The Belt and Road Initiative continues to shape relations between African countries and China. Launched by China in 2013, the project has helped deepen relations with Africa. The main goal of the Belt and Road Initiative is to improve ties between countries through infrastructure development, trade facilitation and cultural exchanges.
From this perspective, Ankara Center for Crisis and Political Studies (ANKASAM) presents the views of Justus Nam, Research Fellow at Lancaster University China Center (LUCC), to assess the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa.
1- How do you assess the growing importance of the Belt and Road Initiative in the relations between African countries and China and its impact on regional and global dynamics?
As relations between African countries and China develop, the Belt and Road Initiative has become a focal point in discussions on regional and global dynamics. Launched by China in 2013, the project aims to improve connectivity and cooperation between countries through infrastructure development, trade facilitation and cultural exchanges. China’s engagement with African countries has had multiple impacts at both the regional and global levels.
Its engagement with African countries was characterized by significant infrastructure investment, trade expansion, and knowledge transfer. African countries welcomed this initiative as an opportunity to address inadequate infrastructure and development gaps. Chinese investments in African railroads, ports, roads, and energy projects have not only helped promote economic growth, but also fostered the development of trade links within the continent and beyond.
The impact of the Belt and Road Initiative on regional dynamics can be seen in the changing economic and geopolitical landscape. By providing an alternative source of funding, the initiative has diversified African countries’ development assistance options and reduced their dependence on traditional Western aid. This shift in economic partnerships has influenced global dynamics, contributed to China’s expanding global influence, and challenged the dominance of Western powers in African affairs. It has been seen as a challenge to U.S. Dominance in the global economy and has increased competition between the two countries.
2-What are the dimensions of China’s investment and trade activities in the African economy through the Belt and Road Initiative? China’s investment and trade activities in the African economy cover a wide range of sectors, reflecting the comprehensive nature of the initiative. These activities include infrastructure development, resource extraction, manufacturing, and agricultural cooperation. Infrastructure projects such as railroads, highways, and telecommunications networks have greatly improved transportation and connectivity within and between African countries and promoted trade and economic integration. In the area of resource extraction, EU engagement with African countries has focused primarily on securing access to vital natural resources such as minerals and energy reserves. This has led to concerns about environmental sustainability. At the same time, Chinese investments in manufacturing and agricultural initiatives have sought to promote local value creation and capacity building, albeit with varying degrees of success.
China’s investment and trade activities in Africa have increased significantly in recent years, driven by the Belt and Road Initiative. China’s trade with Africa reached $282 billion in 2022. In the first four months of 2023, China’s new direct investment in Africa reached $1.38 billion, up 24 percent year-on-year. The top three African countries for Chinese investment are Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria. China’s investment in Africa is focused on infrastructure development such as roads, railroads, ports and airports. China also invests in energy, mining, and manufacturing. China trades with Africa mainly in products such as oil, gas and minerals.
3- How do you assess the scale of these efforts in terms of Africa’s economic growth, infrastructure development and development goals?
The scale of the effort in Africa has profound implications for economic growth, infrastructure development, and the achievement of the continent’s development goals. The initiative’s contribution to Africa’s economic growth is significant as Chinese investments revitalize underdeveloped sectors. Improving infrastructure, particularly in the transportation and energy sectors, has increased productivity and facilitated trade, contributing to higher economic growth in several African countries.
However, potential challenges must also be considered when assessing the impact of the BRI on development goals. While infrastructure development has progressed, concerns have been raised about debt sustainability as some African countries struggle with the financial burden of servicing their debt. In addition, the extent of technology and knowledge transfer takes place as part of the initiative may affect Africa’s ability to achieve sustainable, knowledge-based development.
4- Can you analyze how the Belt and Road Initiative has shaped diplomatic relations between African countries and China and what impact it could have on international politics?
This project has had a significant impact on diplomatic relations between African countries and China, which may have an impact on international politics. Deepening economic ties through infrastructure projects and trade partnerships has increased political engagement and cooperation between China and African countries. This has translated into diplomatic support for China’s initiatives in global forums such as the United Nations (UN) and other multilateral institutions, resulting in China’s visibility in international affairs.
However, the initiative’s impact on international politics has not been unidirectional. Western powers and some international actors have expressed concern over China’s expanding influence and see it as a challenge to the established global order. This has led to increased scrutiny of China’s activities in Africa and their potential consequences for the geopolitical balance. As China’s influence in Africa grows, the potential for shifts in alliances and power dynamics in international politics continues to be analysed, as demonstrated by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and the Republic of South Africa) summit hosted by South Africa.
5- What are the objectives of the Japan-India-Africa corridor developed by Japan and India? Do you think this project can compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Africa?
The Japan-India-Africa Corridor developed by Japan and India aims to improve connectivity and cooperation between Africa and the two Asian countries. It aims to promote infrastructure development, capacity building and people-to-people exchanges.
In terms of competition with the Belt and Road Initiative, the Japan-India Africa Corridor offers an alternative model for African countries. This corridor is not as comprehensive in terms of financial resources. But it does emphasize quality, transparency, and alignment with local priorities. Although it cannot compete directly, it offers African countries the opportunity to diversify their partnerships and negotiate terms that better suit their development needs. The effectiveness of this corridor will depend on factors such as the implementation of the project, its alignment with Africa’s objectives and the perceived benefits it brings to the region.
Therefore, the Belt and Road Initiative’s interaction with African countries and its impact in various dimensions – economic, diplomatic, geopolitical – underscores the growing importance of Africa in shaping its development trajectory and influencing global dynamics. The emergence of alternative initiatives such as the Japan-India Africa Corridor and BRICS further contribute to the evolving landscape of international cooperation in Africa.
In my view, the “Japan-India-Africa Corridor” has the potential to compete with the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa. It is supported by two major economies, Japan and India, and focuses on areas that are important to Africa, such as infrastructure development and human resource development. But this project is still in its infancy, and only time will tell how successful it will be.
He is a Research Fellow at the Lancaster University China Center (LUCC). He was a Foreign Service Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Republic of Kenya. He has worked on trade, governance, and regional integration. He holds a master’s degree in international relations from Hult International Business School. He is a member of the following associations: Lancaster University Centre for War and Diplomacy, Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU), Chatham House – Royal Institute of International Affairs, The Royal African Society, United Nations Association UK (UNA-UK). Specialisation: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), investment in East Africa and its foreign policy implications.