Chinese media respond to John Kerry’s “China is all over Africa” statement

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current Secretary of State John Kerry before Kerry’s nomination hearing to become Secretary. During the hearing Kerry said that “China is all over Africa.” Image by the Washington Post.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current Secretary of State John Kerry before Kerry’s nomination hearing to become Secretary. During the hearing Kerry said that “China is all over Africa.” Image by the Washington Post.

Major Chinese media outlets are re-printing a slightly-modified version of a January 30 op-ed from the Independent that is critical of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement on January 24 that “China is all over Africa.” A translation of the version of the op-ed being carried by Chinese news outlets and some of the comments netizens have left in response to it are below:

The UK newspaper the Independent: “China is all over Africa” is not true

The newly approved US Secretary of State John Kerry last week warned that “China is all over Africa” and likened the competition between China and the US for influence in Africa to a “game”. He said that this “game” was not a game that followed the pattern of the Cold War, but was a “game” for “business contracts, jobs for Americans, and export opportunities.” Americans needn’t worry, though. Kerry thinks that this is a “game” the US can “win.”

I have four points to make about this. First, Chinese people are indeed engaging with many African countries, but Kerry’s language is sensational, and is really unnecessary. This will only serve to heighten tensions between the US and China.

Second, to describe Sino-African versus US-African relations as a “game” makes it seem as if this is a trivial matter. This is international relations: this concerns countless people’s livelihoods (and their lives).

Third, Kerry says that the US and China are competing for African resources. This helps to advance the “New Scramble for Africa” narrative. According to this narrative, Africans are pawns in a game between great powers.

Fourth, part of the reason why Kerry is so worried about Chinese activity in Africa is because the West sees Sino-African relations in terms of “China in Africa,” which makes it seem as if Africa is an empty space outsiders can rush headlong into.

There has been a lot of commentary on Sino-African relations over the past few years, with much of the commentary in the West being negative. Some see China as charging into “the Western sphere of interest,” while others secretly worry China’s human rights record will negatively influence Africa. Still others warn of “Chinese neo-colonialism.”

However, there are a small number of cautiously optimistic voices that have emphasized that [China’s engagement with Africa] may benefit African people, Chinese people and the whole world.

Regardless of the differences between these points of view, they are all views that paint China as the dominant agent in China-Africa relations. Even though Africans are mentioned, they are taken to be pawns that can be manipulated by anyone. Commentary rarely goes beyond the state level. This means Africans are often presented as corrupt puppets, while ordinary people are absent.

All the viewpoints presented above have some truth to them. But as a recent study points out, Africans today are actively affecting, shaping, and “sometimes even driving” China-Africa relations. How Africans shrewdly negotiate in order to fight for their own interests is rarely mentioned. For example in November 2011, the Zambian government successfully doubled the national concession mining tax to six percent, honoring their previous commitment to limit so-called Chinese imperiousness. This was widely seen as a victory for the entire country in Zambia.

Beyond the state level, ordinary Africans are also pushing forward China-Africa relations. Traders from Nigeria and Ghana said that the large number of cheap Chinese goods in their countries were imported by Africans and were not introduced by Chinese people. All this makes clear that the broader picture of Sino-African relations is far more complicated than the standard “China in Africa” model would suggest.

Of course, there are clear asymmetries in the economic and political strength of China and Africa, so to say that all Africans are in dominant positions would be incorrect. But our analyses of Sino-African relations would be more optimistic if we paid more attention to the role of African people in [the] interactions [between China and Africa]. The incoming US Secretary of State would do well to recognize this, otherwise he will not “win” this “game.”

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One response to “Chinese media respond to John Kerry’s “China is all over Africa” statement”

  1. Of course neither the US nor China are here for their great love of Africans. But for what they can gain. At some point, it used to be slaves.
    As for the Chinese, can you ask your people to stop killing my elephants and Rhinos?

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