China Takes Africa as The US Sleeps

Foreign Affairs

China has been mining Africa’s natural resources, and currying favour with its citizens.

On August 25, the 5th Forum on China-Africa Media Cooperation (FOCAC) took place in Beijing. According to an official press release, Xi Jinping and Macky Sall, the Senegalese president and co-chair of FOCAC, sent letters of congratulations to the forum’s members. Huang Kunming (a member important of the Chinese Communist Party’s Political Bureau), read both letters and gave a keynote speech. According to the press release Huang stressed the need for deeper cooperation between China and Africa.

Why are the CCP interested in Africa? The world’s fastest growing continent, Africa is home to an abundance of natural resources. Besides possessing 65 percent of the world’s arable land, the African continent is home to almost a third of the world’s mineral reserves. Africa also boasts 10 percent of the world’s fresh water sources, 40 percent of the world’s gold deposits, 8 percent of the world’s natural-gas reserves, and 12 percent of global oil reserves. It is not news for the Chinese government, though.

Analysts warn the West and especially the U.S. that must not lose Africa. These warnings may be too late. The continent could already be gone. Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people. It has the largest population. Some 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africans are under the age of 30. According to a recent survey conducted by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, a South African think tank, many of these younger citizens consider China, rather than the U.S., to be the most significant foreign player in Africa. By a ten-point split, 77-67, young Africans surveyed were more likely to say that China had significant influence on their country. Respondents cited China’s infrastructure development and Beijing’s willingness to provide job opportunities throughout Africa when asked why they chose China over the U.S.

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Ivor Ichikowitz, one of the people responsible for the research, told Voice of America that things used to be very different. “In the first edition of the pan-African youth survey,” he said, “we asked young Africans which country they believed had the biggest influence on the continent.” At that point in time, “it was without any doubt the United States.” Bear in mind that the first edition of the survey took place in 2020, just two years ago. Ichikowitz stated that Donald Trump, former President of the United States, resonated with African youth because he was “viewed as a charismatic, powerful leader.” However, perceptions of America have changed dramatically.

While Western countries appear to be drifting away from Africa, Beijing recently announced plans to waive debt owed by 17 African countries. To sweeten the deal, China plans to invest a further $300 billion in the continent. It’s clear that, in return for generous investments, the CCP demands access to influential military and political personnel, as well as valuable minerals.

Much has been written about China’s infiltration of the so-called “Lithium Triangle,” consisting of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, which accounts for 56 percent of the world’s lithium supply. China acquired many mines across the country over the past years. In the space of two years, between 2018 and 2020, China invested $16 billion on mining projects in the triangle. In an effort to create a near-monopoly in the lithium market, China is also investing in Africa–specifically Zimbabwe, home to Africa’s largest lithium reserves.

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A key component of electric vehicle (E.V.). Lithium is a highly sought-after component in electric vehicle (E.V.) batteries. As the leading manufacturer of E.V.s, China needs as much lithium as it can get. These are the reasons for large investments made in South America, Zimbabwe and other countries. Zimbabwe is home to huge untapped reserves and has received large cash injections from China. Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt is one example. Earlier this year, according to deVere Zimbabwe, the Chinese company injected $300 million into its Arcadia Lithium Mine. It also began “the construction of a processing plant to produce 400,000 tonnes of lithium concentrate each year.” Besides investing in lithium, China is also scouring the country looking for diamonds. China is also influencing operations in Botswana, the world’s largest diamond producer.

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Some 1,500 miles away, in Rwanda, the Chinese are busy mining cassiterite, a mineral used in the construction of alloys, plates, cans, and various containers. Miners who fail to please their Chinese employers are tortured.

It is hard to emphasize enough the influence China has on Africa. Two years ago, America was Africa’s most trusted ally. It has not only been dethroned but also overtaken today by its global number-one rival.

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