A spectre is haunting the world – an emerging new Cold War between Washington and Beijing. Unlike the one before it, the Cold War is, indeed, one for the US to lose.
While the USSR-led ideology of communism posed a great threat to the US and its allies, China’s attractiveness to the world lay in the developmental domain. Put simply, it will be extremely hard for Washington to convince both allies and the development world to abandon China at a time it is leading in the development of global public goods.
In recent years, Washington has heightened tension with Beijing in trade, the South China Sea, telecoms, Hong Kong, Taiwan and a host of other areas of development such as the Belt and Road Initiative.
Although Africa has no bone in this fight, the conflict has the potential to derail its development. Why is this the case? Where are the fault lines of this emerging Cold War and how will they affect Africa?
The rise of China, and indeed the entire Asia, came against the backdrop of a relatively stable global order.
Similarly, Africa cannot achieve its developmental aspirations enshrined in Agenda 2063 in an unstable world environment.
First, Africa has good and flourishing trade relations with both the US and China. The bulk of the continent’s trade is with China and other Asian nations. The South China Sea, therefore, becomes Africa’s major trading route in this increasing trade with Asian nations.
The skirmishes between Washington and Beijing in these waters poses a grave danger to Africa’s prosperity.
Second, the trade war between Washington and Beijing has a huge negative impact on the world economy. US President Donald Trump has shown disdain for multilateral institutions central to Africa’s development such as the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization.
Third, the escalating tension between the US and China will result in a polarised global economy.
There is no more visible area than in the digital space where countries and companies across the globe are forced to orbit towards one of these two biggest economies in the world.
Likewise, African companies will find themselves in a predicament as the tension accelerates, particularly in the digital economy. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is attempting to isolate China and its largest technology companies. Recently, Huawei and TikTok came under enormous pressure in the US and some Western countries.
They claimed security concerns.
The tech war poses a negative impact on Africa’s digital development. If unresolved, it could bring two separate tech ecosystems into the world, making it difficult to do business.
To prosper, Africa needs a stable global environment, free of endless obstacles placed on trade, trading routes, digital co-operation and multilateral co-operation.
Although the continent remains in the periphery of the global economy, it needs the US and China to realise its own developmental aspirations.
Therefore, talks of a new Cold War between the US and China do not bode well for its development.
Although Africa has no bone in this fight, it will be a continent highly affected by it. As the African proverb goes: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”
Monyae is the Director for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg
**The views expressed here are not necessarily those of MZD.**