By Erica S. Downs
The expanding footprint in Africa of China’s
national oil companies (NOCs) lies at the heart of concerns of many
policy-makers and pundits in the United States and Europe. China’s
deepening engagement with Africa is viewed as an erosion of their own
interests and influence on the continent. The conventional wisdom about
China’s NOCs in Africa has two parts. It sees the companies prevailing
in the competition to gain access to African oil as part of a
government strategy to ensure that China’s burgeoning demand for
oil is satisfied. Moreover, it is alleged that this strategy does more
than just secure oil for Chinese markets – it also undermines American
and European efforts to maintain a level playing field for foreign
investors, promote good governance and punish regimes that egregiously
violate human rights.
This article examines a number of widely accepted “facts” about the growing involvement of China’s NOCs in Africa. While some of these have some validity, others simply do not. Contrary to public opinion, China’s NOCs are not “locking up” the lion’s share of African oil as part of a centralized quest for energy. In
addition, the extent to which the Chinese NOCs’ involvement in the African oil patch has contributed to the erosion of the “rules of the game” – established by Western governments and international financial institutions for foreign investment, foreign aid and human rights – may be exaggerated in some cases. Discerning fact from fi ction within the discourse about Sino-African energy relations is important in order to understand the activities of China’s NOCs in Africa as well as to inform policy-making in Washington, D.C. and other world capitals.
The full report is available here.