China and Africa: Historical Perspectives on a Rising Power

About this Episode

Guests
Joseph Parrott and Patrick Nash

China has expanded its global presence over the last decade much to the concern of U.S. officials. Africa is a major recipient of this new influence, building on Cold War relationships first forged during an earlier era of Sino-American competition. Yet looking at Chinese engagement in Africa over the last 50 years reveals that increased power has transformed Beijing’s foreign policies and strained its global relationships.

Panel:
Nicholas Breyfogle (Moderator) | Associate Professor, Department of History
Patrick Nash | Graduate Student, Department of History
Joe Parrott | Assistant Professor, Department of History

This podcast was supported by a U.S. Department of Education Title VI grant to The Ohio State University East Asian Studies Center, the Goldberg Center for Teaching Excellence in the History Department, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Bexley Public Library.

Cite this Site

Nicholas Breyfogle , "China and Africa: Historical Perspectives on a Rising Power" , Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective
November, 2021
https://origins.osu.edu/index.php/listen/history-talk/china-and-africa-historical-perspectives-rising-power?language_content_entity=en.
November, 2021

Transcript

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Hello, and welcome to China and Africa: Historical Perspectives on a Rising Power. Brought to you by the History Department, the Clio Society, the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio State University, by the Bexley Public Library, and the Ohio State University East Asian Studies Center, which is supported by the US Department of Education title six grant. My name is Nick Breyfogle, and I'm an associate professor of history and director of the Goldberg Center for Excellence in Teaching. And I'll be your host and moderator today. Thank you so much for joining us. China has expanded its global presence over the last decade, much to the concern of US officials. Africa is a major recipient of this new influence building on Cold War relationships first forged during an earlier era of Sino American competition. Today, we will look at China's engagement in Africa over the last 50 years to examine how its increased power has transformed Beijing's foreign policies and strained its global relationships. Without introduction, let me lay out the plan. Our two panelists will speak for a few minutes each on questions regarding the China Africa relationship historically, and I'll introduce them before they speak. Then we'll take your questions, and we'll open things up for discussion. If you're interested in asking a question, please write it in the Q&A function at the bottom of your screen at any time, we received several questions in advance, we'll do our best to answer as many as we can, during the hour that we have together. Let's begin with Patrick Nash, who will talk to us today about the China Africa relationship from the Chinese Vantage. Patrick is currently a doctoral student in the history department at The Ohio State University, where he studies modern Chinese history. Having earned his MA in history, from SUNY Buffalo in 2018, his research interests include the history of PRC, foreign relations, and Chinese media coverage of international affairs. And with that, let me pass the microphone over to Patrick. Thank you so very much.

 

