Tuesday, June 25, 2013

China, the US, and Africa: How Many Embassies?

President Obama with his Kenyan grandmother
The build up of media stories before President Obama's visit to Africa rarely fail to mention "China" as a prominent "complication" in the US-Africa relationship.  But a June 22, 2013 editorial in The Economist, "Late, But Not Empty-Handed" has an embarrassing error that affected its analysis:
American fears that China is taking over Africa are exaggerated. America and its Western allies are still more influential across the board, whereas Chinese knowledge and political engagement remain shallow. America has 51 embassies in Africa to China’s 41, of which many are largely limited to commerce (emphasis added).
There are 54 independent countries in Africa. It doesn't take much research to find out that America has embassies in 50 African countries (and a mission at the African Union). Four of the smaller countries are served by US ambassadors in a neighboring country. But China also has embassies in 50 African countries, not 41. Four countries continue to recognize Taiwan, and host embassies from the "Republic of China" (Taiwan).

As for the statement that many Chinese embassies are "largely limited to commerce," where did this come from? It's like saying that because US aid to Africa is so high, US embassies are largely limited to aid. Chinese embassies have commercial counselors, almost always in a building located separately from the embassy. This leaves the embassy itself free to concentrate on diplomacy and consular affairs -- which is their main role. China's political engagement in Africa has also expanded rapidly, although I agree: it is not close to the level of engagement from the West.


try again said...

Dear Deborah,

I admire your extensive and in-depth work.
what China can do to improve even more?
Please contribute to China and Africa by providing consultations to Chinese government and African government.

The other day, I hear one saying, I paraphrase: In regard of human rights, the Chinese not only have the human rights problem itself, it also has the problem of hypocrite and counter-productive human rights bias.

I think the above thing also applies for the African development issue.

I think Chairman Mao said once: 有则改之无则加勉。 If the critics are truth then China should learn and correct itself, If the critics are false, then China should do even better in the regarded terms.

Anonymous said...

Hi Deborah

While I agree with the thrust of your article, the link to provide to show that China has 50 embassies in Africa actually only lists 41, as the Economist stated. http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjb/zwjg/2490/2493/default.shtml

Also, I'm not sure if countries who recognise Taiwan helps matters with Beijing, either. Recognising Taiwan as a separate country is certainly not what China wants the world to do.


Rob Minto

Deborah Brautigam said...

Hi Rob, You need to look further at that link. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs groups the Africa embassies in two groups: "Africa" and "Western Asia and North Africa". Don't make the same mistake the Economist did! The four countries that recognize Taiwan are the only places in Africa where China has no embassy.