Wednesday, November 10

American Interest

Americas interest in the African continent since the end of the cold war, in which is was the front line, can at best be described as benign neglect. This is all set to change once again as an increasing percentage of the worlds oil production is set to come from African shores. The 'war on terror' has accelerated the pace of American involvement in the continent as it tries to deny international terrorist organizations both safe havens and funding.

The New Republic has an article looking at growing Chinese interests in Africa, and how it affects America. The premise of the article is that increased Chinese involvement is bad for Africa because China does not care about human rights or democracy. It continues in the vein that because of the Chinese neglect for "democratic values" American firms are finding it harder to compete. Colour me unimpressed.

Americas foreign policy, while completely hypocritical, has at least been consistent. Countries that have resources that America needs or that America needs assistance from are given a free pass while countries that are not of interest to America are required to "show respect for human rights" and jump though a number of difficult and expensive hoops to gain access to American markets and favour. (Saudi Arabia is of course the best example, but Pakistan springs to mind as a country that went from outcast dog to long lost pall in a blink of an eye.)

Beijing's oil-slicked diplomacy builds on goodwill generated by its past actions in Africa. In the 1960s and 1970s, China supported revolutionary movements in Africa, vowing to help protect it against U.S. and Soviet imperialism. Many of those former rebels have now come to power and are willing to repay favors to Beijing. What's more, unlike the United States or other Western nations, Beijing does business without setting conditions on human rights, transparency, or good governance. It requires only that trading partners not recognize Taiwan, and all but a handful of African states have obliged.
In return, Beijing has won access to critical resources like natural gas, in addition to oil and vast new markets for its goods. Chinese trade with Africa has almost doubled since 2000; and, although it is still a fraction of China's worldwide exchanges, it's already about half of U.S.-Africa trade

Beijing's tactics should worry Washington--not to mention average Africans. Increasing demand and shrinking domestic supplies are making the United States overly dependent on oil imports, and Washington's search for new suppliers in West Africa--which the Bush administration has called "the fastest-growing source of oil and gas for the American market"--seems to pit the United States against China. Yet, because Washington already has solid ties with the Gulf of Guinea's largest exporters and U.S. companies are better equipped than cnpc or Sinopec to perform the type of deep offshore drilling that will unlock the region's resources, China's hunt for African resources is not a direct threat to U.S. energy security.

It may come as a surprise to you, but Chinese involvement in the continent does not "worry" me. In fact, I think the average African should welcome Chinese competition with American for African favour with open arms.

Firstly America is the largest global market, while China is the fastest growing global market. African access to these markets are generally severely restricted. Even recent trade concession that America has made to Africa, such as ALGOA, has been of limited value. It provides cheap labour for American goods and employment for the poorest of the poor, but returns little real growth for African markets as bureaucracy, subsidies and tariffs protect the more lucrative markets.

Interest in African resources should be translated into access to markets, and direct competition between the Americans and the Chinese is in Africa interest (all pretensions of "democracy" and "human rights" aside).


Blogger Bronwyn said...

Nice blog entry, very interesting dynamic between the US and China over African resourses. I've been reading with interest for a while various media reports on this issue, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long term.

10 November 2004 at 18:43  
Blogger mal said...

No I'm not at all surprised by your support of Chinese involvement in Africa; I support the idea with heavy qualifications. It would be a shame for African nations to become Chinese client states only because it's a cheap way of not being American client states.

11 November 2004 at 07:51  
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Becoming Chinese client states would definitely 'not' be the idea. But then neither would becoming an American client state.

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