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SCAVENGING THE INTERNET

AFRICA’S CHINESE CONNECTION AND THE DOWNTURN (South Africa)

Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 27, 2008

Posted to the web on: 27 November 2008

by Greg Mills – (*)

YOU know that it’s a globalised world when the man in front of you on the flight from Hong Kong THE GREAT WALLto Beijing starts a conversation, across several rows of seats, about the fast-bowling merits of Dale Steyn versus those of Morne Morkel — in Afrikaans.

Yet this very phenomenon — of an increasingly integrated world of trade, technology, skills and capital — is not only seen to be under threat due to the global economic crisis, but in the eyes of some is the cause of the crisis.

But that’s not how China sees things, in spite of some loss of export markets because of the credit crunch.

The formula for global economic growth has, over the past two decades , in simple terms, comprised western consumption of cheap Asian goods fuelled by access to cheap credit produced in turn by high Asian savings.

The cheapness of Asian goods relates to their productivity, which is related once again to the number of workers that are joining the global economy — 20-million annually from China’s rural to urban areas, at the last estimate.

Once in the cities they produce (up to three times) more and save more.

The downturn in demand for manufactured goods is likely to hit China hard — just as it has depressed commodity prices, the third leg of the western consumption-Asian thrift formula.

The supply of African oil and minerals has driven up continental growth rates, of course, and radically changed the level of external interest in African affairs.

China has been in part responsible for “globalising” Africa.

In doing so, it has certainly shown African prospects in a different light to the one shone by western firms and governments.

This relationship is represented in a plethora of statistics: In 1980, China’s share of world trade was less than 1%. By 2003 it had risen to 6%, where exports make up one-third of China’s gross domestic product. In 1980 China’s exports were worth less than $20bn. Last year, they exceeded $1-trillion. Such trade largely involves China’s processing of raw materials and the assembly of parts.

China’s trade with Africa has dramatically increased from $11bn in 2000 to $56bn in 2006 and $73bn last year, much of the increase due to oil.

Beijing has an African trade target of $100bn by 2010.

The second-largest global energy importer behind the US, China imported more than 6-million barrels of oil per day in 2006. This figure is expected to double in the next 15 years.

With only half of its energy needs now supplied by domestic sources, Angola has become China’s largest suppler of oil, while Sudan and Nigeria are important investment partners.

China today receives about one-third of its oil imports from Africa, comprising just less than 10% of the continent’s total oil exports. By comparison, the US purchased one-third of a percent of Africa’s total oil exports in 2006.

By 2006, more than 800 Chinese state-owned enterprises were active in Africa, with Chinese firms investing more than $6bn in 900 projects. The following year, China invested $4,5bn in African infrastructure projects alone.

Yet current figures put the downturn in manufacturing order books by more than 50% worldwide. China’s third-quarter growth has dipped to 9% from 12% last year. A loss of markets and growth, potentially compounded by rising labour costs depressing productivity, is a spectre that no Chinese politician fancies.

Beijing believes it will cope with the credit crisis by focusing on substituting its internal market for those lost overseas. Hence the announcement of a $586bn infrastructure stimulus package.

For example, the Chinese government has committed, in the short-term, an extra R1-trillion to railway infrastructure. That will buy a lot of steel, and much else, at current prices.

For this reason, for the moment, China aims to continue with its strategy to secure raw materials from Africa at source, in so doing managing the prospect of input price inflation.

This offers further prospects to African businesses with an appetite for partnership in exploiting the long-term trend of increasing global flows of capital to emerging markets.

But despite its strategy to beef up internal demand, China retains a big stake in globalisation.

Without sizeable external markets it cannot provide for its citizens, with all the economic fallout and political instability that would denote.

For experience teaches that large numbers of job seekers cannot be absorbed by government, or to satisfy local demand. For China, as in Africa, if they cannot find a place for themselves in the global economy, many will not be able to find a place at all.

(*) – Dr Mills heads the Brenthurst Foundation and has been researching in China.

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE

PUBLISHED BY ‘BUSINESS DAY’ (South Africa)

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