Hidden Dragon, Crouching Lion: How China's Advance in Africa is Underestimated and Africa's Potential Underappreciated

  • September 01, 2012
  • Mr David E Brown

The explosive growth of China’s economic interests in Africa—bilateral trade rocketed from $1 billion in 1990 to $150 billion in 2011—may be the most important trend in the continent’s foreign relations since the end of the Cold War. In 2010, China surpassed the United States as Africa’s top trading partner; its quest to build a strategic partnership with Africa on own its terms through tied aid, trade, and development finance is also part of Beijing’s broader aspirations to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower. Africa and other emerging economies have become attractive partners for China not only for natural resources, but as growing markets. Africa’s rapid growth since 2000 has not just occurred because of higher commodity prices, but more importantly due to other factors including improved governance, economic reforms, and an expanding labor force. China’s rapid and successful expansion in Africa is due to multiple factors, including economic diplomacy that is clearly superior to that of the United States. China’s “no strings attached” approach to development, however, risks undoing decades of Western efforts to promote good governance. Consequently, this monograph examines China’s oil diplomacy, equity investments in strategic minerals, and food policy toward Africa. The official U.S. rhetoric is that China’s rise in Africa should not be seen as a zero-sum game, but areas where real U.S.-China cooperation can help Africa remain elusive, mainly because of Beijing’s hyper-mistrust of Washington. The United States could help itself, and Africa, by improving its own economic diplomacy and adequately funding its own soft-power efforts.