China in Africa: a Shift in the Global Manufacturing Center?
…by Sofia Pale, … with New Eastern Outlook, Moscow
[ Editor’s note: One of the major benefits of our association with NEO is their geopolitical writing staff covers areas that get passed over in American mass media. It is assumed that material like foreign trade developments in Africa are of no interest to most American or even European readers.
But China, if nothing else, is a country that hedges its bets. As Sofia covers below, the upward pressure on mainland China’s labor costs has already spawned an illegal immigrant worker culture, like another country went through this which I am closely affiliated with.
China is now following the US model of “going off shore” and yet strategic planners are presenting this to us as a national security threat that must be countered. Another interpretation is that they are looking for, or inventing a justification for more funding, and the elite financial hustlers are playing them like a fiddle.
This is nothing new, but China’s early investments in Africa were in raw material sourcing to support the production capacity of its huge export markets.
And they froze the international bankers completely out of this trade by paying for a lot of their resource-development extractions through infrastructure projects needed to draw more foreign investment. The Chinese are not all about the next quarter’s earnings. They focus on the strategic long-term aspects of everything they do.
They are now entering the “factory export” stage, where they want to have the cheap labor to maintain their export pricing edge but don’t want to bring it to China, so they are taking the factories to Africa.
But the Chinese have their own brand of colonialism which is different, but no prettier than the West’s. Yes, African labor has been used in the heavy manual labor fields like mining. And something they have kept quiet is their bringing boat loads of Chinese workers in for any factory work that is technical.
And worker cities are also built for these people to keep them separated from the locals. VT knows this intimately because Adamus works in the counter-terrorism and defense field there, and one of the common topics at meetings is, “How can we get rid of the Chinese, they are worse than locusts?”
They bribe their way in, as everybody does in Africa, because you have to. Those in power to get bribes are required to feed those that want to remain behind the scenes for taking them. The Chinese also drain off the local power sources for their projects, so there is none left for other development. The Africans bear responsibility for this also, as major infrastructure projects are looted every way possible.
And so does the West. Grants and loans for infrastructure require the equipment to be sourced from Western countries, so no domestic engineering development can be jump-started by the spending of these projects, as so much of the money goes off-shore, as opposed to having the desired ripple-effect inside the country.
China continues to do business with no navy to threaten anyone, or military bases as part of their extensive trading network, like someone else that we know. Sometimes their work is excellent — in Kenya, they have supplied radios to local “operatives” to report poaching. However, investigations revealed that the wildlife authorities themselves were running much of the poaching and were, perhaps, far more corrupt than any simple criminal gang.
America brings its “first strike” policy and its option to use military power without a UN mandate whenever it deems necessary, and with Vanuatu and Fiji as part of the “coalition of the willing” as measure of their universal support.
It does not seem to embarrass those doing this in the slightest.
But more and more of our American military officers are beginning to see they have been swindled to a degree, becoming part of a military whose main purpose now is not defending against real military threats, but acting as the muscle for trade wars that are being driven by global elites. They have all read General Smedley Bulter’s book, and are passing it around… Jim W. Dean ]
[ Editor’s note 2: I work as security and economic advisor to several African governments. The issues of “real Africa” are virtually unknown around the world. Corruption is the most disheartening thing as it virtually destroys the hopes and efforts of those who spend their lives working to build a just and prosperous Africa.
Many groups have learned how to succeed in Africa, based on models of building profitable small businesses, of privatization and solid micro rather than macro modeling. Taken on the whole, the Chinese have been a nightmare, peddling weapons, exploiting regional differences and fostering conflicts. They have been “very British.” They learned from the best. It is time for them to leave, just my opinion… Gordon ]
– First published … September 23, 2014 –
Nowadays nobody will be surprised by the fact that all basic goods are produced in the countries of Southeast Asia and East Asia – and first of all, in China.
According to data of China’s Ministry of Commerce, in 2014 the share of the country’s global commodity turnover reached 40%, amounting to nearly half of global export.
These enormous figures have not only impressed economists, who draw up charts of Chinese profits, but also ecologists, who observe smog clouds photographed from space satellites brooding over South Asia.
However, China is endangered not so much by these smog clouds as by the growing standard of life the country’s residents, which has resulted in operating expenses (in the form of increased salaries) making Chinese production distribution even more expensive and thus unprofitable on the global market.
Since 2010, the Chinese workers’ wages have increased more than twice; in addition, the level of education has noticeably improved. In order to avoid bankruptcy many factories have had to refuse employment to local Chinese residents and have had to turn to migrant laborers (mostly illegally) from neighboring countries such as Laos and Cambodia, who are ready to work for peanuts and survive in difficult living conditions.
Attracting unskilled and low-paid guest workers does not help China much in preserving its ability to compete on the global market and what is more, to boost the export potential for Chinese goods.