Patrick Nash 

Thank you for that introduction. I'm going to go ahead and share my screen here. So give me one second while I technology here. Okay. All right. So thank you again, for inviting me. So I think because one of the points we're trying to drive home in this talk is that although the Sino African relationship, as or China's relationship with African countries, has been getting a lot of play in the Western media over the last, you know, decade or so, you know, it's China's relationship with African nations, it's not a recent phenomenon only. So to underscore this point, what I'm trying to do here, in my section of this talk, is to give a very, very brief summary of the development of PRC foreign policy more generally, which will then allow us to build off of that and put China's relationships with African nations into historical context. So in the autumn of 1949, the Chinese Communist Party defeated its Nationalist Party rivals and established the People's Republic of China on the mainland. The Nationalist Party government moved its capital on the island of Taiwan, where it competed with the PRC, the People's Republic of China for international recognition and domestic legitimacy. The civil war that effectively ended with the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 came on the heels of the collapse of Japan's Asian Empire, which had included large sections of mainland China and Taiwan as well as other areas southeast and East Asia. Prior to Japan's 20th century invasion of China, however, China had also been the target of Western imperialist ambitions in the twilight years of the Qing Dynasty, beginning in the 19th century. So China's history is a victim first of Western treaty court imperialism and then of Japanese Imperialism over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, informed the policy platforms of both rival Chinese governments after 1949. Both the Communist Party government in Beijing and the Nationalist Party government in Taiwan, they both claimed to be heirs of this like, to support staunchly anti-imperialist foreign policy. But for the purposes of this talk, we're going to restrict our conversation to the policies, and the policy rhetoric coming out of Beijing. So after taking power on the mainland, the Chinese Communist Party pitched its domestic legitimacy to the narrative that the Chinese Communist Party had a stronger track record against defending China's sovereignty or had a stronger track record of defending China's sovereignty against a third of foreign imperialism most recently, Japanese Imperialism. The significance of this for us today is that eventually, the PRC was able to use the shared experience of colonization and suffering at the hands of foreign imperialism, to claim an affinity with the newly independent and developing nations in the global south in the course of the late 50s and during the 60s and 70s. So, although anti-imperialism remained a key rhetorical feature of PRC foreign policy from its inception through the 1970s, and really into today we can still see the impact of this anti-imperialist legacy. It would be really oversimplifying things to suggest that the PRC's attitude and actual policies towards the foreign policies and policies towards decolonizing nations, in general, or more specifically, was, was static, right? Like most governments, specific policy decisions, were contingent on domestic political priorities, economic conditions, intra party conflicts, as well as the international environment. So consequently, they changed over time. And what was true in 1950, or 1952, wasn't necessarily true in 1963. Right, that seems simple, but I feel like I should just say it. But so specifically, for here, this talk, we're going to, I'm going to look at two specific ways in which the international environment helped to shape China's relationship with African countries in particular, in the 60s. But the two specific conflicts that I'm going to talk about are really, their origins are before that. So first is the Cold War. And then the second, the second conflict is the Sino Soviet split. So the Cold War understood as a conflict between US, like a US bloc of capitalist states versus a communist bloc, or a Soviet bloc of communist states shaped China's the People's Republic of China, the PRC's foreign policy, right. The PRC was a revolutionary communist state. It entered into alliance with the USSR in February of 1950, with the signing of the Sino Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance. During the period of Sino Soviet Alliance, the Cold War dynamics were among some of the most important factors shaping PRC foreign policy not exclusively, but among some of the most important factors shaping PRC foreign policy. The PRC received a substantial amount of aid from the USSR for industrial and military development, and they also cooperated on messaging during the 50s. They especially cooperated on messaging surrounding world peace and anti-imperialism. This accelerated over the course of the Korean War when PRC forces engaged with UN forces led by the United States on the peninsula. Because China's seat at the UN was still held by the Nationalist Party government and Taiwan. The Soviet Union was portrayed in PRC domestic media as a sincere ally on the inside of an unfriendly organization, the United Nations. This observation leads to one of the major ways in which the Cold War as a conflict between the United States and the USSR helped to shape foreign, PRC foreign policy decisions. The PRC was engaged in a struggle for international recognition. Because the United States identified the communist government in Beijing as an ideological enemy, the United States did everything it could to refuse engaging with that government. It protests it refused to recognize the People's Republic of China and protected the rival Nationalist Party government in Taipei. This refusal of the United States to recognize the Chinese government in Beijing, and the exclusion of the PRC from China's seat on the Security Council are mentioned here only because these decisions affected how and where the PRC went to seek allies. The PRC had to look for ways to undermine what they viewed as a US dominated and later as a European dominated world order. In this way, the UN seat in the Security Council became increasingly symbolic of the search for influence. Beijing needed to win allies and isolate Taipei to increase the legitimacy of its government. So at the end of the 1950s, when the Sino Soviet relationships began to sour, and a myriad of new African nations began to emerge the PRC's engagement on the African continent began to increase. This brings me to the second conflict I want to talk about that shaped PRC policy in Africa and that's the Sino Soviet split. So as mentioned, the PRC and USSR formed an alliance in 1950. And although the Alliance seemed natural, based on political ideology, it was not without tension. The PRC, path the Communist Revolution, differed from that of the Soviet Union and so as relations between the two nations soured, the PRC positioned itself as being at the vanguard of an anti-imperialist revolution internationally. It claimed that its agrarian peasant-based revolution and guerrilla warfare tactics were more applicable to the underdeveloped global south than was the USSR's experience. The PRC government reframed the USSR as a reactionary European imperialist power and positioned itself as at the head of a global revolutionary movement. The relationship between the PRC and the Soviet Union fractured in the 1960s, after which the PRC started competing more directly with the Soviet Union than it was with the United States, especially in the Global South, where the PRC positioned itself as an inspiration and model for revolutionary anti-imperialist movements. Essentially, what happened after the Sino Soviet split was that each the PRC and the USSR offered different models of revolution and development to the newly independent African nations. While the USSR emphasized economic revolution, the PRC emphasized its anti-imperialist revolutionary experience. And so the PRC's challenge of the USSR prompted both states to become more involved in the third world movement and newly African nations became the centerpiece of PRC USSR competition for allies and influence. So with that, I'm going to end my brief summary of Chinese foreign policy more generally, and throw it back to Professor Parrott who will discuss in more detail how the PRC engaged with potential new allies on the African continent. So I'm just going to stop sharing my screen here in a second. And thank you.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Thanks so much, Patrick. That's great. We're going to pass as, Patrick just said, we'll pass the floor over now to Joe Parrott. And just as a kind of by way of a just a brief introduction to him, R. Joseph Parrott is the Assistant Professor of US foreign relations and transnational history at The Ohio State University. He's interested in the intersection of the Cold War, decolonization and international policy. He is currently completing a book on the global solidarity movement supporting Portuguese African liberation movements in the 1960s and 1970s. He's the co-editor of the forthcoming volume, The Tricontinental Revolution, Third World Radicalism in the Cold War, and his publications have appeared in journals such as Modern American History, and Race and Class, and in such popular venues as the Washington Post. Joe, over to you.

 

