Despite strong growth in domestic production, Chinese import dependence has been growing fast, prompting the formulation of a “two-way strategy” predicated on expanded investment in exploration and production capacity in China; and on outward foreign direct investment (FDI) in mine production and, failing that, long-term supply contracts. The following discussion provides examples of Chinese investment abroad.
In the First half of the 1990s a Chinese group invested in the Dilokong chrome mines in South Africa, in one of the first ventures from that country into African mining. From the mid-2000s Chinese direct investment abroad has increased hugely. Most investments have been in Australia with very few in operating African mines. Among minerals worldwide, its focus has been iron ore, followed by copper and nickel. The Belinga project in Gabon operated by China National Machinery & Equipment Import & Export Co. and a bid for the Gara Djebilet deposit in Algeria by Bao Steel are two recent examples of Chinese investment in Africa. Still, Chinese mining investments abroad are small relative to those from other countries. Less than 1 per cent of total world mine production outside China is controlled by Chinese companies. (Despite rapid growth in recent years, it was from an almost zero base). It will take years before Chinese companies and China become powerful global players in international mining.
Chinese investors are not homogeneous. They include small firms earning quick profits in the Congolese copper industry to major companies (like Chinalco) cooperating with the leading mining multi-nationals such as Rio Tinto. The strong demand for metals from China—and concomitant worries in the traditional industrialized countries of Europe, North America and Japan over threats to future supply—present opportunities to African and other mineral- rich economies from greater demand competition. But to take full advantage, these countries must have the infrastructure capacity, skills and financial resources to manage their mineral capital and the rents it generates.
The number of investment projects in Africa indicates a growing Chinese presence, but progress is often slow. Chinese firms have yet to acquire the experience of large projects that many companies from industrialized countries have. Informing Chinese policy objectives in Africa is the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China’s most prominent development initiative in this field. Since 2000 it has organized high-level meetings every three years with African governments. At the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation at Sharm-el-Shaikh in Egypt in November 2009, China declared have intentions: increasing the China-Africa Development Fund, which then stood at $1 billion, to $3 billion; establishing an African commodities trade centre in China to promote export of African commodities to China; making available $10 billion in preferential loans for infrastructure and social development in Africa; assisting in raising “the value added of the energy and resource products of African countries and enhancing their capacity for intensive processing”; and progressively reducing tariffs on imports of African goods into China.
Exerpt from From Minerals and Africa’s Development: The International Study Group Report on Africa’s Mineral Regimes by the Economic Commission for Africa