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The world is in a constant state of flux when it comes to the rise and decline of empires. As we live our lives one empire’s crumbling while another seeks to rise…and that’s where we are right now in history. We are in the process of seeing one world order slowly crumble (EuroAmerica, which particular domination of the USA) and the rise of another (Asia, particularly China).



In the traditional sense of the word, the term empire means. ‘a geographically extensive group of states and peoples united and ruled either by a monarch (emperor, empress) or an oligarchy.’[1]

However in the modern sense the term empire has come to mean several things such as denoting, ‘a large-scale business enterprise (e.g. a transnational corporation), or a political organisation of either national-, regional- or city scale, controlled either by a person (a political boss) or a group authority’

In this piece I draw on the more amorphous and modern definition and specifically views empire as a conglomeration of a nation’s financial, military and political influence on different regions of the globe. Specifically empire building refers to, ‘the tendency of countries and nations to acquire resources, land, and economic influence outside of their borders in order to expand their size, power, and wealth’[2].



I posit that there are Four Ms that define the modern empire and it is along these lines the decline of the US empire and the rise of China’s can be measured and analysed.


For an empire to truly have global reach and influence, money is crucial in order to make investments, influence decisions, expand consumer markets et cetera. And yes, at the moment the USA is the world largest economy BUT, ‘According to the latest IMF official forecasts, China’s economy will surpass that of America in real terms in 2016’[3]. Measured in dollars, China, ‘is projected to projects to grow to $18.98tn in 2016, putting the US in second place at $18.81tn’[4]. This is significant because, ‘Just 10 years ago, the U.S. economy was three times the size of China’s’[5]. China has been the world fastest growing economy for the past 30 years, and seems set to continue on that trajectory for some time yet. So there is a definite shift on who has the money…and the power that comes with it.


This is a tricky one because, ‘China’s military future is not a secret it keeps from the world- it is a mystery even to those inside the country’[6]. That said, for policy makers in the US, ‘Of particular concern is the strength of Chinese military power and its relation to U.S. military capability’[7]. This concern may be rooted in the on-going modernisation of China’s military and the fact that ‘in years to come China will continue to develop its military power parallel to its growing economic and political power’[8].

However although, the United States, ‘has the edge in maritime, aerospace, and technological dimensions of military power’, it cannot be assumed that this will be the case indefinitely. Even from a layman perspective, the debacles of the US military in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan and the challenges its military intelligence system seems to have in gathering information on groups such as Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab has truly made me reconsider what I once thought was US military invincibility. This is in comparison to a changing dynamic where, the world is, ‘at a point now where for the first time China has accrued operational capability to project force further out from their shores and in their airspace than ever before’[9]. Further, it seems to be coming clear that, ‘Chinese military leaders believe they are a global economic power, and must create a military to protect their interests’[10]. So bear in mind that despite the current very clear superiority of the US military forces and capabilities, China is still in a position where it can and indeed plans to, ‘exploit vulnerabilities in key US capabilities using counter-space, counter-carrier, counter-air, and information warfare to prevent the United States from dominating a military confrontation or achieving quick and easy victory’[11]. China is, after all, a nuclear power. Also bear in mind the fact that the sentiments between the USA and China are not particularly amicable despite their continued economic engagement. Spats on currency devaluation, tariffs, pollution, Taiwan and North Korea regularly rear their ugly heads when these two powers engage. It will be interesting to see how the USA and the world changes and responds to increasingly dominant Chinese military power and presence on the globe.


