Image: Peng Wang (Unsplash)

China is building itself a path in line with its ultimate ambitions and the world is watching in anticipation. China has set itself out to be “the biggest player in the history of the world”, as described by the politician Lee Kuan Yew. President Xi Jinping himself called for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. China’s domestic dealing and international trade relations sets them out on a bumpy and dangerous road, playing in the Lion’s den. What the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and the MiC2025 (Made in China 2025) strategy show about China’s plans and what that means for counties in Africa, will be discussed in the article below. 

China’s blueprint to economic power is driven by ambition for political prowess. One such means of achieving this is the BRI. It was adopted as an infrastructure project to link countries of Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Connecting these markets allows for facilitation of growth of the Chinese technological sector. To enable the manufacturing industry, China needs metals which they find on the continent of Africa. By building railways that connect Nairobi to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, China is holding its mineral exploitation under a veil of ‘industrialisation aid’. The relationship initially seemed mutually beneficial but has quickly been criticized as “one of the most lob-sided trade relations in the world”. Kenya imports about R9,5 billion worth of Chinese goods, whilst only exporting R250 million to the PRC (People’s Republic of China) . China largely imports scrap metals for recycling purposes from Kenya whereas Kenya imports locomotives, machinery and equipment. Kenya finds itself receiving Chinese imports with open arms, without reciprocation. The Kenyan domestic market is being flooded with cheap Chinese goods with which Kenyan locals cannot compete. China’s state-driven stance towards many of its trade partners have a likeness to neo-colonialism. As the African continent seeks investors to enable industrialisation to keep up with the rest of the world, China has found an opportunity to advance its “rebuilding of the Chinese nation” with cheap mineral profiteering and arbitrary trade relations.

The MiC2025 is a 10-year strategy part of China’s plan to become the global powerhouse of technology by 2049. The MiC2025 strategy targeted 10 industries such as robotics, new energy, agriculture and aviation. This strategy has laid the groundwork for China’s way forward: exploitative foreign policy and protectionist domestic policy. In order to become the leading global manufacturer, China aims to mobilise subsidies and fiscal facilitation to promote Chinese companies and state-owned enterprises. The controversial FTT (Foreign Technology Transfer) allows domestic companies to gain access to the intellectual property of multi-national corporations and has added fuel to the China-US fire, that has escalated into a trade war. China has many policies in place that are and will continue to advantage Chinese companies in order to bring as much gain to China as possible. 

What does the MiC2025 mean for the rest of the world? Let us zoom in on our very own South Africa (SA). China has been importing natural resources from SA to use in their manufacturing industry. With the MiC2025 strategy focusing on the technological sector, the demand for SA’s resources will continue to grow. Although this has led to the commodity boom, China has cheap labor and has much higher value- add-ons in Global Value Chains (GVC) as they export manufactured end products to the international market. With a strategy like the MiC2025, the Chinese have a solid foundation to become the world’s largest exporter and make enormous profits. Chinese companies have taken a firm hold on many industries in SA, making it more difficult to shift away from the Chinese state and their mercantilist policies. SA finds itself in a position to tag along with the movement or get left behind. SA needs to make use of their own natural resources and invest heavily in production to take part in GVCs and manufacture higher-end, more value-add-on products. Partnering with other countries who face the same trajectory, such as Kenya and many other African counties can increase trade on the continent. 

The two strategies fall within the many policies China has adopted to foster their growth and near miraculous transformation that has been occurring in the past three decades. China has set out to become the “biggest player in the history of the world” and these two policies mirror this trajectory. The relations between China and Africa are well-thought out and were clearly influenced by endeavors to “rejuvenate” China and its power in the fourth industrial revolution. African countries serve in line with these aspirations, as enablers and face the dire need to reflect on where they stand and how they can balance the relations with partners globally and fight for a level playing field. 

Mara, grew up in a German household, living in South Africa she has been confronted with many identities and sees the study of Politics and International Relations as a way to categorise and analyse how she is being shaped by the world around her. 

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