These are some of the answers I gave when I was recently interviewed on Chinese overseas investments in Africa, Asia and Europe.
What is your take on China’s massive investments in ports and maritime infrastructure? What is China’s game plan?
Chinese investments in port infrastructure all around the world are another testament to the current geographical reorganisation of the global economy. Investments in overseas ports play a crucial role in China’s foreign trade policy, as they facilitate China-oriented value chains and growth. Seaports like the ones in Gwadar, Hambantota, Djibouti or Piraeus are crucial logistics hubs to facilitate trade and trans-shipment along the Maritime Silk Road. However, to assume that Chinese port investments form part of a meticulously planned grand strategy would be misleading. Chinese port and logistics companies, such as China Merchants and COSCO Shipping, are meanwhile global players in a highly competitive market. They operate with a significant degree of independence from Beijing and, like their competitors, first and foremost aim at profit maximation.
A collective tribute to a true friend of Africa and a wonderful teacher
On 22 February 2021, we lost Professor Ian Taylor. Ian has been a world-renowned scholar who made outstanding contributions in the fields of International Relations, African politics and China-Africa studies. Besides his remarkable academic achievements and output, Ian was an extremely passionate educator who has inspired generations of students at all levels of their studies and literally all across the world. He was genuinely interested in the opinions and lives of his students and truly cared for them. This ‘collective obituary’ is a modest attempt to pay tribute to the important role Ian has played as a ‘teacher’, mentor or supervisor for many of us. We thank the editors of the St Andrews Africa Summit (SAASUM) Review to honour Ian’s life and legacy by publishing this collective tribute in their 2021 edition.
Some of my answers from an interview on China’s growing role in Africa’s energy sector can be read here.
What are some of of the main reasons for China’s interest in investing in African energy projects? Will the trend continue?
TZ: According to World Bank data, only 47.7% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to electricity in 2018, compared to 98% in East Asia and the Pacific and 100% in Europe and North America. In other words, Africa’s energy markets have huge growth potential, as the demand for electricity constantly grows with progressing urbanisation. The African Union, the regional economic communities and African governments all consider increasing access to electricity as essential for social and economic development on the continent.
I just gave an interview on the Zambia visit of Chinese top diplomat Yang Jiechi. Some of my answers you can read here.
What is the significance of Yang’s visit as Lusaka faces debt troubles and prepares to go into elections?
TZ: There can be no doubt that Zambia’s fiscal situation is on top of the agenda during Yang Jiechi’s Lusaka visit, as negotiations between the Zambian treasury and the IMF about a possible rescue package are in full swing. Both the IMF and private creditors have repeatedly insisted that the Zambian government discloses all its liabilities. This includes terms and conditions of loans and export credits from China as well as state guarantees provided by Lusaka to Chinese lenders. The negotiations between Zambia and the IMF are therefore not only of economic concern to Chinese creditors but also politically very sensitive. As member of the Politburo and Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi reports directly to President Xi. It is very likely that Yang and his delegation are instructed to discuss Zambia’s debt and Yang is certainly authorised to take far-reaching decisions where needed.
From the Tanzanian perspective, Mr Yi’s visit to the East African nation seemed to have two main goals: Normalisation of the relations between Tanzania and China and showing China’s readiness to take part in the former’s industrialisation drive.
I was asked to comment on Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Africa tour as well as on likely developments in Africa-US relations post-Trump. Some of my answers I share here.
What are the goals of Wang Yi’s trip to Africa and how would you evaluate the results?
TZ: Whilst it has become a tradition for Chinese foreign ministers to travel to Africa for their first overseas trips of the year, Wang’s five-country tour last week was of particular political significance. Wang’s Africa visits can be interpreted as a reassurance of China’s commitment to Africa amidst the economic turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many African economies are highly dependent on trade with and investment from China for their post-Corona recovery.
Here I share with you some of my answers from an interview on the state of China-Africa relations, as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has embarked on his January Africa tour.
A number of analysts had predicted that BRI was experiencing a slowdown in funding. With Botswana and DRC joining, what does it say about Chinese president Xi Jinping’s mega initiative?
TZ: The official admission of Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo into the Belt and Road Initiative is a diplomatic success for Beijing and serves Chinese efforts to counteract growing public perceptions that the Initiative might lose momentum. With the membership of the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa growing to now 46 countries, the Chinese government can plausibly maintain its narrative that it is successfully steering a new era of globalisation.
I gave an interview on topical issues in China-Africa relations in anticipation of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Africa tour. Some of my answers can be read below.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi will pay official visits to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles from January 4 to 9, 2021. This trip is different compared to previous years due to the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged economies and the debt crisis in many African countries. Why does this trip matter for China and each of the countries, Nigeria, DRC, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles, amid the challenges?
TZ: It is very likely that Chinese support for Africa’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic will be on the top of the agenda during Wang’s Africa visit. The timing of the visit is not coincidental, as discussions around the global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines are in full swing. The race for a corona vaccine and its distribution in the Global South has become a geopolitical matter. For the Chinese government, the provision of a vaccine that is affordable and does not pose unsurmountable logistical challenges is not only a humanitarian question but also an opportunity to flex its ‘soft power muscle’ in Africa. With Sinopharm having released promising data from phase 3 clinical trials and Sinovac’s vaccine having recently been approved in Egypt, the Chinese government has a heightened interest to diplomatically facilitate the roll-out of these vaccines across Africa. Wang can be expected to do exactly that in the African capitals he will visit. China’s ‘vaccine diplomacy’ is likely to become even more pronounced, as it looks as if Western governments will grab all available vaccines for months to come. The Chinese government in turn has always emphasised the necessity to make a vaccine available to Africans as soon as possible.
This article scrutinises the surge in Chinese-funded road development in Zambia with the help of David Harvey’s theory of spatio-temporal fixes. The ‘moving out’ of Chinese surplus capital and material to Africa has been facilitated by an extensive disbursement of loans and export credits for infrastructure projects. Transcending Harvey’s analytical ‘imperio-centrism’, the article shows that the actualisation of the Chinese infrastructural fix has been contingent upon Zambia’s ambitious, debt-financed infrastructure development agenda. Particularities of Chinese loan financing have thereby fostered ‘not so public’ procurement processes and accelerated Zambia’s rapid debt accumulation. As rising debt has imposed structural constraints, the recent shift in the financial governance of road development towards private project finance is analysed with reference to the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway. The renaissance of public-private partnerships and the gradual privatisation of Zambian roads signify new rounds of accumulation by dispossession, as the Chinese infrastructural fix enters its next stage.
Today, I share with you some of my answers from an interview on recent developments in the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Africa.
There have been reports of a slowdown in BRI lending in Africa and in other countries. What’s your view of this?
TZ: It is important to acknowledge the structural drivers behind the BRI. The Chinese economy has faced an increasingly severe overaccumulation crisis in the aftermath of the 2007-08 global financial crisis. Massive stimulus packages in the aftermath of the crisis only exacerbated overcapacities, especially in the infrastructure and construction sectors. From an economic point of view, the BRI has been the attempt to ‘move out’ these surpluses by financing infrastructure projects that are designed to link Eurasia and Africa.