Map: Geopolitical influence

How far does your country’s map extend? It simply cannot be denied that on a global scale, China is a seriously huge force to reckon with, especially in economic (and increasingly political) terms. With the growth of the Chinese pocket there is a growth in which parts of the world are coming under the ‘Chinese Map’. Africa, clearly, is among the regions on which the PRC has stamped its imprint…and seems set to continue to do so. Of course linked to geopolitical influence is money and in that light ‘China’s OFDI (outward FDI) has risen 19 fold since 2000’ clearly signaling an outward looking perspective and the concurrent need to maintain the success of these investments [12].  Bear in mind that China’s OFDI is, ‘dominated by state-owned enterprises (SOEs)… All of the ten largest Chinese multinational enterprises by OFDI stock are SOEs’[13]. Therefore in China’s cause, unlike the US, there is direct vested political risk and interest in ensuring the money invested makes more money…and the resources of the state are at the SOEs’ disposal to ensure this happens if needed. This means that political and economic expansions of influence by China are even more closely tied than usual. What is interesting about China’s growing geopolitical influence is that fact that it unabashedly sups with so-called ‘rogues regimes’ such as those of Sudan, Zimbabwe, North Korea and Burma. Who cares if EuroAmerica doesn’t like these regimes, China has the power and geopolitical influence to do as it deems most strategic. Gone are the days of proxy wars fought between Communism and Capitalism on foreign land for control. ‘Communist’ China is moving onto EuroAmerica’s turf and engaging in business with regimes some view as criminal- and the USA cannot really tell China to stop. Ironically it seems like China is now the one in a position to instruct the USA if the Daily Mail’s article titled, ‘Russia and China warn America against Iran strike‘ is anything to go by…my my my how times change.

For Africa this is especially significant given the traditional and seemingly absolute dominance of EuroAmerica on the continent. China is spreading its tentacles all the way over here such that, ‘Influence in Africa is no longer the domain of Western countries…the competition for influence in Africa is changing. Africa has more choices, alternatives…[Africa] now has alternatives to western pressure: that is China’[14].

Mien: Patriotism/ Nationalism

A Patriotic or Nationalistic mien is crucial for empire building. After all, without the love for and devotion to one’s country, how would expansion of the nation’s influence be rooted in domestic support for it? Indeed patriotism allows nations to invade other nations, take over resources and kill people if it means the home nation will prosper. US patriotism may be why so many Americans seem to be able to tolerate the US’s pillaging and destruction of Iraq, ongoing forays into Afghanistan and now threats to enter Iran as well. Patriotism is an interesting beast, of which China has plenty. China’s communist tradition that started in 1949 is one that has been drumming patriotism into the Chinese mind ever since. It can be argued that under Communism holidays were synonymous with the glorification of the Communist state, its leader and the whipping up of nationalistic sentiment. Clearly not every single Chinese person is patriotic but it is interesting to note that, ‘in the post-Cold War upsurge of Chinese nationalism Chinese intellectuals became one of the driving forces. Many well-educated people-social scientists, humanities scholars, writers and other professionals-have given voice to and even become articulators for rising nationalistic discourse in the 1990s’[15]. As Chinese influence and power continue to expand around the globe, this patriotic mien will likely become an increasingly powerful role in establishing and maintaining domestic support for Chinese activities abroad (no matter how questionable).


The rising power of the Chinese empire has many implications for Africa as far as the four Ms are concerned.


Africa is leaning towards and on China for investment and aid more and more. As a snapshot, ‘China has lent to developing countries more than the World Bank during last two years. The Chinese Development Bank and China Export-Import Bank have put out 110 billion US dollars, which are approximately 10 billion more than World Bank’[16]. Though just a drop in the ocean, this snapshot gives a clear indication of just how much things have changed for Africa with regard to who we can go to for money. Of course the point here is to ensure that African governments do not to make the same mistakes they did with EuroAmerican money, namely miring Africa in billions of dollars of debt and leaving Africa solidly at the bottom of the pile solely as a source for raw materials. Sadly thus far, it does seem that this trend is generally continuing in Sino-Africa economic relations. It is of urgent importance that African citizens keep an eye on Sino-African economic relations to ensure Africa really does get better deals this time around.


The brutal truth is that establishing military presence and indeed dominance around the world is an important aspect of empire building. Though Africans are aware of and have largely acquiesced to the presence of EuroAmerican military presence and bases, much less focus has been put on what China is doing in Africa from a military perspective. This is interesting despite the fact that, ‘China’s military relations with Africa stretches back to 1950s when China gave its support to for revolutionary and independence movements in Africa’[17]. Despite this, ‘China’s military involvement in Africa are passing with minimal scholarly attention, yet needing examination’[18]. This lack of focus may create the impression that China’s military is not really a big deal for Africa but let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that the Chinese are doing nothing, ‘Little by little China is forming military links in Africa and in the Indian Ocean in order, experts say, to protect Beijing’s economic interests in the region‘[19]. Indeed, ‘China currently has military alliances with 6 African states, 4 of which are major oil suppliers’[20]. China’s military presence in Africa is twofold. The first is more positive where, for example, the Chinese military has joined UN peace-keeping responsibilities on the continent[21]. In addition to this China is, ‘conducting high-level and technological military cooperation and exchanges, training African military personnel and supporting defense and army building in African countries’[22]. Further, Chinese military forces and police assist Africa in, ‘non-traditional missions, such as combating terrorism, small-arms smuggling, drug trafficking and transnational economic crimes’. These can be seen to be done in line with, ‘Beijing’s Africa strategy to promote China’s economic (resource access and trade) and political (one-China recognition) interests …to support overall peace and security for its interests in Africa’[23].