Dr. Joseph Parrott 

There we go. I can unmute myself; I know how to do this. Alright, so let me share my screen as well, real quick. Let's get this PowerPoint going again and we'll just go ahead and pick it up right there. Um, so yeah, thank you all for coming out. And thank you, Patrick, for kind of setting the scene there. And so what we're seeing is that China first gets involved in Africa as part of this larger Cold War competition both with the United States and with the USSR. And after Ghana received its independence in 1957, what we see is decolonization really sweep through the continent over the next two decades. In the 1960s alone, there were 17 countries in Africa that received their independence and this wasn't an inevitable process. But Africans were really pushing for independence. This was leading to conflict, both diplomatic with former colonial kind of rulers, and also with local populations in places like South Africa and Rhodesia, modern day Zimbabwe. And so Africa is really becoming the center of revolution and anti-imperialism in places like Algeria, in Angola, in South Africa, alongside the kind of peaceable decolonization that's happening in places like Kenya and Ghana. And these new countries, as well as these liberation movements, they're looking abroad for assistance. And they need both economic help to rebuild their infrastructure to rebuild their nations, to kind of set up these independent, independent nations and these liberation movements need arms and support to kind of wage their revolutions against South Africans and Rhodesians and empires that are slow to devolve like the Portuguese Empire, which is what I studied. And in this context, China because of the anti-Imperial politics that Patrick was talking about, becomes this very natural partner for a lot of these countries to engage with and to adopt, because its anti-Imperial, has this history, China has this history of colonization, it's socialist, which involves the government kind of intervening to help build up this economy in a way that rapidly catches it up to the rest of the world and because China's also heavily agrarian, as are a lot of these African societies. And during this period, Mao is pushing the great leap forward in this economic restructuring of society with this push for mechanized agriculture, for industrialization. It's extremely disruptive in China, but and it produces starvation. But a lot of countries see this as the type of rapid advancement they want, they might not be adopting the same model. They don't like exactly what happens in the Chinese example. But that goal of rapidly modernizing the state is exactly what a lot of these African leaders are trying to look for. And so they're looking at China for inspiration, sometimes in partnership, and they're building these relationships with China as it's kind of going out on the world stage. And a lot of the closeness with China comes not just because there are these overlapping interests, but because they speak the same language much more than the US or the USSR. But this wasn't inevitable necessarily. Both the US and the USSR are kind of original sources of appeal for a lot of these countries. The US is extremely wealthy, the USSR comparatively wealthy compared to China, of course, these African states, and these countries are competing with each other, as well. But one of the problems is when these countries reach out to countries like the United States to ask for aid in developing their infrastructure, which is extremely important to these countries, one of the things you have to remember is that these countries are looking to really break away from, you know, these traditional European ties and these European ties are really problematic infrastructural ties, like communication, like shipping, these are all pointed towards the former empires, towards the United Kingdom, towards France. And these countries are trying to create new and independent economic and national identities away from these places. And this is actually still a problem today. I mean, it's easier to make a phone call, or it was easier to make a phone call for a long time, from Nigeria to the UK than across the, you know, the 10-hour drive to Ghana. It's still actually easier to import things from Japan to Nigeria, than it is to import things from Senegal to Nigeria, just because of the way that kind of shipping is set up along some of these old kind of colonial routes that continue to inform the international economy. And so what we see here is a lot of these countries are trying to have big infrastructural projects, to kind of break away with these traditions of empire and kind of create these new post-colonial relationships. And they're looking to the United States and the USSR for support and funding these big projects and providing expertise. But the problem is, especially when the US, which is of course the world's wealthiest nation, the source of a lot of aid, when it's looking at these projects, it's looking mostly at kind of economic feasibility, usefulness, the efficiency of the projects. And it's often focused on kind of limiting spending to the most specific things or to the most kind of worthwhile projects. And it does back a few major ones. The volta dam project in Ghana is one example. But it's rejecting a lot of these others that individual countries and groups of countries are offering because it's missing, one, the psychological value of breaking with empire. But it's also downplaying a lot of these regional links and the United States during this period doesn't actually have an interest in severing ties between its European allies and its former colonies. In fact, the United States repeatedly says in the 1960s and 1970s, that it thinks, you know, continued European tutelage will help kind of these economies develop in responsible ways. And so this seems very condescending for one thing from the African perspective. But also it misses the point of trying to break away from these empires and create their own independent economic and national identities. And so in this context, because the United States has been very careful about what it funds, because the USSR is kind of focused on other regions of the world and doesn't have the same kind of wealth that the United States does to invest in these economies, Chinese aid becomes extremely attractive because these kind of two, you know, big players on the international stage, aren't really interested in investing at the level that a lot of African leaders want. And so what we get is China becoming the kind of one that not only do they see the world in similar ways to a lot of these African leaders, but they're willing to get involved and fund these kinds of big infrastructural projects that challenge these colonial ties. And the number one example of this is the Zara or Tanzeem railway that links the landlocked copper rich region of Zambia to ports in neighboring Tanzania. And what this allowed Zambia to do was avoid depending on rail links through Portuguese, Angola and through Rhodesia, which were both hostile to some of these independent nations, and could occasionally kind of turn the screws on Zambia whenever it tried to speak out against empire and speak out against white minority rule in these regions. And the US had rejected that as our railway because of the cost because, they predicted small freight loads. And the United States instead said we'd invest in a road, you know, the United States would invest in a road. But this isn't what the these two countries wanted. And so China stepped in in the late 1960s, helping to burnish it’s kind of tarnished reputation after the Great Leap Forward, and really invested heavily in this project. And so China's spent over $400 million from 1970, to 1975, to build the longest rail line in Africa, and the workforce was about 20% Chinese, the other 80% was pulling on local African labor. And the Chinese lived alongside these local workers in similar conditions as part of this kind of sign of anti-Imperial solidarity, right, we're in this together, we're using Chinese expertise. A lot of these workers are a little bit, you know, better trained in heavy industry and building railroads and things like this. But we're all living together in kind of the same pursuit here. And there