Wed, Aug 15, 2018 - Page 8 News List

India-China competition in Africa

By Sumit Kumar

The visits late last month by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) trip to Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius were seen as a significant move by the two Asian giants to expand their soft power in Africa.

Xi signed 15 big deals in Rwanda, with China agreeing to fund road constructions, a hospital renovation and develop Bugesera International Airport. Xi also committed to investing US$14.7 billion in South Africa, while Senegal became the first west African nation to sign up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

On the other hand, Modi gifted 200 cows and extended US$200 million in credit each to Rwanda and Uganda, among others.

China and India have over the years taken sustained efforts to build and expand ties with Africa.

Beijing, in particular, has taken a big leap in courting African nations. Ever since the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was established in 2000, bilateral trade has jumped to US$170 billion last year.

China has also sent top officials on visits to boost ties with African countries. Its easy loan policy has further helped it solidify its foothold in this region. Chinese lending for various energy and infrastructure projects in Africa increased from US$3 billion in 2016 to US$8.8 billion last year.

On the other hand, while India enjoys a strong historical relationship with Africa, bilateral trade only reached US$70 billion, with the two sides setting a target of US$500 billion by 2020.

One of the reasons India and China have been strengthening their engagements with Africa is its big potential as a market for their products. Another major factor is the continent’s rich natural resources, including oil in Kenya, coal from South Africa and offshore natural gas reserves and massive deposits of coal in Mozambique. These complement China’s and India’s needs to boost their economies.

However, as African nations expand their economic ties with other countries around the world, some of them have sounded the alarm about the inherent imperialistic maneuvering behind China’s easy-loan policy. This has inspired some African nations to renew their ties with India, especially after the formation of the India-Africa Forum Summit in 2008.

The Modi government has taken several measures to elevate ties between India and Africa. In 2015, India hosted the third edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi, with all 54 African states participating.

While Modi visited Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya in 2016, Indian President Ram Nath toured Guinea and Zambia last year.

India has also announced that it would open 18 new embassies in Africa between this year and 2021. It also enjoys better relations with African people than China. These and other factors have significantly increased India’s visibility on the continent.

India also sees African nations as playing a vital role in promoting peace and security in the Indian Ocean. Indeed, it is deeply concerned that China’s Belt and Road Initiative would have serious security implications, because it would provide Beijing access to ports from the South China Sea to the eastern coast of Africa.

China’s deepening military control in Djibouti, which is at the meeting point of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea connecting Africa to Asia, and beyond has become another major factor for India to speed up its engagement with African nations.

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