Ethiopia, China – Chinese Investment in Ethiopia – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Ethiopia, China – Chinese Investment in Ethiopia – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports gratefully acknowledges Mr. Abdi Bekele for granting us permission to share photos from instagram.com/abdi.bekele/ All rights are retained by our generous contributors.

In the past couple of decades China’s involvement in the economic development projects around the world has skyrocketed. Within this course of time, China has invested billions of dollars in developed and developing countries alike. From trade deals to infrastructural development, China has become the number one foreign economic partner to many countries in the world, replacing, in some cases, the United States.

When it comes to partnerships, what sets China apart from the United States or other Western countries is its policy of not interfering in local political or economic affairs. When China makes deals with countries, it does not usually have preconditions attached to it (with the exception of its push for countries not to recognize Taiwan as an independent country). For example, when there are changes in government, China does not support one competitor over the other. It simply deals with whomever is in power. this policy of noninterference is in contrast to Western countries, which have historically used their influence to give or keep power with those they favor. Their non-intrusive stance, coupled with the fact that Chinese products are usually cheaper, make China an attractive source of aid and cooperation for these countries.

African countries and Ethiopia specifically, have not been an exception to this rising Chinese influence. From trains and buildings to roads and highways, China has become a major player in the development of Ethiopia’s infrastructure and economy. Ethiopia owes more than $12 billion in loans to China, not only for the construction of its cities, but also for its import and export needs. The Exim Bank of China lends money to organizations like the Ethiopian Airlines for things such as aircraft purchases from the United States.

China’s involvement in foreign countries may not be political, but it’s leaving literal footprints where it goes. In a 2018 report by the CNN, claims were made that Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, is starting to look like a Chinese city. While the physical appearance of the city is a far cry from having Chinese aesthetics (not a lot looks overtly “Chinese” however one may choose to define that), the tremendous influence of China in the country cannot be denied. Chinese architects, machines, products and even workers have swarmed the city. Even traditional items originating from Ethiopia such as the jebena, a coffee making apparatus, are being imported from China for cheaper prices. The quality of these imported products, however, is considered to be lower. “Anything you want, China can make. Just give them a sample and say how much you are willing to pay. They have the means to make the best, just depends on what you can afford” (Ethiopian local).

When looked at closely however, China’s apparent lack of preconditions now does not guarantee that its motives are purely what they seem. The loans that countries such as Ethiopia have accumulated and the dependence of these countries on China is increasing at an alarming rate. Last week President Xi Jinping of China invited the leaders of more than 50 African countries to a summit in China and made promises to give out more than $60 billion in aid and loans over the next couple of years, strengthening its ties with African nations. So far, China has been magnanimous in its dealings, extending grace periods for loans and proclaiming its intentions are simply to help these countries. Nonetheless, geopolitical history between the powerful and relatively powerless teaches us to be vigilant. China’s plans concerning the modern Silk Road and its recent show of power with Russia as they stage one of the biggest military exercises in history should be noted. Power is rarely dormant for long.

Eleni Birhane serves as a senior editor for The North Star Reports

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Ellie Swanson and Marin Ekstrom, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.

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24 Comments

Filed under Eleni Birhane, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

24 responses to “Ethiopia, China – Chinese Investment in Ethiopia – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

    • Reid Peterson

      Eleni,
      what an extremely interesting piece. The economic tensions between China and other nations, as you said, are growing exponentially. After reading this article, I wonder what are the main motives President Xi and the Chinese government have in mind with their reconstruction development projects. For a surface level, it seems China is “partnering” with the developing nations in the world to “help” support their infrastructural development. However, I believe there might be hidden motives between the lines. In an effort to globalize the Chinese empire, it seems China is striving to colonize other nations by essentially buying them out by putting them in extreme debt. Historically speaking, America has a tendency to march in with gun and do our will. Perhaps China is simply putting a different spin to America’s ways of colonizing.