were problems with this. It was a one-track line, as you can kind of see in this image. There are a lot of breakdowns. But this became this really key trade route during the apartheid era that allowed Zambia a little bit more freedom of action when it's completely surrounded until 1976, and then, again, well into the 1980s by hostile states, like the Portuguese colonies, Rhodesia, and South Africa. And this really kind of explained this model of Chinese aid during this period, not only was it collaborative and cooperative, but involves building this big project and then handing it over to the African government. So the Chinese were essentially fully funding this or funding a large portion of this, and then fully handing it over. So these governments could profit from the creation and running of this railroad. And this was by far the biggest example of a Chinese project during this period. It's become kind of famous in the region. But China actually spent more on aid in the first half of the 1970s than the USSR. So it's actually funding a number of smaller projects. But this one being the kind of key one that everybody looked at. And from 1970 to 76, China was spending $1.8 billion on aid in 28 countries versus just 1 billion from the USSR in 20 countries. So China was a real large actor here. The United States is still spending a little bit more spread out through a lot more countries, but China's having a real impact during this period. And the reality is, this is costly to China, right? China has its own kind of reconstruction that's going on in its state. But Mao said that this was really important for the kind of Chinese self-image and for this larger anti Imperial project. And he supposedly told Tanzanian officials that China would build the rail for them, rather than needed projects in its own country. Because this was a sign of friendship, this was a sign of China kind of taking this leadership role and committing itself to Africa. And this did pay real political dividends for China. Among other things in 1971, the PRC was voted in as the kind of China representative at the United Nations. They gain the security seat that had been preserved for Taiwan for decades. And they did this largely with the support of African nations, and that they had helped kind of fund through this period. So this was a real political coup for China. At the same time, it's kind of going out there and offering this economic aid. But of course, there were problems, right. And this limited funds was a key thing. And as China started achieving some of its policy goals getting voted into the UN, among other things, when the United States finally recognized China, when it started kind of feeling its way out into the world, as this world power, you actually saw a shift in the way that relationships existed between the US and China, all of a sudden, this kind of African diplomacy of the sacrifices to kind of win over African nations weren't quite as important because China had a little bit more independence and a little bit more of its own power that it could work with on the international stage. And so you see China kind of drifting away from Africa, in the 1970s. And the 1980s, as its kind of being able to operate on its own right and start kind of investing more in its economy and kind of gaining power as a kind of big superpower on its own level. But one of the things we see here is there's always this kind of ongoing relationship with China. And we'll get to this image that's up here in a minute. But this begins, China begins kind of going back to Africa in the 1990s. But it's now doing so as this real economic power, as this emerging superpower. And one of the reasons we get China interested in Africa is not only because now it can kind of move its weight around a little bit more, but because, after Tiananmen Square especially, China found some of its connections, newly formed connections to the west, really strained over the issues of human rights. So as it's trying to kind of remake itself on the international stage it once again looks to Africa and adopts some of these kind of anti-Imperial politics that had quieted down just a little bit in the 1980s. And so what relationships with Africa offered it to do was it was a chance to push back against, quote, the unjust and inequitable world order that China was saying kind of affected both Africans and China. And so we're going to create bonds that really address the interests and the needs of Chinese and Africans, are going to create economic benefits and alliances that will help both countries out. And we're not going to get bogged down in some of these, these extra concerns that that the international community has like human rights. So we're finding ways to build alliances, that mutually benefit these countries without getting bogged down in human rights without getting bogged down in the kind of rising concern about the environment and pollution and things like this. And so this change in emphasis in the 90s, also goes to what these relationships actually look like, because this emphasis on mutual benefit really changes that model that existed in the 1970s. And China's now prioritizing, among other things, the opening of new markets that it can then sell and kind of buy goods from, but also this extraction of natural resources from the African continent, to help fuel the rising industrial base that exists in China in the 1990s and going into the 2000s. And so there are nods to African concerns, there's promoting of small industry, there's a little bit about creating local jobs. But a lot of these benefits increasingly are kind of flowing towards China. And we see a different change to what that investment looks like, too. There's a lot more mix of China getting more and more involved in these projects, not building them and handing them over like they did before. And we also see a little bit more of long-term investment and long-term involvement by China. And this change occurred as China said that African States did not properly manage some of these older projects, the Desira railway is kind of famously difficult to ride on. Now, there are a lot of disruptions, you can't always rely on getting one place to the next according to the schedule. And China uses this as an example say, hey, you know, China needs to have a more active hand, our country knows what it's doing. It knows how to build infrastructure. And so we're not just going to hand this over, we're going to stick around a little bit longer. And as a result, we see that the China's becoming a lot more involved here. And among other things, rather than kind of giving this aid and handing these projects over, you see China coming in with low interest loans, that are often supported by a greater import of Chinese expertise. And African states are a little bit wary of this. But it still is really important aid. There's a nod to education that's going along with this training local African workers. And there's of course, attention to jobs and things like that. So even though it's not quite the relationship that it was in the past, a lot of African governments still see this as a benefit to them in the 1990s and early 2000s. But the change in relationship is really important. And we see things starting to the new model isn't necessarily but to Zara railway, rather, we get things like special economic zones, and what's called the port Park City model, which is connecting these special areas where China invests a lot of money in kind of the creation of small industries. These industries often have relationships in nearby cities where they both get kind of their labor from creation of small rail networks that bring in the labor, they also tend to get a lot of perks, including tax breaks, including preferred access to electricity, including lowered costs for electricity. And then the final part of this is connecting it to a port. So this is a very kind of expert export oriented economic model that China's using it's kind of copying from its own system, but it's making sure that that it's creating in these African states and not a ton, there are a couple but if you can actually look at this map here you see, Addis Ababa to Djibouti has a kind of connection here, right. And one of the things that we see is we see this port Park City