Everyone knows these days that China’s economy is rapidly growing, largely due to globalization and the many corporations which outsource their manufacturing needs to factories in China. Something less well known though is that China is the arbitrator in some globalizing activities itself: China is actively pouring money into the continent of Africa. After perusing some of the library information resources, I found an intriguing article entitled “Globalization and marginalization of Africa: contextualization of China-Africa relations” which identifies four contrasting perspectives that together provide a picture explaining the complex relationship between the two regions.
Firstly, the idea is explored that China is a development partner in Africa and that a mutuality of benefits exists. Secondly, it is suggested that China is trying to gather resources in Africa in order to stay economically competitive in the global landscape. Another proposal is that China is gearing up to become a colonizing power in Africa. Lastly, the concept is discussed throughout the article that China is fulfilling an important necessity to invest in Africa because the Western world has chosen to completely disregard the African continent.
After first reading over these main overarching themes, the explanation that China is trying to gather resources in Africa in order to stay competitive in the global competition among other nations seemed the most plausible from my perspective. The article interestingly states that “China’s quests to compete aggressively against Western interests in Africa will override the need for environmental stewardship and accountability.” This is an essential point to consider and it reminds me of a course I took last semester called Human Geography. In this course, we discussed extensively the affects of globalization on countries around the world and how only the most developed nations can afford to be environmentally conscious. It is sad to say, but in many ways, the price to pay to get into the global economic competition is environmental destruction. An example of this that came up in my Geography course was the industry of ship breaking. In the 1980s, this industry was very prominent in developed nations, such as Great Britain, where it was highly regulated to ensure no harm was done to the environment. All of these environmental regulations resulted in a lot of expense to dispose of the ships properly; as a result, the developed nations concluded they should not be forced to incur such costs when nations like Saudi Arabia will gladly accept this grunt work. So today, virtually all ship breaking occurs in South Asian countries like Saudi Arabia where there are no environmental regulations. This industry is therefore resulting in serious environmental damage in this part of the world.
Clearly, this issue of environmental destruction for the sake of economic advancement is a concern in the case of China pursuing resources in Africa as well. It is also interesting to consider the more radical spin that China is actually hopefully to colonize Africa. There are statistics to back up this claim: over 800 Chinese firms are currently conducting business in Africa, spanning 49 different African countries, and 480 of these involve joint ventures with African firms. There are even close to one million Chinese migrants living in Africa and a Zambian politician even ran his presidential campaign on an anti-China platform positing that China’s only intention is to exploit them, just like everyone who ever came before them.
I think these China-Africa relations perfectly demonstrate the reality of globalization: the majority of the time, one region leverages its economic power to exploit another region, which is normally desperate for economic stimulation and relatively powerless against foreigners moving in and taking full advantage. This situation was particularly striking to me given that China is typically the country being exploited with the abundance of cheap labor. How fascinating that the most exploited nation has now reached the point where it is able to exploit? Does this indicate that one day Africa will be exploiting another region, and if so, what region might that be?