China’s perceived role in Africa, the real risks it faces doing business there, and some ways Africa benefits were the subject of an interview by Turkish Weekly’s Yağmur Erşan.
The reporter interviewed Christopher Alden, a professor in international relations at the London School of Economics and Politics. Here are a few of the questions in the interview.
What makes China attractive for Africa when compared with the West?
There are two things that initially made China more attractive for Africa: first, China doesn’t impose political conditionality. Second, projects move more quickly when dealing with China.
Many African governments would tell you that negations with Western governments such as the U.S. or in the E.U. will last two or three years when a big project or large investment is on the table. However, most requirements and conditions can be signed off on within a week or two during negations with China, and then the country immediately provides the resources.
I think that the Western press and Western scholars have tended to underestimate this reality, but it is in fact very important. If you are serious about development, the pressures of development are immediate. They are not pressures that can simply be put off for a few years until things sort themselves out. This is not well recognized by Western circles and for that reason they do not really understand China’s activities in Africa.
What are the challenges that China faces in Africa?
I think that the Libyan crisis was a kind of shock for China. Here, when looking at Chinese insurance claims, the country lost between $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion as a result of destroyed property, and 36,000 Chinese employees and citizens had to be evacuated from Libya. This sparked huge concerns from China with regard to their investments around the continent.
South Sudan represents another example. I think that this has led China to realize that that the costs of operating in Africa are higher than they first anticipated, as the African environment is a complex environment in which you actually have to possess local knowledge, and in which your security may be jeopardized or called into question.