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26th Jun 2019

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China's rise in Africa does not spell EU decline, says official

  • Chinese shopkeepers in Burundi (Photo: Kaj Iverson)

Both China and Europe can reap the benefits of greater investment in Africa, with associated gains in influence not defined by a zero-sum game, a senior official from the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) has said.

Many in Europe have fretted in recent years over China's increasing leverage in the mineral-rich continent, but the head of cabinet of the ACP's secretariat told MEPs on Wednesday (4 May) that the EU could still secure its interests in the region.

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"Just because China goes into Africa, doesn't mean that Europe will lose out," Obadiah Mailafia told a conference in Brussels organised by the European Parliament's Green group.

Mailafia acknowledged however that Beijing had a "slightly better record of past activities in Africa" than former European colonial powers, who plundered the continent during the 19th and 20th centuries and are now criticised for sermonising rather than supporting private sector investment.

"What do the Chinese do right? They invest before they complain ... they have an adventurous spirit," said the official of Nigerian origin.

The past decade has seen hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens set up shop across the African continent, aided by loans from a government back home, hungry for raw materials to sustain the country's rapid economic growth.

Underfunded African states have tended to welcome them with open arms, happy to benefit from the building of new roads, schools and hospitals, granting Chinese companies mining rights and a guaranteed share of oil supply in return, for example.

Reports of badly-built infrastructure, environmental damage and poor treatment of workers have partially soured the relationship in recent years however.

"Unfortunately China is not a democracy, which is a limiting factor, and there are certain environment elements which they tend to ignore," Mailafia told the MEPs.

Others accuse Chinese businesses of exporting a culture of corruption, already rife throughout Africa, and of striking deals with corrupt and information-poor African leaders that fail to sufficiently benefit the continent's citizens.

Europe has also received recent criticism over its drive to secure raw materials in Africa, with a European Commission strategy document drawing fire over its references to EU development policy and the threat of action in international trade fora.

Parliament is expected to draw up its position later this year. "Development policy must not become a slave to accessing raw materials," said Green MEP Reinhard Butikofer who will lead the chamber's deliberations on the subject.

"We can follow China's increasingly difficult approach ... or we can adopt a more cooperative method."

Isabelle Ramdoo of the European Centre for Development Policy Management think-tank said the commission's paper was a "very legitimate policy", but highlighted the need to complete geological studies.

"Africa is known to hold 30 percent of the world's resources, but it is estimated that 75 percent have not yet been discovered," she said.

"It's crucial that current and future geological studies be made public, so that African leaders do not trade huge resources for little in return."

China urges Germany and France to solve euro-crisis

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Thursday offered vague promises to buy bonds from troubled euro-countries, but said that it is ultimately up to Germany and France to solve the crisis.

MEPs and China mark change in relationship

Members of the five big political groups in the European Parliament have met with members of the one big political group in the National People's Congress of China, in what has been described as a “changing” and "very friendly" climate.

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