The history of trade between China and Africa is not new and goes back several millennia. Modern Sino-African relations date to the 1950s when China signed trade agreements with several North African states. Zhou Enlai’s famous trip to Africa in 1964 highlighted Chinese foreign policy of the era that encouraged national liberation movements through the provision of economic, military and technical aid. This era of relations must be looked at through the prism of the cold war. While initially The People’s Republic of China was firmly in the Soviet camp, the two ideological allies began to split apart in the 1960s, culminating in the Sino-Soviet border conflict of 1969. China affirmed its commitment to its own national interests and the idea that it would not bend to the will of regional powers. Thus, while the Soviets were deeply involved with the African National Congress, China sought to strengthen the emerging Pan-Africanist Congress.
In 1980 Sino-African trade was worth approximately one billion dollars. By 2012, the volume of trade between Africa and China approached two hundred billion dollars. In the span of only thirty years, China had overtaken the former European colonial powers as the major trading partner for much of Africa. There are presently nearly one thousand Chinese companies actively doing business in Africa that invest in infrastructure, energy, and banking sectors. Unconditional, low-rate credit lines are extended to African nations have begun to replace conditional loans given by Western nations. Western countries in turn have accused China of being a neo-colonialist power, because of a perceived lack of concern about human rights violations in Africa while attempting to secure natural resources. Indeed, the relationship between the PRC and Zimbabwe is often cited as a cause of concern regarding human rights violations. In response to these accusations China has restricted its military assistance to the more questionable regimes of Africa and further propounded the “Nine Principles to Encourage and Standardise Enterprises' Overseas Investment.” Another example of Chinese involvement in Africa that has stifled the advancement of the West’s human rights agenda in Africa is Chinese-Angolan relations. Human Rights organizations had accused members of the Angolan government of stealing money from oil revenues. When a fiscal crisis emerged that required outside intervention, the International Monetary Fund had hoped to use the opportunity to impose transparency on the nation in return for foreign assistance. China Export-Import bank stepped in the middle and extended a large loan devoid of these perceived onerous conditions. Thus, China has been accused of not encouraging good government practices in nations where it is seeking to gain a competitive advantage in recovery of natural resources.
An alternative solution to the Chinese governments lending practices would be to adopt and apply Western style demands for transparency of governments that are seeking its assistance. International organizations from the United Nations to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries already have conditions for the provision of assistance. At first sight, it is understandable that the government of the PRC might view this as a hindrance to the acquisition of resources. In fact, this would go a long way to protect China’s image internationally. Oppressed people the world over would not view the Chinese government as supporting their oppression as they might today. China could divorce itself from tyrannical regimes while at the same time providing important economic and technical aid. Through the granting of scholarships, students could learn important skills in China, and then return to their home nations to apply these skills to benefit their homeland.