A floating oil platform off the coast of Angola, which has reserves of 9 billion barrels of oil (Reuters)

Angola is a country rich in natural resources, and has become an arena of conflict between the United States and China, as the competition takes various forms from economic investment to political influence and military support for armed movements in the country.

The rivalry between these two world powers had a profound impact on the civil war and also on stability and development in Angola.

This report will reveal the dynamics of competition between the United States and China in Angola and its implications for the current situation.

The country emerged from a long and brutal civil war that began in 1975 and ended in 2002, and has since been on the path to recovery and development, although there are active armed movements to this day in the Cabinda province, which is rich in natural resources.

However, the legacy of the conflict coupled with global competition over scarce resources has made Angola a battleground between the United States and China.

Faces of economic competition

Angola is a major player in the global energy market, due to its vast crude oil reserves estimated at 9.1 billion barrels and 11 trillion feet of natural gas, diamonds and gold minerals, not to mention rare resources such as cobalt and coltan.

Angola is China's second largest investment destination in Africa after Nigeria, with investments reaching $60 billion.

China has also been Angola's largest trading partner since 2007. In 2019, Angola exported goods worth $16.8 billion to China, consisting mainly of crude oil (40% of Angolan oil production), diamonds and other rare minerals.

In return, Angola imported goods worth $1.7 billion from China, including machinery, electronics and textiles.

According to the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI), Chinese investments in Angola are also large (about $60 billion in Chinese project loans in Angola since 2000).

According to data from the Chinese Embassy in Angola, Chinese companies have contributed to the restoration or construction of 2,800 kilometers of railways, 20,000 kilometers of roads, more than 100,000 housing units, more than 100 schools, and more than 50 hospitals.

The data also showed that more than 400 Chinese companies have a presence in Angola.

On the other hand, the United States is also a major player in Angola's economy, especially in the oil sector.

In 2019, Angola exported $9.3 billion worth of goods to the United States, consisting mainly of crude oil.

Also, the United States is an important investor in Angola in oil exploration projects, communications, military equipment, training, and infrastructure.

In the Lobito railway project, Angola rejected an offer made by Beijing and accepted an offer from Washington and Europe to participate in building a railway corridor worth $250 million that would transport rare minerals from Angola, Congo and Zambia abroad.

The US Export-Import Bank also committed to providing a loan to Angola worth $900 million for a project accompanying the railway line, which is an American-made solar panel project along the railway line, and this is the bank’s largest investment in this field in Africa.

The Angolan government signed a memorandum of understanding with a railway union from the US state of Texas to develop a train route that passes through the north of the country to the Congo, and the Angolan Ministry of Transport estimated its cost at about 4.5 billion dollars.

During the visit of Angolan President Joao Lawrence to the White House last November, US President Joe Biden pledged to invest two billion dollars in Angola.

A previous meeting in Luanda between the Angolan Foreign Minister (right) and his American counterpart, Anthony Blinken (Reuters)

Political influence

The United States and China are also competing for political influence in Angola. The United States has historically supported Angola's government, while China has focused more on building relationships with opposition groups and civil society organizations.

This competition has led to a delicate balancing approach for the Angolan government, as it seeks to maintain good relations with both powers.

Recently, Angola received US Secretary of State and Defense Anthony Blinken and Lloyd Austin.

Last December, Beijing witnessed the signing of the Chinese Minister of Commerce and the Angolan Foreign Minister of an agreement to protect investments between the two countries.

The agreement was considered an indication of China's fear of growing American influence in Angola, which might lose it an important historical and strategic area of ​​influence in China's "Belt and Road" strategic project.

Angola is considered one of the important elements in the project in terms of its maritime location due to its strategic location on the Atlantic Ocean, and the land in terms of it being a corridor for Chinese goods via the railways that China built towards Africa, which is a route to rare resources from the cobalt and coltan belt in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Parties that America has historically supported

  • The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Angola's ruling party, has historically been supported by the United States.

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was the leading party in the war against Portuguese colonial rule, headed by its Secretary-General Viriato da Cruz, along with leaders of other armed movements. It has been in power since independence in 1975. The current Angolan president, João Lawrence, belongs to this movement.

  • The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), a movement created by Jonas Savimbi in 1966. UNITA was a rebel movement that fought against Portuguese colonialism and against the MPLA government during the Angolan Civil War (1975–2002).

    The United States supported UNITA during the Cold War, viewing it as an anti-communist force.

Parties that China has historically supported

  • National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA).

    Created by Holden Roberto, it was one of the three major nationalist movements fighting against Portuguese colonial rule in Angola.

    It received support from China during the Cold War.

    However, the FNLA's influence has diminished over time, and it is no longer an important political force in Angola.

  • The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), created by Rodrigo Mangas, is an active separatist movement, and to this day the central government in Luanda is fighting to liberate the oil-rich Cabinda province, which produces 65% of Angola’s oil, especially given the region’s location. It is located between the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, far from deep within Angolan territory, and is considered a constant threat to the central government in Luanda, the capital of Angola.

Mechanisms of pressure and loans

The competition between the United States and China has had and continues to have a significant impact on Angola's stability.

The influx of Chinese investment has led to rapid economic growth, but has also raised concerns about China's loans to Angola, estimated at more than $60 billion since 1983, and the corruption and environmental degradation accompanying projects undertaken by Chinese companies.

At the same time, the United States was pressing for political reforms, through files related to corruption and human rights, which led to tensions with successive Angolan governments.

It is clear that the struggle for influence between China and the United States in Angola is a struggle of interests over Angola’s resources and its strategic location on the strip of rare resources that includes the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.

These resources are considered the lifeblood of advanced civil and military technologies, and they constitute the future of the technical world. Therefore, the two great powers seek to control this region, especially Angola, which is distinguished by its strategic location overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, its political stability, and its economic strength, compared to its neighbors.

Balance in conflict management

In order to move forward with stability, development, progress and renaissance, it will be very important for the government of Angola to achieve balance in its relations between these two global powers to ensure the sustainability of its comprehensive development, while also paying attention to the diversity of foreign investors and forming its political relations with other powers that have common interests with Angola, especially in the Arab world, which The move towards Africa began.

Source: Al Jazeera