By Jason Groves
David Cameron warned African states over China’s ‘authoritarian capitalism’ yesterday, claiming that it is unsustainable in the long term.
In possibly the most critical comments made by a modern British Prime Minister about China’s growing global influence, Mr Cameron admitted the West is increasingly alarmed by Beijing’s leading role in the new ‘scramble for Africa’.
China has poured billions into Africa in recent years – buying up natural resources and infrastructure while asking few questions about some of the unsavoury regimes involved.
On the last day of his tour of Africa, he acknowledged at Nigeria’s Lagos Business School that he was keen to counter the ‘Chinese invasion’ of Africa.
In a major speech on development, he urged Africa to introduce democratic reforms.
The Prime Minister insisted he did not want to ‘hector or lecture’ Africa about democracy.
He said Britain needed to forge a new relationship with the continent now that the ‘shadow’ of colonialism had been lifted.
He said: ‘I believe the model of authoritarian capitalism [in China] we are seeing will fall short in the long term.
‘When people get economically richer they make legitimate demands for political freedoms to match their economic freedoms. This model is unable to respond.
‘Neither can it offer the confidence and stability needed for investment.’ He added: ‘If you are going to set up in business, you need to know that you can go to a court confident that a contract will be enforced objectively – including against the government.
‘And you need to know that your assets won’t suddenly be seized by the government.
‘Free societies can provide this stability and confidence.
‘So I passionately believe in liberal democracy – and I believe Africa can do it too.’
Mr Cameron, who was accompanied on his tour of Africa by a major UK business delegation, said he was keen to build stronger trade links with the continent’s fast-growing economies.
Nigeria’s economy, already the second biggest in Africa, is growing at nine per cent a year.
In a joint article with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in a Lagos newspaper, Mr Cameron said: ‘It is now possible to imagine an Africa no longer dependent on aid, and a real source of growth for the whole world.
‘And the road to get there lies through freeing up the wealth-creating power of enterprise and trade.’
Chinese influence has grown massively in recent years across Africa, fuelled by natural resources such as oil, iron and copper.
These are shipped to China and then end up back in Africa in the form of vehicles or footwear.
Trade between Beijing and Africa was worth £70billion by the turn of this decade. It was worth £4billion ten years before. Trade deals with more than 40 countries have been signed, including Uganda, Kenya and Algeria.
The communists also provide billions each year in loans to states on the continent, extending their political as well as economic influence.
It is estimated that more than a million Chinese have moved to Africa since trade started booming.