How do China's investments, Israel's innovations empower Africa? - opinion

The Israeli mind has always been busy coming up with groundbreaking inventions to deal with intense and challenging scenarios.

CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Senegal’s President Macky Sall attend a joint news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2018. (photo credit: LINTAO ZHANG / REUTERS)
CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Senegal’s President Macky Sall attend a joint news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2018.
(photo credit: LINTAO ZHANG / REUTERS)
China invests heavily in Africa’s economic development and infrastructure foundations, paving the way for international domination. The Israeli private sector can complement Africa’s needs with innovation and technology.
Since Mao’s rule until today, China is governed by a one-party communist regime, defined by some scholars as dictatorial. For the average Westerner, the mental and cultural gaps between China and the West are difficult to fully comprehend, and understanding the Chinese perspective and way of life is a real challenge. Western countries go by clear definitions and transparency, while in China things work differently: Decisions are made deliberately in a secret and vague manner; in politics, there is no alignment between official statements and what actually occurs; the hierarchical structure is cumbersome, and the rational basis for conduct originates in a collective state-of-mind.
The unique starting point of Chinese mentality is crucial when trying to learn about China’s political interests and presence in Africa. China has “core interests,” which guide it through every economic and political decision: the preservation of Chinese communism, national sovereignty over the “problematic” territories (Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang), and its economic development policy (example: limiting the value of the Yuan). These interests are the most significant considerations for China, and they affect the way Chinese companies do business, invest around the world and develop the country’s economy. Most Chinese companies are state-owned enterprises, where decisions are made behind closed doors, with the official outline overshadowing the true power dynamics, and without knowing who truly pulls the strings. Since the 1980s, China has been accepting foreign direct investments to use it to produce cheap labor (until then was considered a capitalist intervention), and has since become the second largest target country in the world in terms of free trade agreements.
This situation has generated huge amounts of foreign money in China, which has led the country to also change its policy regarding outward foreign investments – instead of keeping the money inside and preventing Chinese companies from investing internationally, they get rid of their foreign money through investments around the world. China is developing a more international business sector and strives to hold on to as many natural resources as possible, and these are some of the reasons it has turned to Africa in recent decades.
SINCE THE establishment of the Forum On China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) at the turn of the century, China has become Africa’s largest trading partner and relations between them have strengthened significantly, with the expansion of Chinese human and economic capital in Africa indicating a broader global political process. With its investments, trade, aid support, and security involvement in the continent, China uses Africa as a testing ground for its unique foreign policy, as a superpower striving to be the most powerful player in the international arena. Africa is undergoing the fastest urbanization process in the world today, with rural people migrating to cities at a faster pace than China and India, as one of the final stops of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This rapid transition poses complicated challenges and offers great rewards for countries willing to risk billions in huge infrastructure construction projects, and China has responded to Africa’s call, as its 1.3 billion people population is expected to double by 2050.
In the last decade, China has transformed its manufacturing economy to a prestigious economy, investing in hi-tech. The desire to improve Chinese productivity and enable high living standards has made them obsessed with innovation. Historically, the dominant philosophy of Confucianism in China encourages productivity, but suppresses creativity and critical thinking, so at the cultural level they are less agile and innovation oriented. China evolution and growth requires more working hands, and Africa could be that place. Factories are starting to close in China and open in Africa, and as the Chinese economy promotes technology over production and quality over quantity, jobs are being created in Africa for simple manual labor. The resurrection of the Silk Road, an ancient 6,500-km. trade route that connected China to India in the East and the Mediterranean in the West, and was a significant factor in the development of Chinese civilization, is part of China’s interesting evolution process.
China has been investing for many years in the design and implementation of The New Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a trillion-dollar strategic investment in infrastructure across Eurasia and Africa to create a single economic bloc and connect Europe, Africa, and Central and Southeast Asia by land and sea. China is entering African markets because African countries are thirsty for economic development, investments and other external engines of growth, so they follow suit the BRI. Economic growth cannot happen without a broad investment in infrastructure such as roads, trains, ports, airports and power plants, which form the basis of economic activity and enable production, transportation and trade. Developing countries’ economies are desperate for massive investment in their infrastructure to create the physical basis for a modern industrial economy. China’s economic dependence on its external investments and the motivation to create the BRI integrates perfectly with the African countries’ need of funds and investments for infrastructure building. The value of trade between Africa and China exceeds 200 billion dollars a year, with Africa also positioning itself as China’s largest market for international construction projects. In 2018, China announced an African aid package of $60 billion, and we can expect that relations between the two sides will continue to strengthen even after the COVID-19 economic crisis.
How does this relate to Israel? Africa needs innovation! In a field which the vast and efficient China does not dominate, lies the unique and essential power of Israel’s private sector. The Israeli mind has always been busy coming up with groundbreaking inventions to deal with intense and challenging scenarios, while combining our typical courage and audacity with technological expertise for the benefit of improving the reality of our lives. We have done this in agriculture, security, infrastructure, energy, healthcare, and many other areas, and the international hi-tech ecosystem invests significant resources to learn from the Israeli resilience, attitude and capabilities. Until Israel’s government finally leverages our business and technological advantage in favor of political processes vis-à-vis African countries, the private sector must seize the opportunity and lead the way. Israeli companies from various fields produce innovative and creative solutions regularly, many of them answer major pain-points which African countries face, and which China cannot solve. By 2050, a quarter of the world’s population will be African – a young population that for the most part does not have proper infrastructure nor access to electricity and clean water, but does have pride, talent, great ambitions and motivation to thrive. It is time for the Israeli private sector to acknowledge this potential and shift focus to Africa, the continent of the future.
The writer is an Israeli educator and business developer at Empower Africa, researcher of the connection between human psychology, public consciousness and politics.