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China’s increasing influence in Africa’s mining sector: Implications and US strategies

China’s presence in Africa’s mining sector has grown steadily, now accounting for approximately 8% of the continent’s mining activities, up from 6.7% in 2018. While this figure contrasts with exaggerated perceptions sometimes portrayed in Western media, it underscores China’s strategic objective to expand its footprint across Africa’s mineral-rich landscape. Chinese government entities and private companies operate numerous mining sites across the continent, alongside a burgeoning number of processing facilities aimed at refining raw minerals locally. Notably, China dominates cobalt processing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it operates at least 7 processing entities and significantly influences the global supply chain for critical minerals.

The United States views China’s monopolistic control over the copper belt in the DRC and Zambia, as well as its recent investments in lithium production in Zimbabwe, with growing concern. These investments afford China substantial leverage in global semiconductor and battery production, pivotal for advancing technologies related to climate security and electric vehicles. This dependency on Chinese innovation and manufacturing highlights geopolitical risks, as identified by the Georgetown University Center for Security Studies, and underscores the need for strategic US interventions.

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To counterbalance China’s dominance and foster sustainable partnerships in Africa’s critical mining sector, the US must adopt proactive strategies:

  1. Encourage US private sector investments: Incentivize American mining companies to invest in Africa’s copper and lithium mining regions. Government subsidies, tax credits, and reduced import quotas on critical minerals could stimulate US private sector engagement in greenfield mining projects across Africa.
  2. Establish Critical Mineral Agreements (CMA): Develop bilateral CMAs between the US and African countries to secure access to vital minerals. Integrating critical minerals into frameworks like the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and international alliances such as the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance (SCMA) and Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) will enhance strategic cooperation.
  3. Infrastructure development: Support infrastructure projects that complement Africa’s mining sector growth. Initiatives akin to the Lobito Development Corridor could facilitate efficient transportation of minerals and bolster regional economic integration.
  4. Enhance transparency and accountability: Strengthen governance frameworks to ensure responsible mining practices and protect local communities’ rights. Updating legislation, such as the Dodd-Frank Act, to include current critical minerals and expanding conflict mineral regulations across Africa, will promote transparency and ethical standards in the supply chain.
  5. Engage African civil society: Collaborate with African civil society organizations to advocate for transparency and accountability in the mining sector. Partnering with local stakeholders will enhance mutual trust and ensure sustainable development outcomes.

In conclusion, by strategically investing in Africa’s critical minerals sector and prioritizing ethical practices, the US can establish itself as a credible alternative to China. This approach not only supports Africa’s development goals but also safeguards US interests in the global critical minerals supply chain, essential for advancing sustainable technologies and addressing climate change challenges.

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