Today we’ll be looking at how China’s influence is growing in Africa, and what might be a few of the positives coming from this relationship. This will be followed up tomorrow with the downsides (the bad), and the next day with the ugly.
The most important thing to remember in China’s current African Empire, and yes I mean it with all of the colonial baggage, is that it is not a recent development. China has been cultivating it’s presence there since the 1960’s when it started bringing aid projects to Africa when it was courting rulers for UN votes to oust Taiwan from its seat. Zhou Enlai, China’s Premier at the time, declared that these aid projects should have no strings attached to them, and would be purely for the benefit of the African people (note: just a declaration).
In the past decade this total aid has reached more than a billion dollars annually, and is starting to raise some questions in the West; especially given some of Beijing’s more embarrassing allies in the region. It seems now that China’s objective in Africa is no longer just UN votes (which it still uses), but is more focused on resources. We’ll leave that for further discussion tomorrow.
China has now become the major investor in Africa’s infrastructure, and infrastructure is an absolute necessity when it comes to development.
This includes road projects, which are key for bringing goods to market, as well as making goods available for export. It also includes the construction of several coal and hydro power plants throughout the region. While these things come at a price, they ultimately serve Africans and will hopefully help the more desperate nations reach that first rung of the development ladder (read about the development ladder here).
Another major project in Africa are China’s massive medical programs. Since 1960 they have sent more than 17,000 medical staff and have treated more than 200 million cases. They have built hospitals, malaria clinics and provided AIDS prevention education.
Over the next 5 years China is planning to train 5,000 Africans in Chinese medical universities. They are provided with full tuition and housing in some of China’s best medical schools. I know this is more than just a declaration, since we have several beneficiaries of this program training in my hospital. It is fitting, seeing as one of our doctors traveled with Zhou Enlai on his first state visit to Africa to begin the project nearly 50 years ago.