The Chinese government convened top tech companies this week and warned them of consequences if they cut off technology sales to the country, US media reported.
The meeting followed US President Donald Trump's move last month to blacklist Chinese tech giant Huawei over national security concerns, threatening the firm's global ambitions and ramping up the months-long trade battle between the two countries.
Earlier this week, the Chinese government summoned executives from American firms Dell and Microsoft and South Korea's Samsung, among others, to warn them that any moves to ramp down their businesses in China may lead to retaliation, The New York Times reported.
American companies were told "that the Trump administration's move to cut off Chinese companies from American technology had disrupted the global supply chain, adding that companies that followed the policy could face permanent consequences," the newspaper reported.
Companies based outside the United States were told that as long as they maintained business as usual, they wouldn't be punished, the newspaper reported.
Last Friday, Facebook announced it would cut Huwaei off from its popular social networking app to comply with the US sanctions, further isolating the company that has become the world's second-largest smartphone vendor.
Google made a similar announcement in May.
Washington and Beijing resumed their trade battle last month when negotiations in the US ended without a deal and US President Donald Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods.
Beijing retaliated with its own tariff hike on billions of dollars worth of US goods.
The US move to cut Huawei off from American hardware came next, but was delayed by 90 days to prevent economic disruptions.
Chinese firms are eyeing partnerships with Turkish construction firms in Africa and are also looking to take stakes in Turkish companies, the head of the Turkish Contractors Association said.
Mithat Yenigun said he had discussed possible acquisitions by Chinese companies with a Chinese business representative, without giving details of which firms could be involved.
“They asked if we could sell stakes or cooperate,” he told Reuters. “They want to partner up with us, they are very willing to work with us. They also have unlimited money. That is what we lack.”
Turkish firms, which thrived in a domestic economy fueled for years by cheap credit and a construction boom, are now faced with economic recession at home. Those that took out foreign currency loans have found their debts soaring as the Turkish lira slumped last year.
Turkish contractors are second only to Chinese companies in terms of international contracts, according to the Engineering News Record (ENR) which carries out annual surveys of the world’s top contractor companies.
Yenigun said Chinese firms had a 10-15 year headstart in Africa. They now see Turkish firms as potential rivals, he said, but are also looking for opportunities to work together. He gave no specific examples of companies or projects but said that Chinese contractors want to work in projects in sub-Saharan countries with Turkish companies.
Turkish contractors had proved themselves in the region, Yenigun said, with large infrastructure projects which provide jobs by employing local workers during construction.
CONFLICT HITS CONTRACTS
At their peak, Turkish companies won around $30 billion worth of international contracts a year in 2012 and 2013, according to the contractors association. Business declined as conflict in Libya and Iraq cut back infrastructure projects there, and strained ties with Moscow affected business with Russia.
Last year Turkish contractors registered $19.4 billion of work abroad, with Russia accounting 25% of those projects and Saudi Arabia another 19%. Since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last year, relations between Ankara and Riyadh have deteriorated.
Approval processes for construction tenders won in Saudi Arabia now take longer than they used to, Yenigun said.
“We feel the coldness when it comes to the relations with the government. An official process that previously took three months, now takes a year over there,” Yenigun said.
Turkish companies now aim to reach an annual volume of $50 billion with potential business in Africa, Russia, and Iraq, where they hope Ankara’s pledge of $5 billion credit for the reconstruction will boost business.
Turkish contractors are expected to build roads, highways, railways, Mosul airport, a hospital as well as mosques and residence projects.
President Donald Trump said on Friday there was "a very good chance" the United States would strike a deal with China to end their trade war and that he was inclined to extend his March 1 tariff deadline and meet soon with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
U.S. and Chinese negotiators had made progress and will extend this week's round of negotiations by two days through Sunday, Trump told reporters at the White House as he met with his top negotiators and their counterpart, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.
"I think that we both feel there's a very good chance a deal will happen," Trump said.
Liu agreed there had been "great progress".
"From China, we believe that (it) is very likely that it will happen and we hope that ultimately we'll have a deal. And the Chinese side is ready to make our utmost effort," he said at the White House.
The Republican president said he probably would meet with Xi in March in Florida to decide on the most important terms of a trade deal.
Extending the deadline would put on hold Trump's threatened tariff increase to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion (153 billion pounds) of Chinese imports into the United States. That would prevent a further escalation in a trade war that already has disrupted commerce in goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars, slowed global economic growth and roiled markets.
Optimism that the two sides will find a way to end the trade war lifted stocks, especially technology shares. The S&P 500 stock index reached its highest closing level since Nov. 8. Oil prices rose to their highest since mid-November, with Brent crude reaching a high of $67.73 a barrel.
Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two sides had reached an agreement on currency. Trump declined to provide details, but U.S. officials long have expressed concerns that China's yuan is undervalued, giving China a trade advantage and partly offsetting U.S. tariffs.
Announcement of a pact aimed at limiting yuan depreciation was putting "the currency cart before the trade horse," but would likely be positive for Asian emerging market currencies, said Alan Ruskin, global head of currency strategy at Deutsche Bank in New York.
"How can you agree to avoid excessive Chinese yuan depreciation or volatility if you have not made an agreement on trade that could have huge FX implications?" Ruskin asked in a note to clients.
In a letter to Trump read aloud by an aide to Liu at the White House, Xi called on negotiators to work hard to strike a deal that benefits both country.
Trump said a deal with China may extend beyond trade to encompass Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp.
The Justice Department has accused Huawei of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran and of stealing robotic technology from T-Mobile US Inc.
Chinese peer ZTE was last year prevented from buying essential components from U.S. firms after pleading guilty to similar charges, crippling its operations.
MEMORANDUMS NO MORE
Trump appeared at odds with his top negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, on the preliminary terms that his team is outlining in memorandums of understanding for a deal with China. Trump said he did not like MOUs because they are short term, and he wanted a long-term deal.
"I don't like MOUs because they don't mean anything," Trump said. "Either you are going to make a deal or you're not."
Lighthizer responded testily that MOUs were binding, but that he would never use the term again.
Reuters reported exclusively on Wednesday that the two sides were drafting the language for six MOUs covering the most difficult issues in the trade talks that would require structural economic change in China.
Negotiators have struggled this week to agree on specific language within those memorandums to address tough U.S. demands, according to sources familiar with the talks. The six memorandums include cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade, including subsidies.
An industry source briefed on the talks said both sides have narrowed differences on intellectual property rights, market access and narrowing a nearly $400 billion U.S. trade deficit with China. But bigger differences remain on changes to China's treatment of state-owned enterprises, subsidies, forced technology transfers and cyber theft of U.S. trade secrets.
Lighthizer pushed back when questioned on forced technology transfers, saying the two sides made "a lot of progress" on the issue, but did not elaborate.
The United States has said foreign firms in China are often coerced to transfer their technology to Chinese firms if they want to operate there. China denies this.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday urged the U.S. government to ensure the deal was comprehensive and addressed core issues, rather than one based on more Chinese short-term purchases of goods.
China has pledged to increase purchases of agricultural produce, energy, semiconductors and industrial goods to reduce its trade surplus with the United States.
China committed to buying an additional 10 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans on Friday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Twitter. China bought about 32 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans in 2017. The commitments are a "show of good faith by the Chinese" and "indications of more good news to come," Perdue wrote.
China was the top buyer of U.S. soybeans before the trade war, but Beijing's retaliatory tariffs on U.S. soybeans slashed business that had been worth $12 billion annually.
A military court on Wednesday convicted Fang Fenghui, former Chief of Staff of China’s Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department, on three counts of crime.
The court sentenced him to life imprisonment according to the law.
Fang was found guilty of accepting and offering bribe as well as holding a huge amount of property from unidentified sources.
“He was also deprived of his political rights for life and had his personal properties confiscated,’’ the judgment stated.
Report says the illicit money and properties confiscated will be turned over to the state coffers.
China firmly opposes mercenary activities in Africa, and will always support African nations' pursuit of peace and prosperity, said Chinese Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ma Zhaoxu.
Mercenary activities are a threat to peace and stability in African countries, and China calls for greater international efforts to address the problem, said Ma, as Chinese President Xi Jinping's special representative at a UN Security Council meeting on mercenary activities in Africa.
He said these activities interfere with the internal affairs of the developing countries, and infringe on their sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, adding that China stands firmly against such activities.
The Chinese representative urged the international community to support African countries in accelerating their development, reducing poverty, eliminating the root causes for conflict and turmoil, and stepping up socio-economic development in African countries.
Ma also pledged China's continued support for Africa to achieve peace, stability and development, and expressed the hope for China and Africa to jointly build a closer community with a shared future.
Monday's meeting was called by Equatorial Guinea, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council in February.
Shortly before the meeting, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of Equatorial Guinea, spoke highly of the bilateral relations between his country and China during his meeting with Ma.
Obiang also said he attached importance to Equatorial Guinea's relations with China, adding that he was willing to further promote cooperation between the two countries in various fields.
The complex relationship between Africa and China has become even more complicated this year. Initially, 2018 was set to reaffirm the bond through the latest Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit held in Beijing in September.
The summit delivered its usual pageant of African leaders, side deals, and the announcement of a USD$60 billion financing package. The year also saw the recurrence of misgivings about the relationship.
The most explicit theme of this conversation was debt. Donald Trump’s US administration added fuel to smouldering anxiety, and China found itself having to defend its lending to Africa – at home and globally. At the same time, African governments are battling rumours that they are about to hand over state assets to the Chinese.
