A major topic of conversation in the African blogosphere over the past 18 months has been the increasing influence of China in Africa. Several of the better Africa-focused mainstream publications – Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, the BBC – have run stories on China’s rising influence, the US’s apparent unwillingness to play in “the next great game”, and increasingly, about India’s interest in Africa as well. Jen Brea has an excellent summary of links in this blog post; some of the stories that particularly caught my eye are in my del.icio.us feed, under the Africa+China tags.
Carolyn O’Hara – writing on the indispensible Foreign Policy Passport blog – has a provocative article today titled “China decides election in Zambia”. China has been a major investor in Zambia, focused especially on the copper industry, and may have invested as much as $300 million in the country. The incumbent president, Levy Mwanawasa, has encouraged these investments – challenger in the September 28th elections Michael Sata, seems sure to oppose them. Sata has spoken out about Chinese labor practices in copper mines in Zambia, has referred to Taiwan as a soverign state, and is reported to be meeting with Taiwanese businessmen.
Li Baodong, China’s ambassador in Lusaka, has responded by announcing that Beijing might cut ties with Zambia if Sata were elected. A Reuters story suggests that Chinese firms have already stopped investment, waiting for the outcome of elections before deciding whether to continue investing in Zambian mines.
It’s an interesting situation because this is one of the first times China’s economic influence in Africa has threatened to cross over into political influence. This is what critics of China’s rising influence have been worried about – if there’s strong evidence that China’s threats influence the voting process later this month, one can expect to see some serious soul-searching (in Africa, at least) about China’s rising influence on the continent. I’ll be very interested to see how friends in Southern Africa are following this story when I get the chance to meet with bloggers at the Digital Citizen Indaba at Rhodes University next week – hope to meet some of my readers there as well.