China’s Expanding Interests in Africa

China’s Expanding Interests in Africa

Although both China and Africa were home to two of the world's oldest civilizations, each dating back more than 6,000 years, China has only recently discovered the true value of Africa. China's initial forays on the continent, during the 1960s and 1970s, were driven by political ideology and thus inherently limited in scope and duration. Today, the basis of the Sino-African relationship has evolved from politics to economics.

"China explicitly stated that they were going to shift their focus away from ideology in 1996," says Christopher Alden, senior lecturer in international relations at the London School of Economics. A major reason for this change was China's growing thirst for oil. As the world's second largest consumer of oil products after the United States, China uses 6.7 million barrels a day, and that level is projected to double to 13.4 million barrels per day by 2025. This growing need has led China on a relentless search for new sources of oil, of which Africa has many.

One of China's longtime oil suppliers in Africa is Sudan, where China maintains a very visible presence. In addition to buying 50 to 60 percent of Sudan's oil exports, China invests heavily in the country ($10 billion since the 1960s). Thirteen of the 15 most important foreign companies in Sudan are Chinese. Moreover, there are more than 10,000 Chinese working in Sudan and more than 4,000 members of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) guarding Sudan's oil pipeline. A similar story can be told about Angola. Africa provides 25 percent of China's oil needs and 15 percent of the United States' oil, according to Ernest Wilson, senior research fellow at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management.

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