The debt debate is flawed – not least for underestimating Western contributions to African debt. Nevertheless, it is revealing. In particular, the debate reflects an anxiety that has haunted relations between China and the continent since the beginning of this century: the massive power gap between China and individual African countries.
The constant rhetoric of win-win cooperation between China and Africa has never adequately answered the simple structural question at the heart of the relationship. That is: how is an economy the size of Benin’s or Togo’s, for example, supposed to meaningfully engage with the Chinese behemoth? It’s a bit like trying to speed up your bicycle by grabbing on to a passing jumbo jet. It can take you to the next level, or it can simply rip off your arms.
The fundamental economic and power imbalance between China and African countries has led to the relationship being criticised as neocolonial. The truth, however, is that African governments exercise more agency than they are given credit for. This includes frequently playing China and traditional Western development partners off against one another.
The word “agency” is key here: to what extent is Africa able to freely make its own decisions and drive the best deals with China?
Our new research focused on this issue. We looked at two emerging areas shaping African agency in relation to China. These are reforms to the African Union (AU) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The initiative involves a massive infrastructure rollout aimed at linking China to Europe and beyond. The aim is to set up a zone of shared development that encompasses Central and Western Asia and Africa.
The AU and the Belt and Road initiative
The AU has proposed a set of reforms to streamline African negotiations at events like the FOCAC under the auspices of the continental body. This could be seen as a step towards the frequently repeated goal of Africa negotiating collectively with China. But, in fact, we show that it faces significant resistance from within the continent. This comes both from powerful states worried about losing control of their bilateral relationships with China, and from smaller states worried about being excluded.
China’s BRI reveals other aspects of African agency. It’s structured by numerous bilateral agreements, but is also subject to regional as well as local pressures. The way the initiative’s projects have been pulled into national debates involving opposition politics shows that the range of actors constituting African agency is potentially much wider than national governments.
We argue that before African agency can be maximised, this aspect of relations between China and particular African governments needs to be taken into account. Thinking about the issue has so far fixated on the role of national governments, to the exclusion of other actors. The biggest include regional economic communities such as Nepad and the AU. The smaller ones comprise opposition parties, civil society, local businesses and communities. All contribute to and constitute African agency.
What is this agency, how does it work and how can it be strengthened?
Understanding African agency
We identified three key areas where African agency can be located.
Firstly, African agency is expressed in the frameworks and documents that govern bodies like the forum. For example, in the early days arrangements paid relatively little attention to the issue of industrialisation. That changed after the formal adoption in 2015 of the AU’s Agenda 2063 – its blueprint for Africa’s sustainable development. The forum held that year saw an uptick in how many times the issue was mentioned.
By 2016, African industrialisation had become a key initiative of China’s presidency of the G20. Beijing directed an unprecedented level of G20 attention to the continent.
By 2018, the Beijing summit ended with fewer declarations of intent relating to industrialisation. Instead, it had become integrated into the continental and bilateral planning processes. In particular, it features regularly in discussions on development financing. Likewise the word “training” was mentioned over 40 times and in virtually every section of the Beijing Action Plan.
This suggests there is a shift from declarations of intent to more specific engagement towards industrialisation. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee the success of Africa’s industrialisation. But it shows that China responds to African agenda-setting.
Secondly, African agency is diffused across various levels and among various actors. Any analysis of African agency has to consider the complex interactions between continental bodies like the AU, regional economic blocs, national governments, civil society, business, and local communities. Each plays a role in shaping African decision making in relation to China. Partnerships that cut across the state-business-civil society divide are as important as state led initiatives in articulating policy initiatives in relation to China.
Thirdly, it’s important to think of the changing terms of agency as African governments face growing debt burdens via such initiatives as the BRI. For instance, rumours that the Zambian government offered its national electricity supplier as collateral in exchange for a new tranche of Chinese loans have reportedly caused political division at home.
Critics have focused on debt as diminishing African agency. What they’ve ignored are the significant financial and reputational risks to China.
Maximising African agency
As Africa becomes more involved in global initiatives, and as it moves towards greater continental integration via AU reforms and the Continental Free Trade Agreement, the need increases to think harder and more creatively about what African agency means. It isn’t enough to simply reiterate the call for Africa to negotiate collectively with China – not least because this disregards the complex interactions between African governments.
Rather, it’s time for more comprehensive thinking about how African agency manifests across actors and geographic scales. Only once we have a firmer handle on this can we move towards maximising it.
Yu-Shan Wu, Foreign policy researcher and doctoral candidate, University of the Witwatersrand; Chris Alden, Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science, and Cobus van Staden, Senior Researcher: China Africa, South African Institute of International Affairs