China has signed a 10 year lease agreement with the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti to build its first military base in Africa. It was only a matter of time, as China’s raw material trade deals in the region are helping to grow its economy — which even in this period of global economic slow down is growing at seven percent per annum.
China is the African continent’s largest trading partner with annual trade worth $160 billion. Africa exports raw material to China, which is then sold back as finished products.
Over the last ten years, a million Chinese merchants and laborers have migrated to Africa to work and set up businesses.
Unlike Western countries, China has an advantage in competing for business in Africa because it has no declared interest to impose its values on countries or the general population.
At the upcoming Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China is expected to announce more access to capital for local African companies. During 2001 and 2010, the Chinese Export-Import Bank gave $62.7 billion in loans to African countries. China is also focusing its efforts to create jobs for local Africans and making more of an effort to comply with local regulations.
Although Chinese investments don’t come with human rights or governance strings attached - like with the U.S. - there has been some backlash from African civil society groups and some African leaders.
Lamido Sanusi, Nigeria’s former central bank governor, says Africa is opening itself to a “new form of imperialism.” He and others say the Djibouti military base shows that Beijing is in Africa for the long haul.
Although it is not seeking to build a foreign base network capable of supporting high-end naval combat, the way the U.S. has, this will come with time. They say more than likely the future will see the base develop so that it can be used to deploy warships and potentially aircraft into the Indian Ocean region.