This research assesses what impacts Chinese aid, trade and investment are having on the politics of specific African countries and the extent to which it excites geopolitical competition. This will be examined through case studies of Angola and Ghana, which represent different examples of China’s development ‘partnerships’ in Africa. Angola possesses oil resources that China desperately needs, whereas Ghana lacks strategic resources, but is an important market and political ally.
This research is oriented around three main themes:
The Changing Patterns of Chinese Involvement in Africa
Current analysis in the West sees China’s role in Africa as novel and self-serving. This popular representation of China as rapacious ignores longer developmental connections and, crucially, affects whether we characterise this as cynical ‘soft power’ or genuine developmental aid. China’s recent heightened involvement in Africa builds on longer term linkages and requires more analysis of continuities and changes in policy, and how we characterise China’s past agendas and activities and their persistence in contemporary foreign policy.
The Politics of Trade, Investment and African Productivity
Chinese economic involvement generates both livelihood impacts and political responses. As a significant player in multilateral organisations, and with its recent ascension to the WTO, China also recognises the need to court votes to protect and promote its interests. For resource rich countries like Angola China’s presence could create a two-sided ‘resource curse’ insofar as it may raise oil rents which go to elites whereas trade competition reduces the diversity of the economy and cuts both employment and export revenue. For countries like Ghana, the impacts are more likely to be negative as Chinese goods displace locally produced ones without countervailing gains from mineral exports. These impacts vary by country so it is vital to undertake country level analysis of how political actors – particularly political parties and civil society organisations – perceive the Chinese impact and respond to it.
Aid and Regime Stability
China’s involvement in Africa relies on ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power in the form of development aid and military assistance. China takes an apparently more ‘hands off’ approach to politics than other donors so a point of tension is likely to be these differing approaches to aid. Key amongst them is whether China’s involvement extends the life of some regimes in order to secure economic access. The governance implication of Chinese intervention and whether this enhances the militarisation of the continent and secures the insularity and longevity of African leaders questions the possibility of encouraging new democratic process in new ways.