model being set up in Ethiopia. And these goods are being exported through the port of Djibouti, which is actually controlled by a Chinese company. So we see much more of a role for China here. And what this actually is, is part of what's come to become known as the Belton Road Initiative, or the VRI, which sounds kind of innocuous, but it's about this kind of recreating of the international system and the international infrastructure with China kind of at the center. So we have these exports. We have this infrastructure, focusing on creating these new production areas, exporting them through Chinese controlled ports, and linking them all kind of around Beijing, and Beijing is going to be the connector between places like Africa and Europe. And what this is, is part of China kind of recreating the international system around some of its interests. And you know, the Chinese government has talked in the last decade about these five connections, right? So infrastructure, free trade, finance, policy coordination, and people to people exchanges, all kind of centered around Beijing. And this is what a lot of this model is about with China providing the loans to build this infrastructure and providing the direction to kind of tie this to broader Chinese initiatives, both in Africa, and in Asia, and in certain parts of southern Europe. And so this does still offer benefits for African governments. But you can see that there's kind of a, there's some tensions that are rising with us. And I'll try to wrap it up in the next couple minutes here, because I know I'm running a little bit long. But for the most part, a lot of African governments have welcomed this, even though there's increased Chinese control. Even though they're not quite as many jobs as some of them would like, there have been real benefits in places like Ethiopia have created, for instance, shoe manufacturing industries, that they're then exporting to the west and exporting to Europe, and the United States. And so this is actually benefiting them, even if they're exporting some of this through Chinese controlled ports. And even if they're having to give up some of their tax revenue in order to do it. But we see some kind of tensions arising because as valuable as this Chinese alternative is to the US and the existing market, there are some real tensions here. And there's an increasing anxiety about the threat of debt, because you know, this Chinese debt is very real. These are loans that are expected to be paid back. And this gives China a lot of kind of political power and economic power over some of these countries. And there's increasingly local objections to the amount of Chinese expertise that's sent over here, the immigration that's causing it, and questions about how effective this actually is in creating local jobs. And so Zambia actually provides an interesting example. You can look at Zambia and see just how much Chinese investment is here. Of course, this is one of their oldest allies. This is, you know, the kind of core of the Tanzanian railway, right. One of the things that then when I actually studied in Zambia that you could see is that when you actually look at a lot of these Chinese projects, and there are a number of buildings going up through the capitals of soccer over the last decade, that are built and planned by Chinese architects and Chinese industries and Chinese businesses, you can see that that differentiation of what the jobs are a lot of the highest level jobs are related to Chinese imported kind of labor, you know, the experts are Chinese, a lot of the people working, you know, planting shrubs, for instance, when I actually saw it, were African. And so there's a real tension about this, there's there seems to be a real kind of difference between the jobs and the quality of jobs that are being created. And who's getting them with educated Chinese being kind of imported or migrating over to Phil, a lot of these, and this is creating attention. There's also a real concern with the Chinese ownerships of companies and infrastructure. And what we've seen is Chinese companies take over a lot of the kind of local big corporations that exist in Zambia, because they have the money to do it. They see it as investment. But there's a sense of that Zambians are kind of losing local control of this. And there have been tensions created, especially when a number of Chinese investors took over a local communications company, and then said a number of kind of disparaging things about Zambians and the Zambian government. And the biggest example was actually the Chinese were important with loans in building the new airport in Lusaka. And after there was a fear that the government might default on some of this debt. There was there were rumors running around Lusaka that the Chinese were actually going to take over and run the airport. And this produced a lot of consternation, a lot of anger. It wasn't true. At the time, the Chinese were not going to do that. But just the fact that these rumors were being created, and were getting reported in the news, and were inciting people to kind of complain to the government about this was a big deal. What we actually see is the current president of Zambia, his early political positions were extremely anti-Chinese. And he lost his first kind of runs for presidential power. And he kind of moderated a little bit when he came back. But the reality is that we have a politician running Zambia, whose early career was built on kind of resisting this expansion of Chinese influence, which is called Imperial, which is called bullying, which he says is essentially making problem in Zambia. And this is disseminating down to the kind of local level and if you go and you look at the newspapers that you can read from Lusaka that are online and look at some of the comments sections, you can not only see that there's regular reporting on actual attacks on Chinese business owners in Lusaka, especially as they kind of move down into the kind of local corner store area, there's been real interpersonal tensions, but you also see a lot of commentary recently when we were talking about the pandemic about what was popularly called in Zambia, the Wuhan flu because there is this kind of anti-Chinese sentiment going around and so that that anti-Chinese description of the Coronavirus pandemic was called the Wuhan flew there because of the real tensions that exists. And so one of the things that we're seeing is despite the fact they have this long Alliance on being anti Imperial on China kind of investing in Zambia to help them break their ties with their former kind of colonial rulers in the United Kingdom, break their ties, even with dependence on the United States, we're seeing this real anti Imperial politics developing in certain areas of Africa, because it seems like China has essentially come in and kind of replaced these former colonial masters and are doing similar things, even if they're, they're having better rhetoric, or even if they're doing a better job on the political stage, kind of playing this off as mutual cooperation. But you see this real disconnect between what China traditionally did, what they still say they're doing and trying to reform the international system, and the reception that it's having in certain places of the African continent. So with that, we'll go ahead and wrap up. And I think Patrick, and I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Marvelous. Thanks so much, Joe. And we've had a bunch of questions come in. If you would like to. If you have anything you'd like to ask Patrick, and Joe, please feel free to type it into the q&a. And we'll work our way through the questions we get. And the first question that I'll send to Patrick's way just to start. Just a real question, I guess about a broader kind of Chinese, China's foreign policy in this regard. Which is, you know, are other continents, other countries, other parts of the planet receiving similar type of attention to what we're seeing in the African case? And if not, if they're not receiving, if other parts of the world are not receiving this same kind of attention, then why Africa? But so just trying to get a sense of putting this, this China, this Sino African relationship into the larger context of kind of Chinese activities abroad?

