When you look at the world map, you may think that Africa is as large as South America, because they have similar shape. It is not. In fact, Africa is larger than South America and Europe combined. Africa is the second largest continent, after Asia. It has over 20% of the total land area and 15% of population of the whole world. Yet, with less than 1% of the world’s volume of trade, Africa is the poorest continent.
In this article, I will walk you through some statistics about the economic tie between China and Africa. Then I will make some sense out of these numbers. And probably you will find most of my conclusion different than what you can get from main stream (western) media. Don’t worry. There will be a next article, where I will use some of my finest deduction techniques to show you why I am right and they are wrong.
The first number, in 2012, the total volume of the China-Africa trade reached 198.49 billion USD. Is it a big number? It certainly looks like a big one, but no. In the same year, the volume of the China-South Korea trade was 256.4 billion USD. The second largest continent has a smaller volume of trade than half a country. Moreover, this 198.49 billion USD is only 5.13% of the total foreign trade volume of China, but it is 16.13% of the total foreign trade volume of Africa. It is not difficult to tell whether this economic connection is more important to China or Africa.
When we talk about real world numbers, we have to keep in mind that those numbers are changing. Especially when those numbers are about China, they can change really fast. Although in 2012, the volume of trade was only small portion to China, it had already grown more than ten times comparing to year 2003. Or maybe it is more dramatic, if I put this number in percentage, and it has “increased by 1000% in 10 years”. Since 2009, China has become the No. 1 trade partner of Africa and in the foreseeable future, the total trade volume will keep rising.
Who is profiting from the trade? Among the 198.49 billion USD, 85.319 billion was China’s exports to Africa, and 113.171 billion was China’s imports from Africa. Therefore, Africa has an export surplus. In another word, Africans are earning money from Chinese.
Why is the trade growing so fast? The basic reason is China’s demand. As the world factory, China is manufacturing for the whole planet. Chinese people are hardworking but not magicians. The traditional way of Chinese business, to buy oil and minerals from Africa, make Barbie dolls or sneakers out of them, and ship them to some first world countries to get the money to pay the Africans. Of course, China also produce many things, such as less fancy shoes and clothes for the African people, and they can get those product with very fair price. It is a business model that everyone gets what he needs.
So much for trading, the next subject is investments and aids. China started to aid Africa back in 1960s, when the whole country was still starving. Back then, the main purpose was to gain diplomatic influence. Africa played a very important role, when China entered UN. In many other international organizations, African countries are also allied with China.
Nowadays, investments and financial aids has more meaning than just international politics. Since the global economic crisis, western countries have experienced more and more difficulties to maintain the consumerism that has been the driving force of their economy. China is producing more things than the westerners can consume. Did I mention that Africa has 15% of the world’s population? Africa is a huge potential market, though currently under developed. To make this potential market a real market, first you have to make Africa rich. Therefore, more than 2000 Chinese enterprises have directly invested more than 20 billion USD in Africa. Western media usually like to write stories about how China get natural resources in Africa, but never mention that how much Chinese have to invest to get those resources out of the ground. They also managed to find a way to portrait natural resource exportation with a negative image, by associating it with the first world problem of environment protection. Personally, if I have to choose starving to death or breathing in polluted air, I prefer to take my chance with a full stomach, not to mention if the environment problem is as severe as they described.
As a developing country, China had many similar problems as Africa before. And some of these problem remains even today. For example, food problem. China has 20% of the world’s population but only 7% of its farmland. Over the years, Chinese people accumulated advanced techniques to grow plants in rough landscape with the sole purpose to feed themselves. And now they are using those techniques to help African people. Moreover, as a big country, China had many problems with its infrastructure. There is a saying in China, called “Want to get rich? Build a road!” (要想富，先修路). And that is how Chinese people do in the past a few decades. The infrastructure in China has an unprecedented growth. Now, China is helping Africa to do the same thing. China is supporting around 300 ongoing infrastructure projects in Africa. Half of them are for transportation.
To summarize, it should become clear to you why China is making all these effort in Africa. Chinese are smart business people. What Chinese people do in Africa is not charity but better. With all infrastructure and other investments, Africa is having an unusual opportunity of catching up with the rest of the world. And China is also having an opportunity of finding source of raw material and a big market. It would be a win-win situation, for both China and Africa, but probably not for the old colonists.