Reflections on China-Africa Economic Relations at a Time of Transition

5 July 2018

Economic relations between China and African nations have generated much interest among development experts and practitioners over the last two decades. Behind this attention lies the high stakes for Africa regarding the opportunities and challenges involved in the deepening relationship with the Asian giant. Since 2000, China has become the continent’s largest trade partner, while Chinese investment and finance flows to Africa have also grown significantly. As such, China has become a major player on the continent, a partner with whom African countries must foster mutually beneficial economic relations in their development process.

There is broad recognition that China’s engagement in Africa has positively contributed to the impressive growth experienced across the continent over recent years. However, numerous observers have questioned the balance and quality of the relationship from an African perspective, noting China’s appetite for natural resources and seeming lack of interest in certain aspects of the continent’s long-term development. Others have highlighted the potential for African countries to take advantage of their economic ties with China, with some calling for a more strategic approach by African leaders to increase African agency and make the best use this relationship.

Importantly, in a context of slowing Chinese demand and shrinking African borrowing capacity, the intensification of China-Africa economic relations seems to have subsided in recent years, pushing the complexity of the debate yet further. Data from the China Africa Research Initiative reveal that three key indicators – Chinese investment in Africa, China-Africa trade, and Chinese loans to Africa – have all been decreasing since 2013-2014. Against such a background, and ahead of the upcoming 2018 summit of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that will take place in September, this issue of Bridges Africa offers a range of reflections on what the future may hold for economic cooperation between China and African countries.

In the lead article, Wenjie Chen and Roger Nord examine the recent evolution of economic links between China and Africa, suggesting that China’s Belt and Road Initiative could help reinvigorate this partnership. The second piece, written by Yunnan Chen, looks at the role of Chinese infrastructure finance on the continent. The issue also features an article in which Lauren Johnston reflects on the possibility for Africa to capitalise on the end of China’s demographic dividend. Thierry Pairault, for his part, underlines the relative weakness of Chinese investment in Africa and sheds light on the nature of China’s economic engagement on the continent. In the final article, Iginio Galgiardone examines whether the involvement of China in Africa’s telecom infrastructure has led to the imposition of a specific information society model.

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5 July 2018
While economic ties between China and African countries have vastly expanded over the past decades, falling commodity prices and rising debt levels risk reversing this process. Can China’s Belt and...