China AfricaEconomic help for rogue states

As Chinese aid increases, Africa can also expect to witness notably more incidences of state-sponsored domestic violence, both against civilians and competitors such as rebel groups. According to a recent working paper of the University of Sussex’s Department of Geography, titled Chinese Aid and Africa’s Pariah States, this effect is largely because aid from China is fungible, with its use determined by recipient countries. The same is not observed in the case of the aid from ‘traditional’ or Western donors, that comes tagged with conditions. Because Chinese aid is disbursed under a “non-interference policy” that does not seek to influence the domestic policies of recipient states, leaders have a lot of leeway over where it is used. Due to the lack of conditionality, African leaders can use Chinese aid in the ways they see fit and suited to their political, economic and social needs. In practice, Chinese aid directly supports the regimes of states.

The study finds that while Africa’s resources are important for feeding China’s growth, Beijing also seeks new markets for its goods, and to build international coalitions with non-Western states including those in Africa, for pursuits such as support for its “One China” policy. Consequently, its aid is directed towards whichever countries satisfy those needs, and acknowledged pariah status is not a pre-requisite for large Chinese aid packages. Significantly, the countries that have not benefited from China’s aid have been pro-Taipei Burkina Faso and Swaziland, and Gambia until it cut ties with Taiwan. Though China isn’t specifically giving aid to ‘pariah states’, it is making states into pariahs through providing resources to state leaders who are unafraid to use repression as a means to quell competition.

Because Chinese aid is meant to benefit China, the study found that countries with a weaker rule of law get more aid as they have an environment that allows Chinese business to flourish. Additionally, increased Chinese aid relative to a state’s GDP led to more incidences of state-supported conflict, while rebel groups or other conflict actors were not seen to be taking up arms any more due to the availability of Chinese aid. In short, Chinese aid increases the ability of the state to repress domestic competition, opposition and civilians. Compared to traditional aid, the effect is limited to state forces and goals.

Often the strategies and tactics for ensuring regime stability might be outside the preferred conduct of Western aid donors, so “unconditional” Chinese aid is attractive. Also noted was the use of Chinese aid for ‘prestige’ projects or funneling money to allies and supporters, one of the reasons for which Chinese aid has been particularly useful to African leaders seeking to remain in power.

Challenging France in Africa

The French make no secret of their alarm over growing Chinese influence in former French Africa. French former Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici stated that French companies must go on the offensive and fight the growing influence of rival China for a stake in Africa’s increasingly competitive markets. “It’s evident that China is more and more present in Africa…(French) companies that have the means must go on the offensive. They must be more present on the ground. They have to fight.”

The three reports  issued before the December 2013 Élysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa, which gathered 53 African delegations in Paris, also pledged for a new strategy in France-Africa relations. Although France does not officially draw inspiration from Chinese politicians, this evolution highlights the rising competition among global powers on the continent. The reports assess the France-Africa relations and come up with recommendations. The senatorial report by two senators specialized on Africa (Jeanny Lorgeoux and Jean-Marie Bockel) is entitled “Africa is our future”. The National Assembly commission for foreign relations issued a report on African Anglophone countries, showing that France presence in this region is too limited when considering Africa’s economic potential. Finally, a report for the Ministry of Finance calls for better economic partnerships, as 200 000 French jobs could benefit from exports to Africa.

These evolutions result from a review of the French presence in Africa: France’s previously strong position on the continent is weakening, in the face of the fast rise of Africa on the agenda of emerging powers like China, Brazil, India, Turkey. Since the focus of African countries is shifting away from France’s assistance, France, however, definitely needs African countries for its own economic growth. The French narrative mainly reveals how China is viewed as a competitor in the African market. China’s shares in Africa soared from 2 per cent in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2011. Between 2000 and 2011, France’s shares in sub-Saharan Africa decreased from 10.1 per cent to 4.7 per cent.

The competition also lies on the diplomatic level and with regards to prestige. While China succeeded in gathering 44 African countries at the 1st Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, then French President Mitterrand got together only 37 heads of state and governments in 1990 at La Baule (where he famously committed to promoting democracy in Africa). Japan, Korea, India and Turkey also organize their own Africa meetings. While China increases its presence, France has recently reduced its diplomatic staff in Africa, surprisingly even in strategically important and rapidly developing countries like Mozambique.

