It was once mentioned by a famous diplomat that when China issues a statement, it has thought about the future of its statement 50 years from the present and only then do they let anything out. Talk about being discreet and China walks away as a country where everything is subtle ,no one ,not even their own citizens are aware about what goes on in the highest echelons of the Government of PRC .It then comes as a uneasy surprise when Africa-China relations come out in the open, the bonhomie and outpouring of goodwill from the Chinese side and one wonders where all this sudden affection towards Africa stems from. But then their relationship has a long trade starting from the 14th century and has been getting stronger since the 1950’s and to commemorate this growing bond, they even celebrated the 50 years of their relations in the year 2000.
It would do the reader a great deal of good to first understand the entry of China in the African region for the current politics surrounding these two regions is rooted in their relationship since the 1950’s.
Phase 1: During the Bandung Conference in 1955, China came into contact with African nations and this initial contact was consolidated during the Cold War when the Sino-Soviet alliance was strong and USA was their adversary. At that time the goal of China was to win new friends and seek new allies to break the American domination.
Phase 2: The second phase of Sino-African interaction occurred from 1960-65, a high point of the African decolonization. Here China sought to support through it’s ideological export by supporting freedom movements and establishing the China model of development in Africa for them to emulate .China’s aim then was to end western domination and establish itself as the savior by coming out with the new development model .
Phase 3: During the mid-60’s China’s Africa model shifted from ideology to politics. As late Chinese leader Mao Zedong once said, it was only due to the strong support from Africa, that China successfully regained its lawful seat in the United Nations in 1971. During this time they penetrated into the policies and nation building of Africa by disbursing non-conditional and interest free loans, projects and supply of equipment. It is interesting to note here that these loans and freebies were sent to Africa even while China was in its developing stage and not a fully developed nation.
Phase 4: The 1970’s saw a decline in relations between the two sides as China went from being anti-West to slowly moving towards friendship and modernization and closer co-operation with the West. Slowly the aid to African countries started to stagnate ,China began to open up its markets and go the liberalization way.
After taking a sabbatical in the 80’s to explore the markets and expand within their own country , China once again renewed its ties with African countries and one of the important reasons was to get support after the Tiananmen Square debacle as it lost support from the world fraternity, mostly the developed countries .The other major reason was that since the 90’s ,China started realizing the vast potential and the gold mine of natural resources that these countries had and thus the Chinese policy shifted yet again from ideological to political ,to being economic and symbolic diplomacy.