Explaining us-sino oil diplomacy in sub-saharan africa

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The start of the twenty first century signaled a new beginning for the United States and China in their quest for oil diplomacy with African oil producing countries. One of the characteristics of this venture is the difference in approach both countries follow to attain this natural resource. This research work, therefore, examines the diplomatic measures of the US and China in their negotiations with oil producing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, hereafter referred to as (SSA). In particular, the results they expect or the preferences over outcomes are analyzed. It is not the intention of the study to present a comparative analysis of US and Chinese import figures or to look at their reciprocal relationship. The question is what strategic choices do the US and China make in their interaction with oil producing countries and in what way does such interaction shape oil diplomacy? An important finding is that the US and China develop different strategic paths and policy frameworks which strengthen the assumption that the two countries compete for SSA oil. Along these lines, the study investigates the oil diplomacy of the US and China in SSA using the strategic-choice approach as an analytical framework.


In the last decade, the US and China has moved their search for oil security to the African continent. The US and China arrive on the SSA oil scene with their own motives and interests. Their single most important interest is to engage in oil diplomacy with petroleum producing states and secure the safe import of oil from the region. African states traditionally were influenced by colonial powers. However, with the rise of China and its increasing involvement in Africa, the situation is changing. The US focuses on humanitarianism, good governance and democratization of petroleum producing states in their oil diplomacy approach. China, the world’s fastest growing economy, views SSA as a welcome offloading ground for its products in exchange for oil. An economic approach focusing on enlarging its commercial interests is the driving factor for China’s engagement with petroleum producing states. China needs more raw materials to supply in its increasing domestic demand. Instability in the Middle East, oil dependency and securing its energy interests drives the US to SSA. Keeping a watchful eye on China’s involvement and monitoring its influence with petroleum producing states is another reason the US is devoting much of its time to this part of Africa. The US interest in the region focuses on the procurement of oil and gas, but with the establishment of the US African Command (AFRICOM), US involvement in SSA shifted in a large degree to the fight against terrorism and safeguarding of American oil operations.

Analytical Framework

Lake & Powell (1999) formulated an approach that makes it easier for students of international relations to explain the choices actors make, whether these actors are states, parties, ethnic groups, companies, leaders or individuals. This approach is used in the paper to explain the strategic interaction of the US and China with oil producing countries and not the strategic interaction between the US and China.

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