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RESEARCH THINKTANK


Designed in Ethiopia; made in China


SUBJECT INTERNATIONALRELATIONS


THE ETHIOPIAN–CHINESE PARTNERSHIP HAS DEVELOPED SUBSTANTIALLY IN RECENT DECADES, BRINGING BOTH BENEFITS AND RISKS TO THE AFRICAN COUNTRY, WRITES JOS MEESTER


The rise of China has affected trade policy and international relations in recent years, with its increasing role in information, communication and technology (ICT) and artificial intelligence (AI) causing concern. Next to economic considerations regarding the race for leadership in the sector, concerns over China’s illiberal governance translating into surveillance standards have been raised. Chinese policy highlights


digital connectivity and economic development potential through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as an example of south–south co-operation, which captures trade and investment relations between developing countries. Yet, international analysts note potential risks, frequently viewing all Chinese activities along the BRI as an extension of power by the Chinese state, even if conducted purely by private companies. The Chinese aim of pursuing an


innovation-driven development agenda, including big data, cloud computing and smart cities, has raised many concerns. While such analyses may be grounded in valid ethical considerations, examinations of operations on the ground and viewpoints from recipient countries have been missing in this debate. As such, it is important to move beyond the politicised narrative and examine developments on the ground.


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Chinese involvementin Ethiopia The Ethiopian–Chinese partnership has developed substantially over the past three decades. As Ethiopia lacked a comparative advantage in any economic sector, the country’s elite considered a strong state essential to guiding the private sector and preventing rent seeking. This led Ethiopia to base its developmental state model on Chinese experiences; China’s ability to back Ethiopia with foreign direct investment (FDI), and the ability to counterbalance demands fromWestern donors also proved appealing. Collaboration deepened in 2005,


when many Ethiopian elites viewed the disappointing election results as a consequence of too-rapid political liberalisation. They looked to China for a more authoritarian model favouring economic development over democratic reform, while


partnering with the US to access high-tech surveillance. In recent years, Ethiopia’s ICT


sector has seen involvement from Huawei, ZTE and smaller firms. This improved connectivity, but profits were substantially repatriated to Chinese parent companies. Barriers in the Ethiopian ICT


sector, including technology, manufacturing, human resources and intellectual property rights, precluded significant FDI and development. Perceptions of China vary among


the Ethiopian population. Some see the country as a model for development, while others note low wages, environmental degradation and the economic impact of cheap Chinese products substituting domestically produced goods. However, through China’s international outreach, fully funded scholarships are available for African


www.fDiIntelligence.com April/May 2021


IllustrationbyJohnHolcroft


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