    • DyAnna Grondahl

      Eleni, I appreciate the information presented in your article. I must admit, this is my first time reading about China’s economic dealings in Africa. However, I feel as though I should not be surprised. China has the economic prowess to meddle in the workings of other countries – and it even does so to an extent without also meddling in the politics of said country. I can’t help but wonder, however, whether or not China need invest less in other countries, and perhaps use some money to help its own people. I am not saying that China needs to just get out of its foreign investments – just that there are a number of social issues that should be addressed internally, synchronously. For example, in Human Rights on Monday we discussed the dumping of e-waste in several areas in Asia, including China. The people who work in these locations are subject to harmful conditions. While I would argue first and foremost that the U.S. and other nations should stop shipping their E-waste to China and Africa, one could also argue that if we are going to continue to ship our e-waste to China, we should at least have it recycled there in healthy facility.

    • Katrina Lund

      Thank you for sharing this, Eleni. This is such a fascinating story that I have not heard a single thing about until now. I think it is a wonderful approach for developed countries to offer their support with no strings attached. It’s so important to nations identities that they be allowed to develop in their own ways just as countries like America and China were able to. Relating to the part about Chinese motives and increasing dependency building up in African nations, I wonder how far into the future China is planning to use this dependency to their advantage if at all.

  1. Ellery Bruns

    Eleni,

    You have written an interesting article. I think your warning about power and word is important. So many times in history have there been people, countries, ideologies that have a certain policy that is later overwhelmed and discarded in the name of power. It is unfortunate that in our society we must be cautious about claims of benevolence, such as your example of how China has a policy of leaving alone the political and economic matters at the local level in their partner’s country. Motive is always cloudy, influenced by the interplay between propaganda, ideology, public policy. I am curious, does China involve itself in the political and economic matters of its partner country at the state level?

  2. Ryan Sauve

    I thought this was a very interesting post that intrigued me about how other governments choose to help other nations with major problems in their own country. I believe that it is a very good way to strengthen trade relations and build a strong rapport with the nations that are receiving the aid. It also obviously helps China extend its political power all the way into another continent. There is no greater power to hold over someone than owing billions of dollars to a world superpower. I also thought it was interesting how China extended grace periods to be paid back and have been optimistic in trade relations. China’s policy of non-involvement in local politics must be appealing to many leaders that the US or Europe do not support.

  3. Jacob Moran

    Eleni,
    I find this topic really interesting. I am currently in a class where we are constantly talking about the United States involvement in other countries’ business. Do you think that the Chinese government is loaning money purely out of the goodness of their heart and that they don’t have an secret angle on this? It makes you think that if they’re willing to loan 60 billion dollars to African countries that there might be something going on there. It’s weird to see headlines that there are other countries that may be considered more of a “superpower” than the United States, like this situation. It will be interesting to see how all of this will play out. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Linnea Moore

    Eleni,
    Thank you for another interesting topic. I think that the influence of Chinese products and especially money are felt globally, but I had never really thought of what that impact may look like in Africa. In the United States, we are so self-focused that we often forget about the other regions of the world, and this article shed light on a topic I had no knowledge about. I wonder, along with other commenters, what China’s motivations are for loaning so much money to African countries. I want to know what resources Africa has that China wants, is it minerals that are used in creating electronics and batteries or something else? I find myself very curious and compelled to do some more research on this subject. Thank you!

  5. Megan Gonrowski

    Hello Eleni,
    This was a wonderful written and critical article. Also, the photos are amazing. I think it is great that you have noticed this increasing dependence on China from many countries around the world. I think it is interesting that developed and developing countries alike are depending more and more on loans, cheap labor and other services from China. Yesterday, in our human rights course we discussed e-waste and how the United States is exporting its electronic waste to Hong Kong, China. This is having detrimental environmental and health effects for all the people involved in the recycling process, but the United States continues to export this e-waste because it can be recycled much cheaper. This article made me think about globalization as a whole and how China is making other countries dependent on their services and loans. It makes me wonder where the Chinese government is getting this loan money.

