Sputnik discussed the issue with Ian Taylor, professor in international relations and African political economy at the University of St. Andrews and also chair professor at the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China.
Sputnik: Why is the US so concerned about China's role in Africa?
Ian Taylor: Well, they do not like the idea of them losing influence, and the West certainly since the 1960s, has regarded Africa as being within the West's sphere of influence, so the idea of a country such as China, or any non-Western country developing economic, political links etc. with Africa is seen with great alarm.
That's basically the reason, and this has been going on since about early 2000's, since China started developing its links with Africa, China's trade with Africa has massively increased, as we all know infrastructure projects are being delivered left, right and center across the continent; with this comes a certain degree of political influence although I wouldn't exaggerate that too much, but the response by the West and particularly the Americans has been hysterical.
Sputnik: Do you think the concern has been more financial, economic or political?
Ian Taylor: China is primarily driven by economics and this is, of course, one of the things which the Americans think and the American sort of taking on it is that they will miss out. The vast majority of Chinese investment into Africa is undertaken by private Chinese individuals down to the family level or by state-owned companies, but which are at the level of provinces.
The idea that Beijing, the central cabal surrounding the president of China, is directing China's economic role in Africa is ludicrous, it's uncoordinated, it's largely uncontrolled and the Chinese are going into Africa as they go everywhere and as all businesses around the world go they look for profits.
When it comes to Africa isn't it funny on the one hand, the president of America basically regards this basket case of a continent as not worth even thinking about and then there's alarm, and a degree, a flurry of excitement in Washington about some perceived takeover of the continent by these evil Chinese people is just ludicrous. Quite frankly, the arrogance of one country having a hearing about another country's relations with an entire continent that's got nothing to do with the United States, this is playground stuff. To me, if you insult an entire continent, there are consequences to your actions.
The Chinese are very good at developing friendly relationships at the state to state level and I'd be very surprised that they would insult an entire continent, in fact, nobody does this except Trump. Rather than seeing Africa as some basket case which needs wonderful aid and band aid concerts, China, Indian, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Malaysia and the list goes on, identify Africa as an opportunity and understandably, the Africans like that, they don't like being treated as some poor relation or supplicant to the superior Europeans or Americans, and these relationships are based on at least attempts to build equal or mutually beneficial relationships are much more attractive for the vast majority of the African countries than the kind of talking down that they get when they visit Paris, Washington or London and it's kind of strange that the Western policy-makers haven't worked out that that's the way forward.
Sputnik: What do you think is going to happen as far as this escalation of tension between Washington and Beijing?
Ian Taylor: I don't think Africa will be directly affected by tensions between China and the United States which have grown because of these tariffs. What's going on in Africa itself, the Americans don't really have a strong economic presents except in some selected West African countries and that's been reduced recently because, of course, at this point in time America does not need African oil that much and that's historically been the basis for American-African relations is oil and minerals, etc. So, I don't think it's going to be directly affected.
I think what we are going to see, however, as an increase in stridency and a growing hysteria about China. The American political class, as everyone knows, always needs an enemy and this enemy periodically changes, during the Cold War it was the Soviets, then, of course, it's been Muslims and now Russia is the awful enemy and now it seems as China is going to join the club of the "great evils," there was "Axis of Evil" before then; so this is just normal politics practiced in the United States and how it's then reflected at the international level. Rather than trying to construct decent, normal relations, there always seems to be, well it has to do with politics and business interests, it needs justification for budgets and China and Russia are filling that role now.
The views and opinions expressed by Ian Taylor are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.