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Trade, Empires, and Subjects—China-Africa Trade: A New Fair Trade Arrangement, or the Third Scrambl

Since 2000, the interest of the People’s Republic of China (China) in Africa has grown steadily.  Trade between China and Africa has grown exponentially.  China-Africa trade volume increased from $10 billion to $18 billion between 2000 and 2003.  In 2005, total trade between Africa and China surged to $40 billion, and in 2006 China-Africa trade was valued at $55.5 billion.  A third of China’s crude oil imports come from Africa. In the West, reaction to China’s involvement in Africa has bordered on suspicion and paranoia.  Policy makers and analysts are concerned that China could gain control over Africa’s vast and untapped natural resources.  The current struggle over Africa’s resources evokes worrying memories of an earlier scramble for pieces of the continent.  This Article examines the opportunities and pitfalls that Sino-African trade relations present for Africa.  Instead of paranoia, this Article calls for guarded optimism regarding the deepening relationship.  While there is much that Africa could gain from the relationship, African leaders and Africans must guard against imperialism of any sort and shy away from arrangements that threaten sustainable development or undermine respect for human rights.  Most important, African leaders must push past Beijing’s rhetoric of anti-hegemonism and develop clear policies to guide the continent’s engagement with China.  Drawing on the rich but sad lessons from the scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century, African leaders must avoid the economic, political, and legal pitfalls of the past and position the continent to benefit from strategic relations with countries that could become future partners.


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