However, the second type of Chinese military activity in Africa is more ominous where, ‘To meet its oil and mineral needs, Beijing has consistently delivered arms to pariah states in Africa especially the conflict-torn zones which have come under western sanctions and United Nations’ embargo, in their attempt to address the horrendous massacre and genocidal killings that have characterized the politics of those areas…China has been implicated in the proliferation of arms in Africa which either provoke conflicts or exacerbate the existing ones’[24]. Indeed, ‘Because of strategic interests, China is enmeshed in cutting deals with bad governments and providing them with arms… Arms sales and military relationships help China gain important African allies in the United Nations—including Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria—for its political goals, including preventing Taiwanese independence and diverting attention from its own human rights record’[25] As a continent that has been war-ridden for decades, such subversive military activities which compromise the creation of a peaceful Africa should be unequivocally rejected and stopped by Pan-African institutions such as the African Union.

In short when it comes to Chinese military power, when it is used to propel China’s interests over Africa’s on the continent such action needs to be widely published and critiqued by Africans. Sadly, there seems to be a sense of obliviousness when it comes to Chinese military activity on the continent thereby essentially giving China’s military free reign to continue to make strategic in-roads into the continent. This should be a point of serious concern for Africa for should it continue, Africa will be in serious trouble. This is not only because Africa will find itself beholden to Chinese interests on the continent, Africa may become a ground where proxy wars between China and rival powers occur for the control of vital resources and influence in Africa[26].


Rising Chinese geopolitical influence on the continent is such a reality that I, as an African have begun to think of what Africa will look like when 1st generation Chinese-Africans are born on the continent. For with growing geopolitical influence comes growing migration of China to Africa, a phenomenon hard to track because of , ‘lax immigration policies, poor tracking mechanisms, as well as corruption in many African countries allowing for high levels of illegal migration’[27]. That said, ‘Total estimates range from around 580 000 to over 800 000 Chinese on the African continent’[28]. Although not all of these are in Africa to stay some are, and as Chinese immigrant numbers continue to rise, Africa will have to increasingly grapple with integrating Chinese immigrants into African society. In addition to migration-related growth of Chinese geopolitical influence in Africa is, of course, China’s growing economic and military presence in Africa which seems set to continue with significant momentum. With growing influence will come reactions from African themselves on how they feel about Chinese geopolitical presence in Africa. However, an interesting point to note is that, perhaps due to the language barrier, Chinese culture (beyond Chinese food) has not really crossed over into Africa. Africans still do not feel the need to learn Mandarin, do not follow Chinese media coverage of Africa and are not generally as interested in China as they are in EuroAmerica. That said, it can be argued that given the nascent nature of the rise of China, it will take time for Chinese culture to truly embed itself into African society….I think it’s only a matter of time before Chinese culture is more clearly felt in Africa.


What impact will Chinese patriotism have on Africa? This one is difficult to answer since the effects of amorphous phenomena such as nationalism and patriotism can be difficult to measure and link their attribution to concrete real-life events. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to surmise that, as China continues its march towards global dominance, Chinese patriotism will likely grow with it. This, in and of itself, need not be a negative occurrence for Africa only if Africa ensures that African interests dominate on the continent and are not trumped by Chinese economic, military and political power and related interests. If we Africans allow ourselves to act with the Chinese the way we have with EuroAmerica, Chinese patriotism will simply fuel yet another era of the continent being dominated by a foreign power.

