China in Africa

3. The Origins of China's New Africa Policy

All data are collected in the Fiscal Year of 2008-2009.

It is against the backdrop of its growing thirst for energy supplies that China in recent yearshas emerged alongside France and the United States (US) as one of the most activeforeign powers on the African continent. In 2005 alone, China sent twice as many cabinetlevel officials to Africa as did the United States or France.[David Shinn. “China’sApproach to East, North and the Horn of Africa,” China’s Global Influence:Objectives and Strategies (before the U. S.-China Economic and Security ReviewCommission), July 21, 2005].

After its initial misconceived ideological foray into the region during the 1960s and 1970s,China became a marginal player on the continent during the 1980s and early 1990s,dominated by the cold war rivalry between the US and Russian superpowers. However,the collapse of communism and China’s rapid shift to a market oriented economy saw thereturn of Beijing into Africa with a much more determined strategic outlook focused on thedevelopment of trade, new markets and the acquisition of new energy/commodityresources.

By the late 1990s, China’s growing natural resource requirements and new outwardlooking approach in its world view necessitated a radical reassessment of its failed Africanengagement of the 1960s and 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, several cluster strategymeetings were held by all China’s main policy making arms to discuss African policy.

A Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) Military Commission was established in 1998 to prepare the groundwork for a new defence policy towards the continent. Individuals involved in this project included the following:

  • General Sun Qixiang – then deputy director of the Office of Foreign Affairs at theChinese Ministry of National Defence.
  • Major General Xian Guangkai - Intelligence Chief 2nd Department of the PLA GeneralStaff Department (GSD).
  • General Xu Xin – then Deputy Head of the PLA Chief of Staff.
  • Lt. General Dong Wanrui - Chinese Institute for International Strategic StudiesNanjing - Department Commissioner
  • General Luo Bin – then head of the Office of Foreign Affairs at the Chinese Ministry ofNational Defence.
  • General Xu Huizi – Former deputy head of the PLA

The inclusion of Major General Ma Dianshung, (Commander of the elite 15th AirborneDivision) had to do with a clearer insight amongst Beijing's military planners of the shiftingrole of African armies in peace keeping deployment operations across the continent, andthe reluctance of Western countries to get involved in such operations. The "white paper" that emerged from the commission advised the Chinese government onthe need to aggressively increase arms sales to African countries as well as to step uptraining programmes for the armed forces of Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, Ghana,Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Congo-Brazzaville, the DRC, Cameroon, Gambia, Burundiand Togo to counter US and other Western training programmes on the continent.

3.1. Meeting of the Ministry of State Security

On the intelligence side, a joint regional meeting was held between the country’s varioussecurity organs, under the aegis of the Ministry of State Security (“Guojia Anquan Bu” orGuoanbu) in late July 1999, to discuss intelligence operations in Africa. It was chaired byXu Yongyue, the then veteran Head of the Chinese Intelligence Directorate.

At the meeting, Tian Genren, the Head of Guoanbu's Section 17 Department (dealing withEconomic and Financial Intelligence)* presented a 115 page master-plan for the period2000 to 2003 on aspects of China's economic engagement with Africa. This was toeventually form the basis for the convening of the China-Africa Consultative Forum(CACF) held in Beijing in October 2000.

Others attending this meeting included Wan Chun Xie, the main figure in Guoanbu'sAfrican intelligence gathering networks; top officials from the office of then Prime MinisterZhu Rongji; Zou Jiahua, analyst and internal adviser to the Intelligence Directorate; andCheng Yu Wei, Head of the coordinating Committee that designates intelligence agentsthat must be included in all Chinese trade and economic missions into Africa.

3.2 The Africa Ministerial Meeting

In late 1999, a closed seminar on "21st Century Development Strategy for Sino-AfricanRelations" was held under the auspices of the Chinese Research Society on AfricanAffairs (CRSAA). Attended by 150 government officials from the Ministry of ForeignAffairs, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MOFTEC), as well asresearchers from various academic and technical institutes, Chinese businessmen andoverseas based Chinese; the purpose of the seminar was to map out a strategy to solidifySino-African relations.

This seminar was one of several similar seminars leading up to the successful BeijingConference or China-Africa Consultative Forum (CACF) held in October 2000.

Important input on the CACF Conference came from a group headed by then Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs for African Relations and Vice Chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, Ji Peiding. Others in the group included Liu Guijin (former ambassador to South Africa and current Chinese Special Envoy for Sudan), and Ms Xu Jinghu (Director General of the Department of African Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Ironically China’s interest in Africa coincided with the Bush Administration’s strategic reevaluation of Africa’s potential energy reserves and the viability of the continent to be a

*Though the picture is not entirely clear, most intelligence literature acknowledges that the MSS comprises 12 Main Directorates or Bureaus, and 6 independent offices. In turn each Directorate is divided into sections. The Section 17 referred to above includes “jijandie” (espionage personnel, collectors of data and confidential materials, like budgets and accounts) and “fen xijia” (specialist analysts talented in statistics, computers, analysis skills etc.). It also has a special section dealing specifically with “wangji wanghuo” (or “interwang”), more commonly known as the Internet.

safer and more secure source of crude oil in the longer term than the Middle-East to feedUS consumers. Both countries had reached the same conclusion – Africa was a viablealternative source of energy, pushing up the strategic importance of Africa in theirrespective national security priorities and laying the foundation for stronger superpowerrivalry on the continent.