United States: Mitigate China's Influence in African Continent Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3416 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: American History

China's Influence In Africa

Though the United States remain the sole true global superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, over the subsequent two decades China has risen to fill some of the subsequent power vacuum, particularly in regions where the United States has never maintained a substantial presence. This is nowhere more true than on the African continent, here China has made important economic, diplomatic, and military inroads with numerous governments at the same time that the United States' focus is directed towards the Middle East, and particularly the War on Terror. China's success in Africa and the United States' own difficulties in the region are the result of historical and cultural factors that benefit the former's attempts to gain a foothold while ensuring that the latter has a disproportionately difficult time gaining allies and projecting economic and military power. In particular, the United States' historical misunderstanding of Chinese foreign policy and methods, coupled with the African continent's experience with Western colonialism, has hindered the United States' economic and military objectives in the region. By examining these historical and cultural differences in detail as well as the influence they have on contemporary international relations, it will be possible to develop effective strategies that ensure the United States can mitigate the growing influence of China on the African continent in order to maintain its economic, diplomatic, and military dominance.

Before addressing China's growing influence on the African continent, it is necessary to discuss the central problem that has heretofore hindered the United States in its dealings with China, a problem that could be easily obviated were the United States to pause for only a moment to consider the objective history of Chinese foreign policy since the rise of the Communist party in 1949, rather than rely on the frequently jingoistic interpretation of history offered by American experts. This should not be taken as a blanket condemnation of American foreign policy, but rather a recognition that the first step in conducting accurate analysis is the acknowledgement of one's own biases, and thus the first step towards countering Chinese influence in Africa is determining what self-imposed limitations have hindered the United States in the past. In short, United States foreign policy experts and planners have frequently exhibited a kind of cultural myopia when dealing with China, to the point that they almost willfully misinterpret China's statements and actions, imagining subterfuge and deceit even when the country is quite plain in its stated intentions and methods. Myopia is a particularly fitting term because over the second half of the twentieth century and beyond, the United States has viewed Communist China as an entity with no antecedent prior to 1949, when in fact the Communist regime is merely the latest form of government deployed by a larger culture spanning thousands of years. Though revolutionary rhetoric quite understandably helps perpetuate the notion that Communist China represents a novel, unpredictable entity, the fact is that Chinese nationalism and cultural solidarity play an important role in Chinese foreign policy, and frequently above and beyond whatever ideology happens to motivate the government at any given time.

As hinted at above, the United States' misunderstanding of Chinese nationalism and its relation to its current Communist ideology can be traced back all the way to the rise of the Communist party in 1949, because the United States' response to Mao Zedong's military and political success was characterized by a myopic reluctance to believe that the Communists could possibly be operating in good faith, and genuinely mean what they were saying. Even before the end of the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong was intent on forming an alliance with the United States, as he was wary of Stalin's efforts to destabilize the country and the United States' role in ending the Japanese occupation had engendered a fair amount of good will.

Despite their ideological differences, Mao Zedong believed that the United States and a Communist China could be useful allies, and the United States' own diplomatic and intelligence officers, the so-called "China Hands," reported as much to their superiors. However, domestic opposition to Communism was so great that when the Communists finally took over mainland China, the impression in the press and in Congress was that the country had been "lost" to Communism, and that it was now simply a satellite state of Stalinist Russia. As a result, the potential alliance never formed, and it would be over two decades before the countries began the long, arduous process of diplomatic relationship-building.

The same attitude that scuttled any potential alliance between the United States and China in 1949 is frequently exhibited to this day, and a look at a particularly blunt example concerning Chinese influence on the African continent will demonstrate how this attitude has hindered the United States in its efforts to counter China's growth and establish its own military and economic foothold on the continent. In a 2007 issue of Join Force Quarterly, a journal published by the United States Department of Defense's National Defense University, Phillipe Rogers attempts to discuss potential means of countering Chinese influence in Africa in an article bombastically titled "Dragon with a Heart of Darkness?," but ultimately his suggestions are for naught because he begins from an inherently faulty position that simply reiterates the same myopic attitude that has hindered the United States for decades.

Put simply, Rogers fails to consider China's (and the United States') behavior objectively, and as a result imagines that China is engaging a foreign policy that is somehow novel or else unexpected, when in fact China's behavior on the African continent has been fairly straightforward, and in fact, is not that dissimilar from the United States' foreign policy elsewhere.

For example, Rogers begins his article by stating that:

While the United States has been preoccupied with global challenges to its security since 2001, China has used what is calls an independent foreign policy (a term Beijing uses to denote independence from American power) to achieve diplomatic, military, and economic influence in African nations in exchange for unconditional foreign aid, regardless of the benefiting country's human rights record or political practices.

Nothing Rogers says here is actually incorrect, but the problem is that he imagines China's behavior to somehow be outside the norm of international relations, when in fact his description of China's behavior in Africa describes almost exactly the United States' actions in the Middle East; the only difference is that because "current U.S. power and influence are historically unique in their all-encompassing, dominant nature," the United States' policy in the Middle East need not be defined according to its independence from any other nation.

Where China has offered unconditional aid to countries with poor human rights records such as Angola, Zimbabwe, and Sudan, the United States has offered nearly unconditional aid to countries with equally poor human rights records, such as Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, or even Israel; furthermore, China's reliance on oil from African countries such as Sudan and Angola mirrors the United States' dependence on oil sourced from the Middle East.

Recognizing the relative congruency between China's policy in Africa and the United States' policy in the Middle East is crucial for developing effective strategies to mitigate China's growing influence, because it suggests that, counter to the claims of Rogers and others, China's success in Africa is not due any kind of unique or novel foreign policy strategy, but rather more subtle cultural or historical factors that might make China a more attractive economic and military partner, even when what it offers to African countries is not substantively different from the benefits born out of closer ties with the United States.

In the same way that the United States' attitudinal bias when dealing with China may be traced back to the rise of the Communist regime in 1949, so too can China's growing influence in Africa be traced back to the post-war years of the 1950s. In the 1950s the Communist regime supported what it saw as its natural allies, encouraging "movements for independence and anti-colonial activities," marking the beginning of China's influence in Africa and setting the stage for the rapid development that would occur over the subsequent decades.

One cannot overstate the reverberating effects of Western colonialism on Chinese, American, and African relations, because Africa and China share a kind of tragic familiarity due to the respective devastation they have historically dealt with as a result of Western colonialism. Although the United States was not instrumental in the colonization of Africa or China, due to the fact that the major attempts to colonize both were performed by European powers (and particularly the British Empire prior to its dissolution), the United States' cultural and political allegiance with Western Europe means that any U.S. action in Africa or China automatically runs the risk of evoking the specter of colonialism (above and beyond the United States' participation in the Atlantic slave trade).

China and Africa's shared colonial past has meant that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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