Last week in Cape Town, South Africa, I was a keynote speaker at the massive Mining Indaba conference, the premier annual gathering of global extractive companies involved in Africa's dominant economic sector. And the difference between the many military and aid conferences I've attended on Africa and this international commodities convention in Africa was telling. If you think most Americans now obsess over a "rising" China, you should know that we take a backseat to the Africans on this score. But whereas we often see China's rise as a potential threat, Africans see it as an opportunity, and China's "positive resource alliance" -- as another speaker put it -- is the primary reason why.
In my writings and speech-making around the planet, I have long portrayed China's rapid penetration of resource-rich developing economies as something both good (e.g., infrastructure enhancing) and bad (e.g., done with little care for human rights and the environment) -- but, above all, inevitable. China's simultaneous industrialization, urbanization, modernization and globalization of its economy simply compel this vast outreach effort, characterized by the nation's stunning uptick in outward foreign direct investment flows. As one of the "last in" on globalization's bandwagon, China has naturally become an aggressive integrator of frontier economies.
Nowhere is this expansion more apparent, and controversial, than in Africa -- and specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, where Chinese foreign direct investment and trade have increased several-fold in the past half-decade. To many observers, China's out-of-the-blue economic penetration, no matter its mercantilist tint, must be viewed as an overall positive. While the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, look upon Africa primarily as an aid sinkhole and never-ending source of civil strife (not to mention future terrorists), China's ravenous resource requirements are fueling a commodities boom across much of the continent. That has triggered rising strategic interest in a region arguably long-ignored by the West.