 

Patrick Nash 

Great, thanks. That's actually, that's a great question. So I mean, when I read contemporary, like the rhetoric coming out of Beijing, either, you know, Xi Jinping speeches or state media, I mean, there does seem to be in maybe the other region, so there are other regions. So it's a lot of times I'm thinking about teaching things like speech to the UN, right. And he referred to over and over developing countries. It's a kind of like Global South Africa, Africa, the African continent, a lot of African countries fit into this larger, like global south. The larger global south push, right, like we have a, we're not going to impose our values on you the way that America will. We respect all different kinds of governments. And so some of the developing countries, some of the areas of global south that maybe haven't chosen to go with Democratic route, China pushes with them to the Middle East is hot right now in Chinese media, because of Afghanistan. But Africa does seem to have so when I watched the news, Africa seems to there seems to be so it might be actually bias on my part, because I'm interested in it too. But it seems like they spent more time covering Africa than they do Latin America. Um, but, you know, regionally. There's a lot of in Asia, like, so I see coverage of Asian issues, like broader East Asian, Southeast Asian issues, the Middle East and Africa as like some of the core. But it seems like the rhetoric is often developing countries. If that makes sense. I'm not sure if I answered your question, or if I successfully avoided answering your question, but I don't know. Professor Parrot, isn't there?

 

Dr. Joseph Parrott 

Yeah, I'll jump in. And here. Let me share the screen again. Can you see that? So I mean, if we're looking at the Belton Road initiative, right, there is a lot going on in Africa. But you can also see there's a lot of development going down South Asia, right. So I think this is a real global push. There's some attempts over here, if you can see my cursor to go into the Middle East as well. I mean, I think a lot of what China's trying to do is, um, you know, touch on these areas, the developing world, the Global South, as Patrick has said, that have been kind of ignored within some of this and kind of fill in some of those gaps. Right. And I think one of the big reasons why Africa is kind of featured is for two reasons. One, I think when you move into Southeast Asia, and you're dealing with that East Asian area, there's a lot of tensions with China that exist and so I think there are fewer opportunities. Um, but number two, I think Africa doesn't have that same kind of regional power that kind of fills that role right. Latin America has not only the United States, but Brazil is a big action. Argentina has its moments, right, where they're all kind of saying, hey, you know, we need kind of regional leadership. But South Africa is probably the closest thing that Sub Saharan Africa has. And it's a relatively weak state that still hasn't quite gotten its own house in order. And so China, I think, sees Africa as an opportunity to kind of develop this Belton Road initiative, with slower pushback than say, exists in parts of South East Asia, especially where there's kind of a traditional kind of frustration or concern, or, you know, whatever, with that kind of larger Chinese influence, if that makes sense. But yeah, I mean, the Belt and Road Initiative is global. Right. And Africa is just kind of a featured aspect of it.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Let me send a question. You're away, Joe, which kind of which degree you've answered. But we had a couple of questions about well, sort of two aspects of the same question. One is kind of which parts of Africa is China, particularly targeting and we had some people point out, of course, that China is a country, Africa is a continent. So it's a bit of a bit of an imbalance juxtaposition that we have you in the title here. But which parts of Africa is China, specifically targeting? And? And kind of on top of that, why then, is, you know, we've talked about that there is some US concern about these activities. Why is there us concern? Is it? Is it? Is the concern, focused particularly on the parts of Africa that China's interested in? Or is it more kind of concerned about China Chinese expansion of influence broadly?

 

Dr. Joseph Parrott 

Yeah, so to some extent, from what I understand it, and I'm a little bit, you know, the presence stuff, I'm a historian, so the presence stuffs a little bit more sketchy for me. But there seem to be different parts of Africa, where China is getting involved, Ethiopia has been a very large one on parts of West Africa, the Congo as well. And then that area kind of right around Zambia. And two of the things that they've been looking for is one, I think there has been this this focus on resource extraction. I mean, China's moving into some of these high-tech industries, which involves access to kind of rare earth minerals. And a lot of that happens in places like Zambia in the Congo. So there has been investment, very kind of pointed investment in these regions, to try to get those resources out and going towards Chinese factories. The other opportunity has been places like Ethiopia, which has a, you know, relatively educated population that can be turned to kind of light industry and has some support for that. So there's been investment there, where they've been able to find willing partners, to kind of set up these models of what light industry looks like, and what the kind of alternative state based interventionists kind of model that the China's selling to some of these countries could look like. And they're very much kind of set up as these model kind of investment opportunities. And I think those are the two big things that we're seeing extraction, and then that kind of model small industry thing that helps China, kind of outsource some of the stuff as it moves somewhat towards more high end production. The thing that I would say about the United States is, I think more than just a specific region, it's about this kind of larger global Chinese push, because China, among other things, is clearly trying to set up an alternative to what is the kind of American European dominated international system and is doing so not only with these increased loans, but these new infrastructural paths, and also things like a potential alternative to the World Bank, right, which is still very much controlled by the US, there's been some flirtation with China and Brazil and Russia about setting up their kind of own alternative to the World Bank, sometimes called the BRIC bank. Um, but so I think that's really more what the United States is concerned about. It's not any one particular country being kind of peeled off, because honestly, the United States is sees Africa, it doesn't often see the individual crises at the individual plates of these nations, at least not as a kind of national discussion point. But I think it's more about this kind of bold push that China has been making in the last 20 years or so to really expand its presence in some of these areas where it's traditionally had a kind of lesser presence or had kind of lost interest after the 1970s.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Great, Patrick, a couple of code? Well, a broad question in a in a in a more focused question. That I think a related one, one of the people in the audience has asked how do we characterize or how should we characterize the interaction between kind of China and different African nations obviously, part of it comes out of a, an anti-colonial, anti-Imperial kind of background or rhetoric, but is it in fact today some new kind of colonialism new type of imperialism, some Neo imperialism, I'm not sure what word we want to choose, but you know, is it a variant of this isn't just simply a kind of consequence of of the capitalist system. Is it just a kind of capitalist type of relationship? And kind of related to that a sort of a more focused question. When people the audience asks that it's there, it's his understanding that the China's strongly encourages African nations receiving aid to make Chinese required language in secondary schools. And is this true? That's kind of part of part of the process of, of the relationship in this new structure?

