Anthony Lake on Brangelina vs. Chinese Mercantilism in Africa

New Perspectives Quarterly interviews former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake:

NPQ | Some say China today is the new colonialist and neo-imperialist—extracting African resources directly or unequally trading manufactured goods for resources. Others say, or at least hope, that China is a “co-partner” in development without colonial history, helping to build infrastructure and create jobs in Africa.

On balance, which of these pictures is more accurate in your view?

Anthony Lake | I would rather call it a classic mercantilist policy. China is using infrastructural/developmental projects as a means of buying influence in the pursuit of its commercial interests and particularly in the pursuit of its interests in acquiring energy resources. We have begun to see the beginning of a backlash in Africa against China’s presence, but, in general, it’s working.

Also, China offers political support to reprehensible regimes, and engages in business practices that are often unethical and, I suspect, would be illegal for American companies.

In my view, China is driven less by geo-political ambitions in Africa than by the growing need to protect its commercial interests and need for the continent’s energy resources. Examples of China’s growing economic interests in Africa include: China’s oil imports from Africa account today for 30 percent of its total external oil dependence; in 2006, Angola surpassed Saudi Arabia to become China’s leading external supplier of oil; and as of mid-2006 the total amount of the Chinese Export-Import bank loans to Africa is valued at over $12.5 billion in infrastructural development alone.