GUNS TO AFRICA: While the US uses arms to advance its strategic interests, the Chinese are most interested in profits. Photo: Scanpix

The United States arms most dictatorships

China is often accused of supporting totalitarian regimes in Africa. But the United States arms far more African dictatorships than China does.

The Chinese are about to change Africa. In January, a survey conducted by the Financial Times showed that over the last two years, China has lent more money to developing countries than the World Bank.

Trade between China and Africa has increased dramatically in the last ten years, and in 2009 the Chinese were Africa’s largest trading partner. In 1950 the trade volume between the two countries was USD 12 million. In 2010 that figure had ballooned to USD 115 billion.

And while Barack Obama is struggling hard to get the American economy back on track, China’s economy is growing strongly. Indra de Soysa, a professor of political science and director of NTNU’s Globalization Programme, predicts that in 20 years, the Chinese economy will be larger than the US economy.

Follow the arms flow

“Journalists, academics and politicians in the West express fear that a dictatorship like China will come to have such a dominant position in the world’s economy. Many think that the Chinese have no morals, and that they do not care about worker protection, human rights and democratic conditions in the country where they trade,” says de Soysa.

To determine if this was true, de Soysa, along with Professor Paul Midford from NTNU, followed the export of weapons from China and the United States to African dictatorships from 1989 to 2006, using figures from the Stockholm Institute for Peace Research.

“If a nation sells or gives away weapons to a country, this is a sign that the countries are looking for a more long-term relationship,” said de Soysa, who has now documented that the US arms far more African dictators than China.

And if that isn’t enough: The figures also show that Americans clearly prefer dictatorships, such as Equatorial Guinea and Djibouti, while the Chinese clearly prefer democratic regimes, as Zambia and Namibia.

Strategy versus profit

“I was very surprised by the findings. There is this international image of China as the enemy, like the big bad wolf that sucks out the ­resources from its trading partners without worrying about how people feel. People think that because China is a dictatorship, the country will try to sell weapons to other dictatorships, and that the US will do the opposite. But the USA looks to promote its strategic interests, even if it means supporting dictatorial regimes, while China is primarily looking to make money,” de Soysa says.

De Soysa thinks that the fear of China’s entry into the world economy is partly due to its silencing of political protesters, such as Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. China’s sale of arms to dictatorial regimes such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, from 1990 to 2008, also sparked anger from Western human rights activists who claimed that China was undermining the development of democratic rights in Africa.

Anne Sliper Midling