Much has been made of China’s rapid ascent in Africa, and for good reason. From a virtual standing start in 2000 China has for years been the continent’s biggest trading partner, with annual bilateral trade hitting $300bn in 2015.
Large-scale infrastructure and resource extraction projects have become synonymous with China’s presence on the continent, helping to fuel a growth boom across Africa in recent years. It is a relationship that is also evolving to encompass everything from entrepreneurship to development finance and aid. China has also just opened its first ever overseas military base on the continent, in Djibouti, and through its landmark One Belt, One Road initiative, looks set to reshape the global trading landscape.
Yet while China undoubtedly dominates Africa’s relationship with Asia, it is far from the only game in town. For decades other major regional economies, most notably Japan and India, have had strong and growing commercial and diplomatic ties with African nations. In recent years, both have significantly ramped up their respective engagement strategies.
India is already Africa’s second biggest trading partner, with a goods trade of $59bn in 2015 and overall trade expected to exceed $100bn by 2020. Japan, which has historically taken an aid-led approach to Africa, has pledged $30bn of investment over the next three years, with two thirds expected to come from the private sector. The two have also recently joined forces to launch the Asia-Africa growth corridor, a direct competitor to China’s One Belt, One Road initiative to drive investment and development between the two regions. The growth corridor could bring smaller nations such as Myanmar and Singapore into an integrated trading system with the continent.
The move reflects the strategic and ambitious nature of Asia’s approach to Africa, which arguably contrasts with a more risk-conscious perception in the West, which seems preoccupied with security concerns and controlling immigration.
More to follow this month…