    • Will Richardson II

      Eleni,

      As always I loved your article. I did not know China was so invested in so many different countries. It is often said “China owns the US” which is clear with how much debt the USA has. I enjoyed that you bring your thoughts and info from your own home country of Ethiopia. It really makes your writing credible and interesting to read. I have one question I would like to ask based off this piece as well. Do you think many countries being in debt to China is problematic long term, or is it more beneficial in the short term for countries to be able to function better with outside funding?

  6. Alexandra Erickson

    Great article Eleni. It is hard at times not to look critically at a powerful country such as China doing deeds purely out of the goodness of their hearts, and it is not beneficial to go into every interactions assuming the worst of the other party, but at the same time it is peculiar that China is investing so much of its money and time into international aide. There have been studies into whether people’s motives are ever truly pure, and in the case of a whole country, it is especially intriguing. I like China’s policy about non-interference with the country they are helping, but it appears that they are still influencing in other ways whether that be intended or not. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Jane Kariuki

    Hello Eleni,
    Your article is very articulate and mind-opening. I loved how the pictures simply help to put everything into context. With that said, just from your expression of the situation one can simply make the conclusion that the Chinese are implementing a soft power. Whereas they do not want to be aggressive towards the government or the political sphere by sharing their views. Yet, they are slowly changing various countries to literally look like them or to mimic the Chinese Spaces. Additionally, in my experience of traveling through Kenya, one can spot various road signs in the Chinese characters without difficulties. Also, it is not exhausting to see various Chinese especially men working in enormous companies or simply facilitating any road work projects. With that said, while the Chinese smoothly changes spaces across various countries can their actions be concluded as a mere way of helping or are they doing it in order to gain more allies to simply irritate other superpowers. Anyways, thank you for sharing.

  8. Hannes Stenström

    Eleni,
    Thanks for an interesting article on an equally interesting topic! Like you mention in the article, any trade partnership is bound to have effects on its parties as they influence each other. In this case, it seems as Ethiopia could be the party to be more influenced despite China’s policy of not interfering in political matters. I guess that influence could be so much more than only political though. You write about how a traditional Ethiopian item is being replaced by Chinese copies, an example of how a culture can be influenced. Furthermore you write about how demographics change with the influx of guest workers, something that in turn could change the language and perhaps values and norms as well. In my opinion it will be very interesting to see what this tremendous increase in Chinese foreign investment will entail, especially in terms of power to influence other cultures. USA is probably the country that holds the first place in this league as it stands, but perhaps China will be able to give the U.S a run for their money in a not to distant future.

  9. william Brennhofer

    Eleni,
    This is a very interesting article, mostly because i did not know that China was doing this around the world. it is interesting that they are trying to take a nonpolitical approach to this loaning of money. But whenever money of this kind is loaned out it is expected for the countries to follow what they are told. But it is cool, i guess, that the cities are looking like ones from china, that they have that much control over what is being built in Africa. Also that items that hail from that region is being exported to china to be built cheaper and then imported back in to Africa. In this day and age i do think things like this are important to see because as an American it makes me think what we can do differently to have that kind of money coming in and out of America instead of China.

  10. Marissa Mikrot

    What an interesting article, Eleni! I really need to start looking into what kind of involvements other countries are having with each other because I had no idea this was happening. It makes me curious to know what other powers are influencing developing worlds and if the U.S. is doing such a thing as well. I also thought it was interesting that the Chinese government keeps economic and local political affairs separate. Do you think Western countries, such as the U.S., could take this on?

  11. Dylan Brovick

    Eleni,
    This was a very powerful article to read on the growing power that China economically is gaining throughout the world. I found it very interesting that they do not try to interfere with the governmental side of the countries they are doing business with. That is very different from what the United States has historically done but I believe it creates a huge plus side for the Chinese. They probably do not care as much about who is in charge as long as they are doing business with them and able to make money in that country. Also, one thing I think may be key is that if they do not interfere in the political side of things they leave out room for animosity and hate to grow towards the Chinese in these countries because the citizens can’t look to them as a reason for their political turmoil, unlike the USA. As products begin to become more Chinese in some of the countries you mentioned it will be interesting to see if culture changes with it in favor of China over the United States. Lastly, the global power that China is beginning to gain through economics comes at a time when Trump is levying taxes and tariffs against the Chinese creating a more tense relationship. I think it will be key to keep an eye on the United States and Chinese relationship as China continues to strengthen its economic reach throughout Africa and the world.

