Author: Jianjun Tu.
Declared the Year of Africa, 2006 marked a half century of China-African diplomatic relations and was a year of unprecedented Chinese focus on the continent, with significant promises and undertakings made in both the political and economic arenas. On 12 January 2006, Beijing unveiled its first white paper on its relations with Africa, China’s African Policy, elaborating a detailed plan for long-term ties with Africa covering economic, political, educational, scientific, cultural, environmental, health and social cooperation, as well as peacekeeping and security.1 China’s new strategic partnership with Africa was unveiled at the November 2006 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China and Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). In response to China’s ambitious vision, 48 African countries invited to the two-day summit sent 1,700 representatives, with 41 being represented by their head of state. The Summit unanimously adopted the FOCAC Beijing Action Plan and a Declaration, which calls for strategic partnership aiming at strengthened mutual trust and economic cooperation, especially in the area of joint energy exploration.2 Unsurprisingly, China has become Africa’s third largest trading partner following the United States and France, making Africa China’s major foreign source of strategic resources and investment opportunities, and an export market for Chinese commodities.
While the success of the FOCAC clearly indicates that Beijing’s sweeping efforts in recent years to form a close business partnership with Africa have [End Page 330] paid off, China’s deepening engagement with Africa is viewed by many policy makers and pundits in the United States and Europe as eroding their own interests and influence on the continent. The aggressive penetration of Chinese national oil companies and Beijing’s close ties with the Sudanese government lie at the heart of their concerns.3 However, within Africa, China’s expansive engagement has raised the hope that much needed infrastructure will finally be built and that China’s strategic approach will raise Africa’s global status, intensify political and market competition, create promising new choices in external partnerships, strengthen African capacities to combat malaria and HIV/AIDS, and promote economic growth.4
The contradictory views held by different parties certainly illustrate the complicated nature of China’s presence in the African continent. To demystify the driving forces behind China’s grand African strategy, this article first reviews the historical development of Sino-African ties, then examines the long-term challenges facing China when the goal is to sustain its African policy.