Blue Metal Blues: Cobalt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China

Image: Getty, Olivier Polet/Corbis
Image: Getty, Olivier Polet/Corbis

As global demand for electric vehicles increases, so does competition for the rare metals used in the batteries that power them.

Summary:

  • Chinese involvement in the Congolese cobalt industry started in the 2000s with a highly controversial resources-for-infrastructure deal that responded to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s need for infrastructure.
  • Since then, Chinese entities have used such investments and joint ventures to establish a dominant position in the cobalt sector.
  • This expansion has been enabled by a combination of financial power and political influence-building in the Congolese government.
  • Since Félix Tshisekedi assumed power in 2019, there has been growing pressure to renegotiate some of these deals. Chinese companies have come under more scrutiny, especially regarding their infrastructure commitments.
  • Global geopolitical pressures are shaping these dynamics, with especially US–China tensions contributing to concerns about Chinese dominance in the strategic cobalt sector.
26 May 2022
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Research by
Series
SAIIA Policy Insights No 129, May 2022
Country
China, Democratic Republic of Congo
SAIIA Programme
Foreign Policy
Tags
Cobalt, Infrastructure, electric vehicle
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