In France’s new strategy towards the Chinese approach, one may see some aspects that may even have been inspired by the Chinese. Since China-Africa relations are free from the heavy colonial history, China has been able to develop relations with almost all countries in Africa, while France mainly focused on French-speaking countries. Paris now intends to catch up in other parts of the continent, particularly those that are economically growing, such as Angola, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and others. This is similar to the Chinese pragmatic approach, where every single country is considered as a potential partner for economic ties. This expanding scope also implies to consider African countries as equal partners, as China has been doing since the Third World solidarity movements. The French senatorial report calls for the promotion of “shared interests”, which can remind of the Chinese discourse on “win-win relations”. Henceforth, France may concentrate more on pragmatism, considering aspects like investments, commercial ties, and economic partnerships. The shift towards less paternalistic and more business-focused relations is, indeed, closer to the Chinese approach in Africa.

This change presumably will help to move the discourse from “aid” to “business”. Already in 1983, when Zhao Ziyang visited Africa, he preferred talking about mutual co-operation and did not use the word “aid” once. With the new policy, France is now officially favoring the “partnership” dimension instead of the donor-recipient narrative.

Joining forces with Japan
The need to address China’s rising influence in Africa was stressed as a concern by both France and Japan, in 2014, during a meeting of the foreign and defense ministers. Japan pledged to support ongoing French wars in two former French colonies, Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR). Japan has contributed €735 million to the French military intervention in Mali, and Paris also expects that Tokyo will also provide financial assistance for France’s war in CAR.

In turn, following the talks between French and Japanese ministers, a joint statement was issued apparently criticizing China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) that covered the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands that China disputes with Japan. Some analysts noted that the decision of the French government to cancel the contract of selling two Mistral-class helicopter carriers to Russia might even backfire in Africa, where France might no longer count on Russia to support its interests against the Chinese challenge. In this context, rumors appeared according to which at least one of the ships may finally reach China. Amid a warming of Paris-Beijing ties, the Dixmude – another Mistral-class vessel – attracted speculation when it docked in Shanghai last May. However, analysts pointed out that, with growing tensions in the South China Sea, France is not seen willing to risk alienating Japan, with which it has just signed a defense cooperation deal, let alone suffer the displeasure that such a move would incur in Washington.

Japan is also challenging Chinese influence in Africa. In 2014, while Japan’s foreign and defense ministers visited Paris, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began his five-day tour of sub-Saharan Africa, the first such visit by a Japanese prime minister in eight years. Reacting to Abe’s visit to Africa, China’s state-owned China Daily noted that the Japanese leader is seeking to “contain” China’s influence in Africa.

Africom vs. China in Africa

According to many local observers, Africom , the Pentagon’s US Africa Command, is another project, this time initiated by the U.S., which has as its main purpose to counter the Chinese economic and political influence across Africa.

Various Washington sources state openly that Africom was created to counter the growing presence of China in Africa. Dr. J. Peter Pham, an advisor of the U.S. State and Defense Departments, stated that among the aims of Africom is the objective of, “protecting access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources which Africa has in abundance … a task which includes ensuring against the vulnerability of those natural riches and ensuring that no other interested third parties, such as China, India, Japan, or Russia, obtain monopolies or preferential treatment.”

In a testimony before the US Congress supporting Africom, Pham also stated: “This natural wealth makes Africa an inviting target for the attentions of the People’s Republic of China, whose dynamic economy, averaging 9 percent growth per annum over the last two decades, has an almost insatiable thirst for oil as well as a need for other natural resources to sustain it… Many analysts expect that Africa – especially the states along its oil-rich western coastline – will increasingly becoming a theatre for strategic competition between the United States and its only real near-peer competitor on the global stage, China, as both countries seek to expand their influence and secure access to resources.”

To counter the growing Chinese influence across Africa, Washington has enlisted France, with promises of supporting a French revival of its former African colonial empire in one form or another. An example is the map used by Washington for combating terrorism under the Pan-Sahel Initiative, where the range or area of activity for the terrorists is very similar to the boundaries or borders of the colonial territorial entity which France attempted to sustain in Africa in 1957. Paris had planned to prop up this African entity in the western central Sahara as a French department (province) directly tied to France, along with coastal Algeria. The French called it the Common Organization of the Saharan Regions (Organisation commune des regions sahariennes, OCRS). France was forced to dissolve the OCRS in 1962, because of Algerian independence and the anti-colonial mood in Africa.