China-Africa ties tense, despite Beijing’s economic focus on region

South African President Jacob Zuma Visits China
BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 04: Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with South African President Jacob Zuma (L) at The Great Hall Of The People on September 4, 2015 in Beijing, China. Jacob Zuma has arrived in China to participate in the commemorative activities of the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese Peoples's War of Resisitance against Japanese aggression and World War II. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI: Call it irony, but tension between Africa and China has been rising despite the latters increased investments in the continent and loan waivers. The dragons investment in the continent surged from an estimated $75 million in 2003 to $5.4 billion in 2018.

In September 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping had announced another round of investment of $60 billion in the continent, which is rich in natural resources, including critical minerals.

However, the growing economic dominance of the dragon in the region has not gone down well with most Africans, leading to a more intense anti-China sentiment. The locals have raised concerns over rising discrimination by the Chinese, abuse of labour laws and their regular interference in the internal political and economic matters.

Notably, Xi also announced writing off interest-free loans extended to African countries and that were to mature in 2020. While the African governments showed their appreciation for Beijing, the move has made the locals even more wary.

In June, three Chinese nationals, a textile warehouse owner and her two employees, were murdered in Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka — is testimony to the rising anti-China feelings. In the same month, two Zimbabwean workers were shot by their Chinese boss. However, the incident has been described by the Chinese embassy as an isolate case. The embassy also favoured a fair trial.

China has been focusing on mining activities, which account for about 30 per cent of Beijing’s total foreign direct investment (FDI) in the continent. Big-ticket investments have also come from China under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“China has been putting in money in Africa but there have been undercurrents and most Africans are unhappy and suspicious of the Chinese,” a foreign policy analyst said.

India-Africa Today (IAT), a forum focusing on India-Africa relations, noted that despite huge investments by China, Africans mostly see them as exploitative and untrustworthy. The common people in Africa have not gained much through China’s investments and infrastructure projects, India-Africa Today added.

“Africans have a natural inclination and attachment towards India and Indians, given the colonial past and consequent cultural linkages between India and Africa. Though Indian diaspora is present in more than 40 African countries, India-Africa relations have remained slow-paced and sluggish for several decades,” Rao Narender Yadav, IAT founder said.

By investing heavily in large-scale infrastructure projects, China has managed to create huge diplomatic and political influence in several parts of Africa, Yadav pointed out. “In contrast, India’s engagement remains slow-paced and confined to business interests only with no or little interference in Africa’s internal issues,” he added.