Over the years, the relationship between Africa and China has been the basis for many debates, with critics divided on whether the partnership has done more harm than good to the African continent.
Those who support Africa's ties with the Asian giants argue that the relationship has helped the African continent break free from American and European colonialism's shackles. While their counterparts on the other side of the divide frown at what they believe is the birth of neo-colonialism – a tool more disastrous than colonialism itself.
Regardless of the argument one favours, it is difficult to ignore that certain underlying issues will continue to strengthen African-China ties in the new year, regardless of the enormous criticisms that have trailed the relationship in recent years.
In the year, the relationship between Africa and China came under the spotlight with prominent leaders like former United States president, Donald Trump and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Lady Theresa Mary both speaking against the partnership – tagging it unhealthy.
Below are ten issues that will contribute to strengthening African-China ties in 2021:
1. VACCINES: With the US, the EU on the sidelines, China's vaccine distribution in Africa could produce huge geopolitical dividends.
China is building a COVID-19 vaccine distribution pipeline in Africa, including a cold-chain air bridge from Shenzhen, a distribution hub in Addis Ababa, and Cairo's manufacturing capabilities.
2. LOANS: In the last decade, China has provided loans to African nations worth billions of dollars through its two leading policy banks, the China Development Bank and the China Exim Bank.
The lending will continue in 2021, especially as Chinese state-owned enterprises and commercial banks now offer African nations loans in exchange for market share.
3. DEBT: The Debt Crisis in a select number of African countries will worsen this year but not because of China
Chinese creditors will likely intensify their efforts to restructure outstanding loans in the 6-10 African countries that face the most acute debt repayment challenges. Just as Chinese policy banks and other lenders reportedly restructured loans in Angola and Zambia this year.
4. TRADE: China's appetite for African resources will rebound in 2021, but not as much as suppliers want
Two-way trade is likely to recover next year from its +20% decline in 2020, mainly due to a revitalized Chinese economy. But it's doubtful that it'll grow beyond 2019 levels (roughly around $208bn) due to China's ongoing drive to diversify its sourcing of raw materials to avoid regional dependency for specific resources.
5. INVESTMENT: Volume, not necessarily value of Chinese FDI in Africa will likely increase in 2021
Chinese investors are eyeing distressed companies in Africa and will probably take advantage of the current economic downturn to pick up assets at a discount. Look for more Chinese M&A activity in the mining industry, oil exploration, and the further expansion of China's already formidable presence in the African tech sector.
6. BELT AND ROAD: China will push harder in 2021 to intertwine the BRI with vast new free trade areas in Africa and Asia
Further African integration into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will become a much more important priority in 2021 as Beijing seeks to leverage its sizable prior investments in its vast trading network.
The idea here would be for African countries to leverage BRI-financed infrastructure that would move goods duty-free across the continent (thanks to the AfCTA) to customers in BRI member states. China is playing a central role in providing logistics, technology, and setting standards.
7. TECHNOLOGY: Chinese dominance of large swathes of Africa's technology sector will increase in 2021
Chinese technology companies will build on their already formidable presence in the African tech sector by expanding 5G services provided by companies like Huawei and ZTE.
It will provide new competition for local players like Jumia and Kilimall. Expanded use of Chinese surveillance technology will also likely become a more contentious issue next year among African and international civil society stakeholders.
8. GEOPOLITICS: Africa will no longer be the focus of US-China tensions and will instead become a pawn in China's other conflicts
The incoming Biden administration appears interested in making its foreign policy in Africa focus on, well, Africa, and not viewing the continent just as another theatre to confront China. Washington will likely foreground broadening economic engagement, and promoting good governance, with less emphasis on competing directly with China on the continent.
9. SUSTAINABILITY: China will talk out of both sides of its mouth about sustainable energy development in Africa
To be sure, Chinese lenders and SOEs have been steadily increasing their support for solar power generation in countries like Zambia and Kenya. Still, it is just a small fraction of the more environmentally damaging power generation methods that the Chinese are building elsewhere on the continent.
10. FOCAC: The Triennial China-Africa Leaders' Summit will likely move online due to COVID-19, and that's a good thing for China
The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit is expected to take place sometime next year in Dakar, Senegal. But it looks increasingly likely that the event will be moved online, due to the persistent presence of COVID-19 in West Africa. Chinese President Xi Jinping has not travelled abroad since the beginning of the outbreak and one doubt that he would go to a region where the outbreak hasn't been completely contained.
That's probably a good thing for China because if FOCAC takes place online, there'll be less media attention, allowing them to better control the summit's messaging.
What are your thoughts?
Credit: The China-Africa Project