Trump May Actually Be The Greatest Gift China Could Ask For In Africa

And it’s ironic given the growing consensus that Beijing is the U.S. president-elect's enemy number one.

Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden are the duo behind the China Africa Project and hosts of the popular China in Africa Podcast. We’re here to answer your most pressing, puzzling, even politically incorrect questions, about all things related to the Chinese in Africa and Africans in China.

The election of Donald Trump has introduced a new era of uncertainty in global politics, especially in Africa where the president-elect has said little about his foreign policy agenda for the continent. Not surprisingly, Trump’s unpredictable, provocative style is sparking widespread concern across the continent as to whether the United States plans to remain engaged in Africa.

China, by comparison, is moving in the opposite direction. Beijing’s New Year’s announcement to finally outlaw its domestic ivory trade, although long overdue, was widely praised as an important step in the struggle to save Africa’s embattled elephant population. Also this month, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, will make his customary first overseas trip of the year that always begins in Africa where he will visit five countries. All of this is set amid the backdrop of surging Chinese investment in Africa as part of President Xi Jinping’s 2015 $60 billion financial package and the rollout of China’s ambitious global trading strategy known as “One Belt, One Road,” which passes through a number of countries in Northeast Africa where the Chinese are now spending billions of dollars to build out new civilian and military infrastructure.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2016.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2016.
POOL New / Reuters

What Would You Do?

Imagine that you are President Edgar Lungu in Zambia or Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari or Tanzanian President John Magufuli. What would you do? Your countries have been battered by the persistent slump in global commodity prices and while you may have turned to the U.S. for both aid and leadership in the past, this new president and his new cabinet do not seem like they’re very interested in your part of the world. While Chinese delegations from the foreign minister downstream through your country one after another, where are the Americans? While presidents and prime ministers from other parts of the world have been called to the gilded Trump Tower, none from Africa have been invited up to that famous penthouse in Manhattan, at least none that received media attention.

Although it’s entirely counterintuitive, Donald Trump really could be the best thing to have ever happened to the Chinese in Africa. The instability that he seems to be provoking is making the Chinese look so good in contrast. Whereas the incoming U.S. president is threatening to limit foreign trade, cancel aid programs and register Muslims, the Chinese are opening their markets wider for African produce, increasing financial assistance programs on the continent and likely sponsoring more African students than any other country in the world to study in their universities. So if you were in Lungu’s, Buhari’s or Magufuli’s position, the choice on how to align your country’s interests, both economic and political, is probably becoming a lot more apparent.

Janet Eom, research manager at the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, has been closely following the presidential campaign and the run-up to Donald Trump’s inauguration with an eye on how this will all impact Sino-African ties. Janet joins Eric & Cobus ― in the podcast above ― to discuss what’s ahead in U.S.-China-Africa relations.

Join the conversation. Do you think that the Trump presidency will benefit the Chinese in Africa or does it even matter? Trump has promised an “America First” agenda to his constituents and so what if U.S. influence falls in some parts of the world? We’d like hear from you.

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