 

Patrick Nash 

I'll answer the second question first, because it's easier for me to answer I don't know if I don't know if that is true or not. I know that. Overall, the PRC is China is pushing for Chinese language study abroad, just generally, you know, through partnerships or institutions like Confucius Institute, like promotion of Chinese language and culture is it is part of China's current? Like, maybe soft power is the attitude, or part of its like global posture, or outward facing posture right now. It's, it's an N word. I mean, it's big promotion, promoting Chinese language, literature, culture, national too. But I don't know if they're pushing for to become a requirement or not in an African school receiving aid? That's a really great question. The first question, I think, is trickier for me to answer, right. Like, I feel almost. I think that parts of parts of the relationship between China and different African countries fit into that, like, well, like natural kind of flow of capitalism, right. There are natural resources resource extraction. But also, I don't know, I looked at I primarily look at China's engagement with Africa as a political engage as a political tool more than an economic tool. Even if there's economic exploitation happening, or even if there's economic, if it's not exploitation, if there's economic agreements happening, trade. Yeah, I think that, you know, for my interests from China, kind of, from a Sino centric perspective, the relationship and the way that the African relationship with the way that China's relationship with Africa is described and portrayed in Chinese media seems very much to reinforce Chinese domestic political agendas. So because of the way I look at this topic, especially the way I look at it, in the contemporary and historical as kind of representations of this relationship in Chinese media is, I'm hesitant to put a label on it. The other reason I'm hesitant to put a label on it is I imagine, actually, I know it's different in different countries, China's relationship with different African countries is different. China has a history of doing multilateral things, but also bilateral relationships are important to Chinese Foreign Policy historically. And so each country is going to have a different relationship with China. And as an outsider, I have a hard time labeling it precisely, I think that I would want to answer that question with a more I would want to have a better understanding of what the independent what the different African countries how they consider this relationship. Right. I think that in order in for that, I would actually pass it back again to Professor parrot, because he probably has a better idea of what's actually going on the African continent as far as public opinion goes, than I do.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Let me actually, just let me just ask you, actually, because this this relates to another question that was that was posed. And so it's going to expand based on the question that, Patrick through your way, but we had a question come in that that asks, and I'll read it in focus. I think that'll kind of builds off of what Patrick was just saying. What do you see as what do you see as the role regime type in the African states’ relationship with China? Western media often uses terms like and I quote here, “rogue donor,” or quote, “propping up dictators” to describe Chinese engagement with Africa. Is this true? What is the role of Africans agency in this relationship and what makes for an African willing partner? So if I can throw that on top of the question, yeah.

 

Dr. Joseph Parrott 

So I'll say two things and kind of lead into that. So, um, one, I think Patrick is right about that political relationship. There's a lot of economic ties, and it's supposed to be no strings attached this aid. But what we do see is there's a lot of political results for China that come through that, and I didn't have a chance to mention it. But the Taiwan example is an interesting one in the sense that there used to be a number of countries that recognize Taiwan and Africa. And that number has been dwindling. Despite the fact there is no, you know, there's no force, there's no cajoled reasons for these countries not to recognize Taiwan, except China wants it that way. And I think we're down to only Eswatini. Being the lone record country that recognizes Taiwan, and that's directly a result of these relationships between China and Africa. But in terms of the individual relationships, again, it's kind of country to country, it's one of the reasons I focused in on Zambia, I have seen Neo colonial and Neo Imperial thrown around in discussions within Zambia about Chinese is about China's role there, it's a little bit more positive in places like Ethiopia, where there is that kind of investment in small industry, and that that part, the park port city model, or the Park City port model has been kind of modeled there, right. But at the same time, I think one of the reasons why you have these countries operating is because China is willing to invest fairly heavily and build strong relationships with countries with questionable, you know, democratic histories or with countries with kind of strong man leaders. And while that's not a prerequisite, China works just as well with democracies, as it does with some of these strong men types. I think China going in and saying, hey, we're not concerned about human rights, we're not concerned whether your democratic government we don't attach political strings in that sense, to our aid has been really attractive to some of these countries, like Zimbabwe, for instance, which has had a really troubled relationship with the United States, but at various points has had a has a relatively good relationship with China. And the same things happening in Ethiopia, right, we're seeing Ethiopia crackdown a lot on protests, we're seeing these real problematic developments within the country at large and their critiques coming from the United States, China's pretty quiet on all this as long as it doesn't kind of interfere with the investments that they're making in those countries. And I think that's a real advantage to some African states, even the democratic ones you see, the US is heavy handed on issues related to human rights, on issues related to pollution and things like this, as they as they try to kind of, you know, build their countries up and, you know, lead their countries they see the United States is hypocritical in a lot of ways. And so China can be an attractive partner.

