Sino-African relations mirror colonialism

Colleen Hammond | Opinions Editor

As developing nations continue to grow, globalized trade systems have become a staple of modern economics, and Sino-African relations are no exception.

For decades it has become commonplace for larger, developed nations to seek cheaper labor in less wealthy areas of the world. In recent years, this practice has become more and more prevalent in developing African nations.

Chinese corporations are continuing to branch into the African sector at a record setting rate. In the past decade alone, China has finally surpassed the United States as Africa’s No. 1 trading partner.

However, Sino-African relations go far beyond standard trade agreements. Chinese companies, with their vast resources and capital, have overtaken most major African industries and government projects. Instead of hiring native, African workers to build railways, power plants, oil refineries and other forms of infrastructure, many companies are importing temporary contractors from China. Estimates now project that over a million Chinese citizens are living and working in Africa.

To many experts, Sino-African relations are beneficial to both parties. China gets to expand its global trade and international corporations, and Africa gets to develop at a faster rate through the increase of industry and infrastructure.

Despite the praise of economists, Sino-African relations bear a jarring resemblance to early colonialistic tactics.

The beginning days of Dutch control of Africa began with business ventures and religious missionaries. Similarly, Chinese influence in Africa started with corporate interest and investment as well as their version of religious missionaries: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors and experts.

Since the late 1970s, China has been sending “missionary” medical teams to various African nations to provide healthcare to impoverished areas. While this appears as a selfless act of humanitarianism, the Chinese government likely has darker intentions. TCM is rooted in dietary health and herbal remedies; therefore, Africa, with its abundance of plants and high rates of species diversity is an opportunity for Chinese financial gian. TCM’s influence across Africa also increases China’s soft power in the region.

This illustrates the greatest problem with Chinese presence in Africa: Chinese culture is attempting to diminish African cultures.

This problem has escalated to terrifying levels across all aspects of culture. Within the last five years, countries like South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe have started mandating Mandarin as part of school curriculums. In addition, many African newspapers, airports and railway stations have started to be published and built with entirely Mandarin signage.

Total immersion in Chinese language, industry and traditions with little regard for African involvement reeks of colonialism. These are the same tactics used by colonial governments hundreds of years ago.

Africa’s horrific history of colonialism should serve as a warning for the turmoil ahead if African governments refuse to halt Chinese influence on the region.

While African development of infrastructure, education and medicine is beneficial to locals, those benefits cannot be bought in exchange for Africa’s economic, political and cultural independence.