China's New Leadership and Sino-Africa Relations
Many Africans hope China’s new leaders will shift China’s priority from short-term resource exploitation to a more long-term sustainable development model. At the same time, albeit in small numbers, some African politicians and civil society organizations have begun to be more vocal in their opposition to China’s resource-centric approach toward the continent.
October 2015 | by David Delaney
On November 15, 2012, the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress announced the members of the new Politburo Standing Committee. Headed by Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, the fifth generation of Chinese leaders will decide the future of China and its relations with Africa and the world. The revelation of the long-speculated new leadership is yet to answer all the questions pertaining to China’s domestic and foreign policies. On the domestic front, China watchers eagerly await to see how the new leaders will tackle much-needed and long-overdue economic restructuring and political reforms. In terms of foreign policy, the world is trying to understand and evaluate the new leaders’ worldview, foreign policy posture and strategic thinking. For Africa, answers to these questions will determine how China’s changing internal and external priorities and strategies affect its approach and interest toward the continent.
Common speculations about the new Chinese leaders’ foreign policy are divided into two schools. The traditional school believes that, given the collective nature of China’s top decision-making process and the legacies of his predecessors, Xi will stay on the course designed by Deng Xiaoping and loyally executed by predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Characterized as “keeping a low profile,” this course sees conciliation and avoiding confrontation as musts in optimizing the external environment conducive to China’s economic growth. The more progressive school argues that China under Xi will become more assertive and hawkish, primarily because of the blossoming sense of empowerment from China’s rapid rise. Meanwhile, as China’s problems (economic slowdown and stagnation of political reform) intensify, the new leaders will need to exploit foreign threats to strengthen their legitimacy and divert the crisis at home.
Regardless of whether there will be a fundamental or philosophical change to China’s foreign strategy, it is highly unlikely that China will pursue any major policy change toward Africa. Compared to the more urgent and turbulent relations with big powers (such as the United States) and with its East Asian neighbors (due to territorial disputes), Sino-Africa relations have been significantly more manageable, smooth and satisfying for Beijing. China’s current agenda on Africa will persist under Xi in the foreseeable future. Politically, China will continue to seek Africa’s support of the One China Policy (Taiwan is part of China) and of its positions at multilateral forums such as the United Nations. Economically, Beijing will still look to Africa for natural resources and markets to fuel China’s economic growth. Strategically, if U.S.-China competition continues to expand and intensify globally, China under Xi most likely will heighten its relations and cooperation with Africa, allocating more economic and political resources for the continent to foster pro-China policies in light of the U.S. competition.