of countries in Africa and their non-interference policies, the trade relations between the two countries is likely to evolve and grow over time.