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China's Sino-Optimism and Modern-Day Colonialism in Ethiopia

Sarah Fefer

China's increasing engagement with African states, as well as its growing militancy in the global arena, has sparked a polarizing debate among all parties engaged about how to conceptualize China's presence in Africa. Indeed, China's African policy, as part of the Communist Party of China's "Going Global Strategy," raises serious concerns regarding China's role as a growing power and its implications for the current international system order, whether as a status quo or revisionist force.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Report 2020, China remains Ethiopia's largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI), accounting for roughly 60% of newly approved foreign projects in 2019.

"A large number of Chinese firms' investment in various industrial parks in Ethiopia could be seen as an acknowledgment of the two nations' strong and sustained bilateral relationship," Temesgen Tilahun, deputy chief of the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) said.

China's role in Africa has traditionally been perceived through three lenses: as a development partner, an economic rival, or a colonizer. As a result, three motives have spurred Chinese investment in Africa. For starters, with China's leadership legitimacy based on the weak pillars of economic performance, Africa's abundant natural resources in terms of oil and minerals are a top priority for the country's continuing economic growth. Second, Africa is a growing market into which China may sell its low-cost manufactured goods, as well as a long-term financial investment. Third, China's development assistance to Africa is part of an effort to boost its political power and influence overseas by winning African states' support inside international organizations.

Despite the polarizing discussion over China's impact in Ethiopia, researchers and observers generally agree that China cannot be completely trusted. Therefore, thinking of Sino-African ties solely as a business opportunity could be harmful. Viewing China solely as a predatory neocolonial power, on the other hand, will only sour relations and jeopardize African governments' interests in economic growth in the long run.

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Information Sources:

Brautigam, D 2009, The Dragon’s Gifts: The Real Story of China in Africa, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Halper, S 2010, The Beijing Consensus: How China’s Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century, Basic Books, New York.

Wang, Z 2013, ‘The Chinese Dream: Concept and Context’, Journal of Chinese Political Science, vol. 19, pp. 1-13.

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