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China, Oil, and Africa: A New Perspective

This commentary provides insights into the evolving trajectories of China-Africa relations by drawing on a case study of the place of a strategic natural resource, oil, in the evolving relations. It unpacks the nature of China’s engagements with Africa’s oil-producing states and challenges the views of those who claim that emerging China-Africa relations are based on a “new colonial” scramble for Africa’s resources, particularly oil. The commentary advances an alternate view based on Africa’s agency in shaping its relations with China and posits that African petro-states and elites are in a position to determine if the outcome of oil engagements with China will connect to a project of national and continental development, or not.

China Oil and Africa A New Perspective
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Beijing on September 5, 2018. Nigeria has been China’s largest oil provider for the last decade. PARKER SONG / Getty Images
 

 

Introduction

In the recently concluded Forum on China-Africa Summit, held from September 3-4, 2018 in Beijing, President Xi Jinping of China announced that his country had implemented ten cooperation plans and delivered on its $60 billion pledge of financing to Africa within the framework of development cooperation since the 2015 FOCAC Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa.1 With China-Africa trade topping $200 billion in 2017, the latest FOCAC meeting held in Beijing, and attended by 53 of Africa’s 54 states, marked a “critical milestone” in China-Africa relations. The growing ties between Africa and the continent’s largest trading partner, China,2 have attracted attention both within the continent and across the world. Speaking at the FOCAC meeting, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa expressed Africa’s expectation of China’s continued support and partnership in helping Africa realize its great potential.3 There is no doubt that the rise of China as an emerging power from the Global South holds great symbolism for Africa’s ruling elites, who clearly hold the expectation that Africa can benefit both from the “demonstration effect” of China’s feat, as well as its support, to transform the continent and renegotiate its place in an emerging global order.

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