The neo-imperialist temptation: Africa and Latin America
One of the most dramatic developments of the 2000s has been the emergence of China as a major external actor in sub-Saharan Africa and in Latin America. China’s presence in both regions is, though, not new. There are trading links going back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and Chinese officials are keen, for example, to highlight the adventures of the fifteenth-century Admiral Zheng, whose voyages reached the east coast of Africa. During the Cold War, Beijing supported revolutionary anti-imperialist movements in both Latin America and Africa, providing substantial aid to the newly independent states in Africa with over 800 projects financed and supported by China during the period 1950-80.1 But these historic ties pale in comparison to the almost exponential growth of China’s engagement with both regions during the 2000s. This is best illustrated by looking at the rapid expansion of bilateral trade. In Africa, trade with China grew from US$6.5 billion in 1999 to US$73.3 billion in 2007 and reached US$106.8bn in 2008 before dropping in 2009 due to the global recession. A very similar trajectory is evident in Latin America. In 2000, bilateral trade was at US$12.6 billion and rose to US$50.5 billion in 2005 and reached a record of US$111.5 billion in 2008. These trade figures demonstrate how China’s engagement and presence in Africa and Latin America is now of a different intensity and magnitude than in earlier periods.