Chinese Economic Engagement in Africa: New Silk Road on the Continent

“The closest look yet at Chinese economic engagement in Africa”

June 2017
The closest look yet at Chinese economic engagement in Africa

Field interviews with more than 1,000 Chinese companies provide new insights into Africa–China business relationships.

In two decades, China has become Africa’s most important economic partner. Across trade, investment, infrastructure financing, and aid, no other country has such depth and breadth of engagement in Africa. Chinese “dragons”—firms of all sizes and sectors—are bringing capital investment, management know-how, and entrepreneurial energy to every corner of the continent. In doing so they are helping to accelerate the progress of Africa’s economies.

Yet to date it has been challenging to understand the true extent of the Africa–China economic relationship due to a paucity of data. Our new report, Dance of the lions and dragons: How are Africa and China engaging, and how will the partnership evolve?, provides a comprehensive, fact-based picture of the Africa–China economic relationship based on a new large-scale data set. This includes on-site interviews with more than 100 senior African business and government leaders, as well as the owners or managers of more than 1,000 Chinese firms spread across eight African countries1that together make up approximately two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP.

Africa’s largest economic partner

In the past two decades, China has catapulted from being a relatively small investor in the continent to becoming Africa’s largest economic partner. And since the turn of the millennium, Africa–China trade has been growing at approximately 20 percent per year. Foreign direct investment has grown even faster over the past decade, with a breakneck annual growth rate of 40 percent.2Yet even this number understates the true picture: we found that China’s financial flows to Africa are around 15 percent larger than official figures when nontraditional flows are included. China is also a large and fast-growing source of aid and the largest source of construction financing; these contributions have supported many of Africa’s most ambitious infrastructure developments in recent years.

We evaluated Africa’s economic partnerships with the rest of the world across five dimensions: trade, investment stock, investment growth, infrastructure financing, and aid. China is among the top four partners for Africa across all these dimensions (Exhibit 1). No other country matches this depth and breadth of engagement.

Africa’s economic partners, including China, India, France, the United States, and Germany, based on goods trade, foreign direct investment, aid, and infrastructure financing

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