China may dominate African shipping

The underlying story behind the recent move by the African Union to set up a Jones Act-like cabotage system to restrict shipping among its members to African-flagged vessels, is the opportunity it presents for China to expand its grasp on this up-for-grabs continent.

Even though the Chinese word for Africa means “bad continent,” China has been investing heavily recently in both private and public enterprises throughout Africa, both for present profit and future hegemony. The Chinese correctly see Africa as a plum for the picking, even more so given the intransigence of the rest of the world regarding Africa’s natural and human resources.

However, the West may come to regret its neglect. With a source of raw materials free from outside (i.e., non-African) influences and a ready developing market for its goods, China and Africa could become a partnership that would benefit China and be a detriment to everyone else — including Africa.

No one can credibly argue that China has beneficial intentions when it seeks to dominate a region or market. It won’t be beneficial to anyone except the Chinese government. From its development of a space program with military overtones, to its acquisition of an aircraft carrier, to the effort to seize the Senkaku Islands from Japan, China’s flexing of its economic and military muscle is primarily about domination — the extension of its power and influence as far as possible.

A Jones Act for the African Union could be just what China needs to dominate shipping among the AU-member nations. There is virtually no African-flagged tonnage (not counting Liberia’s) in usable condition, so China could contract with African companies for newbuildings at prices that private yards couldn’t match.

Given their relative inexperience at shipbuilding and ship ownership, these nascent African shipping companies may find that they have taken a tiger by the tail, but that would be of little comfort to Western interests who find, once again, that Mao’s progeny have stolen a Long March on the evil capitalists.


About the author

Capt. Max Hardberger

Max Hardberger is a maritime attorney, flight instructor, writer, and maritime repo man. He has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1995. His memoir, Seized: A Sea Captain’s Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World’s Most Troubled Waters, was published by Broadway Books in 2010. He’s appeared on FOX, The Learning Channel, National Public Radio and the BBC, and has been the subject of articles in Fairplay Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Esquire (UK), and the London Sunday Guardian.

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