Former US Ambassador, Professor David H. Shinn talks to chinaandgreece on Sino-African relations

In November 2006 former President of China Hu Jintao declared at the Beijing Summit of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC): ‘the forging of a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership is determined by the dynamics of China-Africa cooperation, and it represents our wish to promote global peace and development. Building strong ties between China and Africa will not only promote development of each side, but also help cement unity and cooperation among developing countries and contribute to establishing a just and equitable new international political and economic order’. Within the context of this evolving strategic partnership Dr David H. Shinn, who is Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University and former US ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, shares his expertise with In 2012 Dr Shinn co-authored with Joshua Eisenman  the book China and Africa: A Century of Engagement.

How would you describe the Sino-African relationship?

The Sino-African relationship has evolved from support for African liberation movements and strong ties with ideologically sympathetic governments in the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s to a mature engagement with the 50 African countries that recognize Beijing.  China has emphasized economic relations during the last 15 years.  It has been Africa’s largest trading partner since 2009, is one of the major suppliers of foreign direct investment, and in recent years has provided about $2 billion annually in OECD-equivalent aid.  China also has14975 important political, security, and soft power links with African countries.  For its part, Africa provides China with considerable oil and minerals that help sustain China’s industrial production.  African countries also tend to be supportive of China’s policies in international forums.

What is the role of China in Africa?

China contributes to African economic development, especially in the form of large infrastructure projects financed by Chinese loans, usually paid for by shipping Africa’s natural resources to China, and constructed by Chinese companies with a varying percentage of Chinese labor. Most of these projects look like commercial deals, although they include concessionary financing.  China is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa; it currently has more than 2,000 military personnel assigned to seven different missions.  Since 2008, China has continuously contributed People’s Liberation Army Navy ships to the anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden.  There are between one and two million persons of Chinese descent living in Africa.  Some are descendants of laborers and traders dating back to the 19th century; most are recent arrivals working on construction projects, engaged in trade, or invested in Africa.

What makes Africa so special for rising powers?

With 54 countries, Africa accounts for more than one-quarter of the membership of the United Nations.  Africa holds 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves and much higher percentages of key minerals such as cobalt, tantalum, and manganese.  It has the fastest growing population in the world and a rising middle class that is an increasingly attractive market.


Theano-Damiana Agaloglou