In conclusion, let’s see how these four Ms play out in Sino-African relations and the rise of the Chinese empire…one thing I know is that I’m watching and perhaps we all should. We should watch and do what we can to take advantage of this emerging shift if global power dynamics so as to position Africa in the most optimum position possible.

[1] Definition ‘Empire’ (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire

[4]  Weisbrot, Mark (2011), ‘2016: when China overtakes the US’, The Guardian,http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/apr/27/china-imf-economy-2016

[6] Carter, Ashton and Bulkeley, Jennifer (2007), ‘America’s strategic response to China’s military modernisation’, http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~hapr/winter07_gov/carter.pdf

[7] Council of Foreign Relations (2003), ‘Chinese Military Power’, http://www.cfr.org/china/chinese-military-power/p5985

[8] Carter, Ashton and Bulkeley, Jennifer (2007), ‘America’s strategic response to China’s military modernisation’, http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~hapr/winter07_gov/carter.pdf

[9] Bowman, Tom (2012), ‘As China’s Military Grows, U.S. Assesses Risks’, http://www.npr.org/2012/02/14/146883300/as-chinas-military-grows-u-s-assesses-risks

[10] Bowman, Tom (2012), ‘As China’s Military Grows, U.S. Assesses Risks’, http://www.npr.org/2012/02/14/146883300/as-chinas-military-grows-u-s-assesses-risks

[11] Carter, Ashton and Bulkeley, Jennifer (2007), ‘America’s strategic response to China’s military modernisation’, Http://Www.Hcs.Harvard.Edu/~Hapr/Winter07_Gov/Carter.Pdf

[12] OECD (2008), ‘ China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment’, http://Www.OECD.Org/Dataoecd/28/10/40283257.Pdf

[13] OECD (2008), ‘ China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment’, http://Www.OECD.Org/Dataoecd/28/10/40283257.Pdf

[14] Chen, Yali, (2006), Washington Observer Weekly, ‘China in the World: Geopolitical influence rising, sustainability unpredictable’

[15] Wikipedia (2012), ‘Chinese Nationalism’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_nationalism

[16] Fojtík, Petr (2011), ‘China’s Geopolitical Sphere of Influence in the Near Abroad’, http://www.ces.upol.cz/pic/item/pdffile/71.pdf

[17] Chuka, Enuka (2011), ‘China’s Military Presence in Africa: Implications for Continental Instability’, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1833542

[18] Chuka, Enuka (2011), ‘China’s Military Presence in Africa: Implications for Continental Instability’, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1833542

[19] Al Arabiya News (2011), ‘China beefing up military presence in Indian Ocean’, http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/12/20/183584.html

[20] Wikipedia (2012), ‘Involvement of the People’s Republic of China in Africa’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involvement_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China_in_Africa#Expansion_of_military_presence_.281990_to_the_present.29

[22] Puska, Susan (2007), ‘Military backs China’s Africa adventure’, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/china/if08ad02.html

[23] Puska, Susan (2007), ‘Military backs China’s Africa adventure’, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/china/if08ad02.html

[24] Chuka, Enuka (2011), ‘China’s Military Presence in Africa: Implications for Continental Instability’, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1833542

[25] Chuka, Enuka (2011), ‘China’s Military Presence in Africa: Implications for Continental Instability’, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1833542

[26] Tension between India and China are high especially with China’s new interest in building a military base in Seychelles. Further it has been reported that, ‘China has funded or plans to invest in several major infrastructure projects including ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma, in a policy described as a “string of pearls” with which to ‘choke’ India’. (The Telegraph (2011), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/seychelles/8953319/China-considers-Seychelles-military-base-plan.html)

[27] Park ,Yoon Jung (2009), ‘Chinese Migration in Africa’, China in Africa project, http://www.saiia.org.za/images/stories/pubs/occasional_papers/saia_sop_24_park_20090218_en.pdf

[28] Park ,Yoon Jung (2009), ‘Chinese Migration in Africa’, China in Africa project, http://www.saiia.org.za/images/stories/pubs/occasional_papers/saia_sop_24_park_20090218_en.pdf



    Alex Litu said:
    March 1, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Thoroughly researched. . . .lovely in depth analysis of the situation as is. The denial engulfing euroamerica is unreal. Printing money won’t work this time.

    It’s about time they got paid back using the truest means known to me #realitycheque

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