To solve this problem, Beijing has directed its efforts on searching for a cheap labor force far beyond the country’s borders. And finally a solution has been found in Africa.
Economic ties between China and African countries have been developing intensively since the early 2000s. During those years Africa was considered by Beijing solely as a supplier of raw materials for Chinese factories and plants where final products were rolling off the production lines and were being forwarded for sale on African markets.
During the last decade, the Chinese have nearly fully utilized the resource potential of this continent which is rich in mineral resources by building mining complexes in nearly every African country; these are run by Chinese managers.
Also, the Chinese have invested huge amounts into infrastructure projects among others. The Chinese are attracted not only by ‘oil’ countries (such as Angola and Sudan) or ‘gold’ countries (such as Mali), but also by poorest Mozambique, now dependent on Chinese loans and therefore totally supporting Beijing’s position on the world arena.
In general, China has made investments nearly into all countries of Africa. In the mid-2000s, Mozambique was of interest to Beijing due to the fact that GDP growth in this country was one of the most dynamic on the continent and accounted for an average 7% per year.
Consequently, investments into the poorest African countries are capable of paying off by bringing profit, provided that correct calculations are made.
Not so long ago European countries tried to join the ‘battle for Africa’ with the aim of weakening Chinese influence, but this resulted only in armed conflict in the oil-rich areas of Mali. Despite the efforts of the former colonial powers, Africa is unlikely to reject the generous Chinese loans (not to mention the donor aid) in favor of rigid contracts with the Europeans.
Finally, at present the annual turnover between China and African countries has reached 200 billion dollars (in comparison: the turnover between Russia and China made up about 90 billion dollars by 2014).
According to information provided by the publication “VT” (USA) which is on friendly terms with the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”, the British Prime Minister David Cameron called the Beijing position as ‘Chinese intrusion’ into Africa, with the aim of establishing ‘authoritarian capitalism’.
In response, the African countries were unanimous in their opinion that ‘European capitalism’ established since the unpleasant times of ‘European colonization’ is hardly the best alternative for the Chinese ‘occupation’.
It’s remarkable that even in 2002 during the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the president of Tanzania announced in his speech to the Chinese side: “You understand us better than the people from the West and you can help us fulfill our hopes for an African renaissance”.
It is obvious that the Chinese are closer to the African people than the Europeans, even if we take into account the ethnic aspect. In 2008, the Chinese community living in South Africa — approximately 200 thousand people — succeeded in making the South African authorities recognize their equal rights in regard to the black community. Although since the abolishment of apartheid in 1994, the Chinese have had equal rights with the white people in the country.
It goes without saying that the equality in rights with the indigenous people of South Africa gives the local Chinese more opportunities; but also one can feel another aspect, such as ethnic proximity aimed at giving more ‘chances’ for non-resident Chinese working in other African countries.
Marriages with African women lower the status of Chinese workers in the eyes of the local people. This testifies to the fact that, however close they may be, the Chinese are still socially ‘above’ the Africans, although probably they would not like to admit this fact.
A huge number of Chinese citizens visit Africa every year. According to RBK information, only in 2013, more than 200,000 Chinese specialists arrived in Africa. Since 2000 to the present, approximately one million Chinese have arrived in Africa, according to the information published by the above-mentioned “VT” article.
In 2010s, the overall African turnover on the global market constituted an insignificant amount – on average 1.5%. Yet in 2014 Beijing decided to send well-trained staff to Africa to teach the Africans how to work on the new manufacturing factories (constructed by the Chinese), which earlier produced goods in China. In all likelihood, these factories will be launched in 2015 and will operate at full capacity several years later.
Very soon, the African countries will extend the sales of their goods worldwide, under the responsive governance of Chinese administration and introducing their united label – ‘Made in Africa’.
First, the competitiveness of these goods will be backed by the low cost of raw materials extracted from African soils and processed on site. Second, and most important is the fact that successful sales of goods produced in Africa will become possible due to cheap but very skilled labor force.
The Africans are literally a young, sound and very gifted continent able to work tirelessly. Also, the high unemployment rates in African countries almost certainly guarantee the abundance of labor resources.
In that case, the nearest decade will see the global production center – along with the inevitable smog – shifts gradually from Asia to Africa. Or maybe, the huge smoke clouds will cover both continents, simultaneously symbolizing not only ‘African renaissance’, but also the growth of enormous profits on part of China as well.
Sofia Pale, PhD, Researcher for the Center for Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.
Jim W. Dean was an active editor on VT from 2010-2022. He was involved in operations, development, and writing, plus an active schedule of TV and radio interviews.
ATTENTION READERSWe See The World From All Sides and Want YOU To Be Fully Informed
In fact, intentional disinformation is a disgraceful scourge in media today. So to assuage any possible errant incorrect information posted herein, we strongly encourage you to seek corroboration from other non-VT sources before forming an educated opinion.
About VT - Policies & Disclosures - Comment Policy