  12. Madina Tall

    Hi Eleni,
    This is a very eye-opening article to me. Growing up there I noticed more and more the influence that China has had in Ethiopia, specifically in Addis. Places like the African Union, an organization focusing on the betterment and unity of Africa has its literal foundations built by the Chinese. I had never given it a thought before but now that I really think about, as you said, what are the deeper implications? Why is China so eager to keep their African allies happy and what will they be expecting back?

  13. Katelyn Fischer

    Hi Eleni.
    I think this article was very will written and I am very glad you included the pictures. It is interesting to see how much China is influencing other countries. I really like what you said about power, how it is only dormant for so long. I think this is true, and it will be very interesting to see how the relationships between China and the countries they are providing assisstance to change and progress.

  14. Eleni,

    I hope you are doing well! I hadn’t realized that China was investing so heavily in African countries. I knew about their increasing influence in Latin America from our “The Other Americas” class last semester. In fact, we had a segment on China in my politics class in Ecuador. Many of the plots on the edge of the Amazon are being purchased by China for oil. This economic investment and development—though China doesn’t meddle directly with politics—is considered “soft power,” and is highly effective.

    Do you think soft power or hard power (using military force, directly taking a stance on politics) is more effective in the long run?

    Abigail

  15. Sam Long

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I did not know much about China as this article taught me much about some of the things that happen there. I do not think that China is doing the simply just out of kindness, but they are trying to send a message to other nations. I also did not know that this much foreign aid was being sent to Ethiopia by China. The nation’s policies are continuing to help other countries.

  16. Cassandra Mahlberg

    Wow, Eleni. Thank you for writing about the expanse of China’s power. Last year I took a class focusing on Latin America and we frequently had to talk about China because of its influence there. It seems China wants to have more global reach than it already has by doling out funds all over the world. As you said, they have been funding projects in Ethiopia with a modern silk road in mind and that same funding is developing parts of Latin America as well. What do you think will be the result of global reliance on China for aid? Does the benefit for Ethiopia outweigh the risks (interest, potential demands later, overt Chinese influence on culture)? I didn’t know before reading this that China was also aiding countries in Africa. I am anxious to see what happens to Taiwan as a result of countries relying on China for aid and therein denouncing Taiwan’s status as an independent country (only a few countries left in Latin America that still consider it independent because of this).

  17. Joseph Ehrich

    This article really got my attention about how China is investing billions of dollars in developing nations in Africa. I did not realize that the Chinese does not interfere with the political systems when they make deals with these countries. The investing from China leaves these countries in debt and forces the developing nations to pay back what they owe. Just like bigger world powers, this helps spread China’s influence around the globe and opens new markets for their economy. Overall, this does ask the question of power and how China will handle it dealing with less powerful countries. Still, I am surprised that I have not heard about this on the news more but it seems that China will continue to compete with the U.S. for growing influence over developing nations.

  18. Owen Granger

    Eleni,
    Thank you very much for sharing this information, I have gained insight into a part of the world that I do not know much about. I think that how China is interacting with African countries is extremely interesting. Having no public political ties gives China a large amount of power that they can continue to build these countries up. I think it could be very interesting if the United States falls in line or if we continue to stray away from global unity. Overall, I do believe that it is good that under developed countries are gaining traction to becoming a self sufficient nation. Nonetheless, we do always have to have a ever seeing eye regarding what the other global powers are doing.

  19. Jacob Kallenbach

    Hello,
    I really liked you article, very interesting and something often somewhat of a foreign concept for us to think about. I did not know how much China dealt with other countries when it came to infrastructure and loans in general. It seems like they do not care about the aspects of politics in the country but just care about getting a deal done. Thanks for the interesting read!

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