International ties

India is not balancing China in Africa

By Binod Singh (
Updated: 2011-06-20 10:33
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During his recent trip to Africa, India's Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh announced a generous aid package of $5 billion for the region, which will be made available through concessional loans. This gesture has been misinterpreted by some observers as India's move to balance China in the African continent. There has also been uninterrupted rhetoric that China and India are following in the footsteps of previous colonial powers. This allegation, absurdly, came from none other than the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

With their imperial mentality, the European powers and the United States has exploited and neglected the continent for centuries and now they claim to be its spokespersons.

The Western powers have never believed in the peaceful development and sovereign equality of the nations across the continents. Indeed their industrialization in the past few hundred years was filled with atrocities and exploitations in search of raw materials and markets for their products. Now, when China and India have come to play a positive role in the continent, the Western observers accuse them of practicing neocolonialism in Africa.

To begin with, unlike the rapacious and predatory way in which Europe - and the US to a large extent - accumulated its capital and wealth, the economic growth of India and China has always been based on a peaceful development model, which first and foremost guarantees the sovereign equality of the nations engaged in mutual trade and investment.

The famous principle of “PANCHSHEEl” or “the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence”, which was drafted by the leadership of the two countries and implemented as early as 1954, continues to be the main guiding principle of our foreign economic policy. The two countries have long desisted from interfering in the domestic policy of the host nations.

From the very beginning, India and China both shared a friendly relationship with most of the African countries and China has begun providing help in aid and technology since the 1950s. Since Prime Minister Nehru and Premier Zhou Enlai, there have been regular economic and cultural exchanges between China and India on the one hand and Africa on the other hand on an equal basis. The whole of Africa, along with India and China, constitute the largest block of humanity and are still identified as developing nations. Therefore, India and China have a moral obligation to share their peace and prosperity with the African nations and help them in realizing their peaceful economic growth.

As is well-known, in the international division of labor, Indians are famous for their teaching skills and India enjoys a leading position in major outsourcing services, whereas the Chinese are known for their speedy construction projects as well as the scale of their manufacturing industry. Thus the nature of their skills are very complementary, and with adequate financial support from their respective governments, the companies from India and China can do a much better job for Africa’s economic growth.

Although a large chunk of the investment India is now pouring into Africa is state-sponsored - hence the claim that India is balancing out China in the continent - the booming private sector should have never been overlooked. By 2010, India's private investment in Africa had already exceeded $5 billion. That figure increased significantly when the Indian cellular service provider BHARATI cut a deal worth $13 billion with MTN Group, the South Africa-based multinational telecommunications company. The deal has helped cut down mobile service charges significantly and made phone calls much cheaper and affordable across the African continent.

Let me conclude with the note that it is not India versus China in Africa. It is India and China in Africa. India does not believe in balancing China in Africa, or as a matter of fact, in any other part of the world. There is enough space for these two countries to grow together and reestablish their paramount economic and political status, which they had enjoyed until the mid-nineteenth century.

The author teaches at the School of Asian and African Studies of the Beijing Foreign Studies University. He can be reached at