Myth: China is colonizing Africa

Fact: In recent years, China has dramatically increased trade with Africa from $11.5 billion in 2002 to $185.3 billion in 2018.  This is compared to the US trading a total of $61 billion in 2018. This trade increase has led to many US politicians attacking China for “colonizing” Africa. 

Of course, these detractors are not using the term “colonialism” to refer to the same system of formal political control as that established by Europe in the 1884 Berlin Conference or that still held by the US today over Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands and Guam. Unlike the aforementioned examples, the Chinese government does not exert any direct influence over any political process in Africa, whether it be through appointing leaders, writing laws, forcing the use of constitutions, or suppressing rebellions. “Colonialism” doesn’t refer to any military domination over African countries either, since the only country in Africa where China has a military base, Djibouti, has a US military base there as well, along with military bases belonging to several other countries. 

Rather, the accusations leveled at China allege economic “neo-colonialism,” a situation in which, although “the State which is subject[ed] is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty … in reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside,” as Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of post-colonial Ghana, wrote. In truth, however, China’s economic relations with Africa bear no resemblance to “directing” any African country’s economic system “from outside.” While European colonial powers often restricted the import or export of goods from their colonies to competing colonizers, China puts no such constraints on African trade. While colonial African finance was dominated by European banks, China controls no African banking system.

Europe only developed infrastructure in its African colonies insofar as it would expedite the movement of raw goods to the colonizing country. Transportation between different African colonies was neglected, as well as any improvement in the standard of living of the vast majority of African people. On the other hand, China has invested in infrastructure projects that no European colonial power dared to undertake in Africa, from the construction of hydroelectric dams, railroads, schools, hospitals,and airports, to Ethiopia’s first satellite. 

Some claim that China is ensnaring Africa in a “debt trap” by giving Africa loans that it will not be able to repay. But when the Rhodium Group studied 40 Chinese loans to African countries, it found that 16 of those loans ended up being written off by China, 11 of them were deferred, and “asset seizures are a very rare occurrence.” This is in contrast to loans from the US, Europe, and institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, where not only are many African countries paying more in interest on the loans than they initially received, but were forced to restructure their economies to the benefit of the lenders in order to qualify for the loans in the first place. China, on the other hand, requires no such “structural adjustment” for its loans.



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