 

Patrick Nash 

And I mean, if I can just quickly add on top of that this has been a consistent I mean, this idea of like noninterference and internal domestic affairs of other countries, and like defense of national sovereignty, has been fairly consistent even as it's pushing its revolutionary paradigm. During, you know, the bow years, this noninterference in domestic affairs is really a foundational pillar of I think, Chinese Foreign Policy rhetoric. And in the recent as tensions go back up with a over the, across the Taiwan Strait, which is a domestic issue for the PRC, they said, you know, the way it's portrayed in Chinese press is a domestic issue. We see more and more. You know, when China's talking about when, when the PRC representative at the United Nations, or when Xi Jinping is giving a speech about China's international posture, a lot of it is, hey, we don't come in and tell you what needs to be done. Everyone has the right to self-determination, right? Like every NGO, the language they use is very much yeah, everyone has the right to like determine their own political, we're not going to interfere. We just want to find mutually beneficial. arrangements, right. Like that's, that's, that's the, that's the basically standard or provides you with the aid and technology, especially during the COVID provide you with aid and technology that you're not able to get elsewhere. We're doing this for, we're not doing this to, to enter, we're going to let you be you write this. And that's been a pretty I bet, I think, in my reading, and that's been a pretty consistent and it serves both foreign affairs or, you know, and domestic very much is relevant to domestic politics of China.

 

Dr. Joseph Parrott 

Let me have one thing real just real quick on that. Patrick's absolutely right. That has been central, but there always have been those kind of decisions about how close you make the relationship based off some of these conditions. So in the 60s and 70s, China was allied with certain countries or certain groups over others, depending on whether they were allied with the Soviet Union. Right. Same things true with Taiwan. So I think it's one of those things. The United States is concerned about democracy and human rights. And China's not China's concerned about things that are more direct to its competition competitions at that moment, right, the Soviet Union, that model of communism versus Maoism, and Taiwan, so there are things but it's not human rights. It's not democracy, all that stuff that the United States is concerned about. China's very hands off and says, you know, you kind of do what you want, we're going to work together, no matter what, but they will sever relationships, for instance, if you supported the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

I think we have time for one more question. And let me throw this one. Because it's directed actually to, to you, Joe. It's a question about how do you see China's engagement evolving, as with buying in the g7 countries, as they kind of flesh out their future plans. And the person writes, when they worked at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, many scholars speculated sort of two directions of development, either increased cooperation or further decoupling from superpowers. What are your thoughts on kind of what the future holds in this regard?

 

Dr. Joseph Parrott 

So Patrick, can hopefully weigh in on that as well. I mean, at the end, I don't quite know. Right, you know, historians are not great for prognosticators. But the reality is, I think it depends on a couple of issues. I think it depends one on how well we can kind of control that relationship and control some of the terms of debate. And that's exactly what the Transpacific Partnership was trying to do. Right was kind of trapped China in a in a kind of normative sphere that would force them to move in either more cooperative directions or completely break and isolate themselves. And so the, the partial collapse of the TPP, or at least the United States, not being involved, I think kind of hurt our attempts to cajole China into a more cooperative relationship. I also think it depends, you know, how much room they get to move because the United States, you know, Coronavirus, for instance, was very weak on talking about helping parts of the global south on helping Africa and helping Latin America, but China was very happy to move into that, um, to move into the, you know, kind of vacuum and fill a role there, even though it's vaccine was nowhere near as effective as the one developed in the United States. And so I think it depends in many ways, how much room the united states, states gives China to be independent. And there's a certain point where I think it's going to grow large enough that the cooperation with the United States doesn't necessarily pay the dividends that it used to. And I think it's also a little bit maybe, about the United States finding ways to, I don't want to say Empower, but there, I think there is a an emerging, and maybe Patrick can speak to this, there's an emerging frustration with China about some of the ways that government is going about things. And so I think there's a real question, Does China continue to clamp down on that? Does it continue to centralize power? Or are there ways that we see things loosening a little bit, again, like they did in the 1980s, and to a certain extent, the 1990s. And if that's the case, there might be opportunities for the United States to encourage cooperation or for the Chinese, for that matter, to reach out. But I think that's kind of where it depends. Does the United States kind of cede some of its leadership and not just the United States, but Europe as well, that they see the leadership of the international community during these moments of crisis? And China takes hold of that? And does China continue to go in the direction has been going with using ping for about the last decade?

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Patrick, Jeff, two sentences you want to finish up with? To add to that?

 

Patrick Nash 

You know what? No, I'm good with I'm good with what Professor Parrott said. I don't think I've got much more to add.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Well, that is just perfect. Thank you amazing that we have, as always sped through the hour that we have together. Thank you. Thank you all so very much for joining us today. And my apologies for the questions we didn't quite get to. There's never quite enough time I find on the slide for all the things we'd like to talk about. But thank you so much for coming in for your very thoughtful questions. I'm really grateful to Japan and Patrick Nash for sharing their expertise and passion for history with us today. And please join me in giving them a very virtual round of applause. To say thank you for their time and expertise. I'd also like to thank the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio State especially Clara Davison, Jade Lac and Maddie Kurma. Also the history department, the Harvey Goldberg Center, the Clio Society, Bexley Public Library, East Asian Studies Center, and the magazine Origins, Current Events in Historical Perspective for their sponsorship of the event today. And once again, thank you, our audience, for excellent questions and your ongoing connection to Ohio State. Stay safe and healthy. And we'll see you next time. Thank you.

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