Is China a Friend of Africa?

While foreign investment can bring cash, skills, technology, and high ethical standards to a host country, it can also bring political meddling, environmental pollution, labor abuses, and other unscrupulous practices. The debate over the benefits and costs is particularly animated with respect to Chinese investment in Africa.

YAOUNDÉ – For many developing countries, foreign direct investment is viewed as something very positive. International companies can bring cash, skills, technology, and high ethical standards to a host country. But others do not always regard such investors favorably: many stand accused of political meddling, polluting the environment, labor abuses, and other unscrupulous practices. This debate is particularly animated with respect to Chinese investment in Africa – a continent with a long history of political, economic, and commercial exploitation by foreign powers.

The so-called “neocolonialist school,” popular among China skeptics, considers China’s economic relationship with Africa as essentially imperial. It is, they claim, focused exclusively on extracting maximum, short-term profit, with little regard for governance standards, let alone host countries’ longer-term development goals.

Others consider the relationship less a matter of exploitation than a simple function of capitalism’s free-market principles, according to which those without a strong negotiating position must accept tough terms. Still others hold a more benign view: Sino-African relations constitute a partnership, in line with the New Partnership of Africa’s Development, a pan-African organization that seeks to empower African states in their international relations.

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