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?

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8 responses »

  1. Jordi says:

    Was the article just laying out those 4 possibilities? Or did it argue for one?

    Great topic.

  2. Cherylngn says:

    I agree that environmental damage can be a huge cost that businesses have to pay, and I think it’s interesting how Lindsay points out that only the more advanced nations can be environmentally conscious. The fact that resource-hungry Chinese companies, together with corrupted local governments, are causing environmental damages in African countries has been a hot topic for a while.There are even evidences showing that China has been developing the strategy of obtaining resources from other parts of the world, while protecting itself from environmental issues. I’m quite curious to know the extent of Chinese businesses in Africa. Are they involved substantially in the political sphere, or are they just there for the profits? I also think your question at the end definitely poses a good point to think about . It reminds me of a topic that a lot of people have been talking about: how China is soon going to take US’s place as the leading economy. I personally think this will not happen any time soon, given the fact that China still has a pretty low overall standard of living despite its high GDP.

  3. Mike M says:

    I think it is fascinating to consider the idea of China beginning to colonize and exploit Africa. Historically, most developed nations today seem to have started off by being colonized by another country. America is the best example of this. That colonization and exploitation tends to result in economic development, which eventually leads the exploited nation to become independent and exploit other nations. It seems that this exact pattern is repeating in China. China was largely colonized by Britain in the 1800’s, has now been exploited for its large supply of cheap labor by several other nations, and now has grown to the point that it can begin to exploit other nations.

  4. Claire McCardell says:

    It looks like globalization is a chain-reaction–not too long ago the US and other modern economies were pouring in capital and jobs to China, which has clearly taken full advantage of them. China, now able to stand on its own two feet, turns to outsource in Africa by pouring in capital to remain globally competitive with the most developed economies. However, as Lindsay noted, this doesn’t come without cost: China is willing to overlook its impacts on the environment in attempt to remain competitive in the global market. While clearly unethical, the same could be seen by US companies (i.e. Nike) in the past decade, and seems to be a “natural” step in globalization. Exploiting undeveloped countries is what makes outsourcing so appealing to begin with, and although there are clear benefits to both parties, the developing country clearly gets the short end of the stick.

  5. Lindsay S. says:

    Jordi, the article recognized these 4 viewpoints as explanations for this China-Africa relationship. It posited that none of these alone can account for this phenomenon but when all 4 of these perspectives are considered simultaneously, they provide a fuller picture of the complex relations between the two regions.

  6. Lindsay S. says:

    Cheryl, I think it’s a good question you ask regarding whether Chinese businesses are in Africa just for the profits or if they are trying to break into African politics. I believe this is the question up for debate right now and you could argue either end. Clearly, the “anti-China” campaign platforms that some African politicians have ran on indicate that some people in Africa feel very threatened by this Chinese presence. On the other hand, plenty of people probably believe it’s just another profit opportunity for the growing China.

    You’re also definitely right about how I alluded to the possibility of China one day replacing the U.S. as a world economic power. It is something to think about that when a country like China becomes the exploiter after being the exploitee for so long, won’t all of the developing countries that were once exploited be past that vulnerable state at some point? And then will a role reversal occur where formerly powerful, developed countries revert back to a lesser state and are exploited by those it previously marginalized? It seems like kind of an implausible, extremist viewpoint but you never know; it is kind of amazing how quickly some countries can gain momentum and power (look at China today and look at the U.S. and how rapidly it rose as a leading world power in a relatively short period of time given when it was first founded).

  7. Marc says:

    It’s pretty crazy that, only from the prompt of incorporating “globalization” into our post, that a large number of the blogs had some mention of China in them. I think that, in a way, reinforces your point that China is no longer the “exploited” and has kind of come into the forefront on popular conversation. They have become a major player in global issues, whether that is for the good or the bad, as you mention in your post. While they used to be a third world, little brother to a lot of countries, they now have influential roles in a number of economies around the world.

  8. […] Mention for Fascinating Post went to Lindsay (Since When did China become the Exploiter and not the […]

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