chinaafrica
Kilamba, a Chinese-built housing development in Angola near Luamba. It is largely empty.

If the last thirty years of Chinese history have been the Gilded Age, the next ten will be the Scramble for Africa.

In a piece for Quartz published earlier this week, Howard French explores the rising presence of Chinese migrants looking to turn a profit in Africa. While the article primarily profiles one farmer-turned-entrepreneur in Mozambique, French explains that over one million Chinese nationals are now living in Africa, with China’s presence on the continent quickly growing since the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000. In the last fifteen years, trade between China and African nations has increased almost 30-fold to $210 billion in 2013.

And we should not expect China’s interest in Africa to peak anytime soon. Foreign direct investment, trade, and migration continue to mount, and Chinese PLA troops are taking on greater roles in U.N. peacekeeping missions on the continent, as a June 1 Medium piece details.

China’s multifaceted engagement with the continent should raise some questions, particularly with the U.N., as to its motives and long-term plans. While individual citizens like Hao Shengli, the focus of French’s profile, operate largely separate from any government initiative, China’s investment in and simultaneous defense of nations like Sudan through peacekeeping missions stands at odds with the impartiality U.N. missions demand. As early as 2003, China used promises of military aid to pull Liberia into its camp; the nation agreed to sever its diplomatic ties with Taiwan in exchange for U.N. troops.

Across all levels of engagement, China is devoted to the raw materials, production capabilities, and, eventually, swath of consumers the continent has to offer. So far, the results have been staggering. Entire cities have risen all over the continent at the hands and in the style of Chinese builders, with Chinese-funded roadways connecting them all together. The renminbi is now poised to become a defacto currency in place of abandoned currencies like Zimbabwe’s.

Whether all this investment will ultimately be constructive or extractive lies in the hands of the Chinese government. So far, much in line with the nation’s posturing in its own region, China has focused on expanding its sphere of influence in Africa. Though far from altruistic, Chinese investment in Africa, which extends beyond infrastructure and direct aid to educational opportunities, like the Confucius Institutes scattered all over the continent, shows promise to do more than just strip the continent of its oil and copper. Even with the occasional military flexing, there is no doubt that China’s presence in Africa could be beneficial for the continent’s development. But what does that mean for the United States?

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