According to a recent report, Chinese investment in Africa could create national economies entirely dependent on China.
Although infrastructure projects can create jobs, provide an opportunity for skills development and the transfer of new technologies, Chinese loans amounting to more than $86 billion bring dangerously high levels of debt that can prove unsustainable for vulnerable African nations.
The lure of short-term benefits for developing or troubled economies while masking long-term burdens is exactly the scenario now playing out in Pakistan, which is becoming progressively subjugated by Chinese loan-based investment.
In an analysis by the European Foundation for South Asian Studies, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the lynchpin of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in South Asia, is described thusly:
“The Chinese master plan conceives a picture where the majority of Pakistani socio-economic sectors are deeply penetrated by Chinese companies and Chinese culture; thus, Islamabad puts itself at risk of facing its finances and societal structure experiencing a colossal wreck. The combination of high upfront tariffs, interest rates and surcharges will complicate Pakistan’s efforts to repay its loans, forcing the State to increase its domestic and export prices, making it difficult to compete with neighbouring and other countries which maintain lower prices.”
Similar to the devastating consequences experienced by the United States, the Free Trade Agreement between China and Pakistan has resulted in a net outflow of jobs from Pakistan and a net influx of Chinese products, tripling Pakistan’s trade deficit with China in less than five years.
In essence, the Belt and Road Initiative is not a model for globalization or regional cooperation, but a scheme to create a network of dependent countries individually linked to China, that is, a colonial empire.
Nevertheless, the Chinese goal for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit, to be held in Beijing in September, will be to “synergize” or, more correctly, subsidize the Belt and Road Initiative with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the development strategies of individual African countries.
Where Chinese commercial investment occurs, the arrival of the Chinese military is not far behind.
As just reported by CNBC, China will increase its military presence in Africa adding to its economic and commercial profile on the continent.
In particular, Chinese port investments are based on a “dual-use” commercial/military concept, specifically designed to create strategic advantages through economic dominance and military presence.
China’s initial commercial investment in Djibouti translated into its first overseas military base located at the entrance of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, a strategic choke point. Likewise, with CPEC as the backdrop, China is planning a naval base on Pakistan’s Jiwani peninsula near the mouth of the Persian Gulf. China also has dual-use capability in Hambantota, Sri Lanka where it obtained a debt-trap-generated 99-year lease on the port.
China has a dual-use commercial and naval port in the East African nation of the Seychelle Islands, and possible dual-use access to Mombassa, Kenya and Bagamoyo, Tanzania. Experts have speculated that West African ports are similarly targeted for Chinese exploitation, including Walvis Bay, Namibia as a military base and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe as a strategic transport hub.
The potential for China’s dual-use strategy is growing. As of 2015, China had investments in two-thirds of the world’s top fifty ports, including in North African, basically dotting the circumference of the African continent with port access or control.
This week, military representatives from 50 African nations traveled to Beijing for the opening of the first China-Africa Defense and Security Forum to “strengthen military exchanges and cooperation” with China.
Unless countermeasures are immediately implemented to strategically disrupt China’s global ambitions, when the superpower music stops, the U.S. might be left without a chair.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.