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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La Chine a provoqué en Afrique un déclic salutaire

by Interview by Fabien Perrier, in Humanité Dimanche

China has triggered a salutary change in Africa

Business Summit China-Africa

Translated Sunday 5 May 2013, by Chrysanthie Therapontos

Published in Humanité Dimanche, 18-24 April 2013.

On 17 April, a China-Africa business summit was held in South Africa.
At a time when closer economic and political relations
are being established between the Chinese giant and African countries, Jean-Joseph
Boillot, an economist and coauthor of "Chindiafrica, China, India and Africa
(in French Chindiafrique) will build tomorrow’s world " [1], sheds light on the reality of these exchanges.

HD: What are the main challenges of the business Summit between China and Africa?

Jean-Joseph Boillot: This summit, following BRICS summit of late March in Durban, is indeed very important
Firstly, It is a question of overcoming the uneasiness which exists in African countries
concerning the exact role of China in Africa. China has become, in a decade, the first economic partner of Africa, mainly in importing raw materials against "manufactured" products at very low prices, and in large projects. Even if the benefit for consumers is obvious, there is also a threat to the industrialization of the continent, while large projects create few local jobs. For the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, there is a risk of colonial relationship, but it is up to Africa to reverse the trend.

The purpose of the summit is to develop with Chinese companies a "win-win" partnership.

HD: Do you agree with the concept of a "Chinafrica"
put forward by many media?

Jean-Joseph Boillot: Not at all! This concept was born with reference to Françafrique; relationships with China are however very different. First, China represents only 10 to l5% of the economic relations of the African continent. It therefore faces strong competition and cannot prevent any African country from choosing the partner of their choice. Second, if China is in Africa since the 1950s, its networks do not go back to the colonial era and are far from being as influential or opaque, or so able to overthrow regimes, or to assassinate leaders, as we have seen, unfortunately, in the case of Françafrique. Rather, it is the latter who have coined the concept of "Chinafrica." Just like crying wolf because a powerful competitor is back in the fold.

This is not to say that the methods of Chinese diplomacy are white as snow. But China has triggered a salutary change. Without China, and without India also, the continent would not have entered the technological era of the 21st century.

HD: Is China in economic decline, seeking new markets in Africa?

Jean-Joseph Boillot: Yes, China is increasingly interested in meeting the demand of the African market. This, however, has, at the same time, destroyed the argument of colonial plundering. But most of the arguments on the relationship between China and Africa are based mainly on a linear reading of the evolution of the Chinese economy. Broadly, they consider that Chinese growth will continue as before, and thus the weight of the Chinese economy will double that of the ’United States by 2030.

The Chinese economy, which has become a developed economy, must imperatively change its model. The number of young people is decreasing, the population is rapidly ageing, pollution becomes critical and, finally, productivity gains can now only come from a production upgrade. This change will affect the relationship with
Africa. China cannot just exhange raw materials against bottom-of-the-range products. In Africa, its companies invest in industry and major infrastructure projects and engineering.
This already represents nearly half of the Chinese investment, with car factories, textile and food production, part of which reflects a relocation process outside China.
In short, labor, raw materials locally exploitable, and the African market are the ingredients of a new Chinese strategy in Africa.

HD: How would you describe the partnership between South Africa and China?

Jean-Joseph Boillot: This is an interesting case. South Africa, along with Nigeria, is one of the important leaders of the African continent, economically and politically speaking. And yet, there were frictions in these two areas. On the economic front, South Africa wants to protect its industry. It does not want to become a sieve for products made in China,
to be trapped, like Brazil, in a commercial relationship as a country solely as exporter of agricultural and mineral raw materials.
South Africa is inspired by the Indian model, very vigilant vis-a-vis made in China products. On the political level, South Africa is trying to resist the pressures from China, which seeks to ensure the support of Africa vis-à-vis Western countries in large international forums.

We saw that with the imbroglio surrounding the visit of the Dalai Lama in October, when Beijing applied pressure so that he could not be received in South Africa. Do not think that Africans can accept any new colonial treaty. Africa may even become the real center of this Triangle of giants in the 21st century, given its central position
between Asia, Europe and America. It is up to us, Europeans, to take this chance to rebuild a balanced relationship with our African friends. In that sense and in that process, China plays a very useful role.

Interview by FABIEN PERRIER, fperrier@humadimanche.fr

You can also watch videos by Jean-Joseph Boillot.

[1" Chindiafrique, la Chine, l’’Inde et Afriqui feront le monde de demain"
by Jean-Joseph Boillot and Stanislas Dembinski Editions Odile
Jacob, 368 pages, 27.90 euros.

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