Like Washington, Beijing has an abiding strategic interest in promoting stability and security in Nigeria—the largest economy in Africa, a major oil and gas producer, and on track to become the world’s third most populous country by 2050. Yet from the Boko Haram insurgency in its northeast to farmer-herder clashes in its Middle Belt region and militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta, insecurity undermines Nigeria’s socioeconomic development. This Special Report examines how China’s economic interests intersect with Nigeria’s complicated conflict landscape.

Summary

  • The foundation of China’s strategic interest in Nigeria is its robust commercial and investment footprint—especially the thriving bilateral trading relationship. Nigeria’s strategic importance as an export destination, source of oil outside the Middle East, and home to a growing consumer population means that it will continue to receive special attention from Beijing.
  • Nigeria remains one of the world’s most challenging business environments, even for risk-tolerant Chinese entrepreneurs. Despite this, many Chinese-owned small businesses and larger companies have prospered and are contributing to Nigeria’s socioeconomic development—and thus the overall security and stability of Africa’s most populous country.
  • Nevertheless, practices associated with some Chinese enterprises—especially bribery and involvement in illegal mining, logging, and fishing—are problematic and potentially destabilizing. Although these activities rarely spark violence themselves, they exacerbate homegrown conflict drivers such as resource competition, misgovernance, and policing failures.
  • Like Washington, Beijing has an abiding strategic interest in promoting stability and security in Nigeria, one of the world’s most conflict-prone states. By working with Nigerian and Chinese counterparts as well as private-sector actors, U.S. policymakers could help rein in problematic business practices and promote responsible ones while exploring new collaborative opportunities for U.S. investment in Nigeria.

About the Report

This report examines how Chinese interests in Nigeria intersect with the country’s complicated conflict landscape, looking at both the constructive and the potentially destabilizing effects Chinese commercial activities have on Nigeria’s peace and security. The report was informed by fieldwork and interviews with Nigerian government officials and academics as well as international experts on China-Nigeria relations and Nigerian business leaders with extensive ties to local Chinese companies. The report was sponsored by the Asia Center’s China program at the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Author

Matthew T. Page is a consultant and co-author of Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2018). An associate fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House, a nonresident scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and nonresident fellow with the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja, until recently he was the US intelligence community’s top Nigeria expert, serving with the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Marine Corps Intelligence.

Related Publications

China and the U.S. Exit from Afghanistan: Not a Zero-Sum Outcome

China and the U.S. Exit from Afghanistan: Not a Zero-Sum Outcome

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

By: Andrew Scobell, Ph.D.

It has become fashionable to characterize recent events in Afghanistan as a loss for the United States and a win for China. This zero-sum interpretation framed in the narrow context of U.S.-China relations is too simplistic and off the mark. The reality is far more complex and nuanced. The end of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and the collapse of that country’s pro-Western government do not automatically translate into significant Chinese gains, nor do they trigger a swift Beijing swoop to fill the vacuum in Kabul left by Washington.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Why the New U.S.-U.K.-Australia Partnership Is So Significant

Why the New U.S.-U.K.-Australia Partnership Is So Significant

Friday, September 17, 2021

By: Brian Harding; Carla Freeman, Ph.D; Mirna Galic; Henry Tugendhat; Rachel Vandenbrink

The United States and the United Kingdom have made the rare decision to share nuclear submarine propulsion technology with Australia in a move seen aimed at China. In a joint statement on September 15, the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia announced the formation of a trilateral partnership — AUKUS — that, among other things, seeks to “strengthen the ability of each to support our security and defense interests.” USIP’s Brian Harding, Carla Freeman, Mirna Galic, Henry Tugendhat and Rachel Vandenbrink discuss the significance of the decision and what to expect next.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

How the Region is Reacting to the Taliban Takeover

How the Region is Reacting to the Taliban Takeover

Thursday, August 19, 2021

By: Garrett Nada; Donald N. Jensen, Ph.D. ; Gavin Helf, Ph.D.; Andrew Scobell, Ph.D.; Tamanna Salikuddin

While the Taliban’s swift advance into Kabul over the weekend has left much of the West reeling, Afghans themselves will bear the brunt of the militant group’s rule. Beyond Afghanistan’s borders, its neighbors will feel the most immediate impact. Earlier this year, Russia, China and Pakistan affirmed that the future of Afghanistan should be decided through dialogue and political negotiations. How will they engage with the Taliban now?

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Climate, COVID and China Drive U.S.-Pacific Islands Engagement

Climate, COVID and China Drive U.S.-Pacific Islands Engagement

Monday, August 9, 2021

By: Jennifer Staats, Ph.D.; Brian Harding

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) held its 51st leaders meeting on August 6, with Fiji serving as virtual host. The PIF is comprised of 18 members, and the United States is among 18 PIF Dialogue Partners that participate in an annual post-forum dialogue. This year, President Joe Biden led the U.S. delegation and delivered his own address, a first for a U.S. president and a demonstration of the strategic importance of Pacific Island nations to U.S. priorities like climate change, COVID-19 and competition with China. USIP’s Jennifer Staats and Brian Harding discuss what PIF members and Washington want from each other and the major issues facing the region.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy; Economics & Environment

View All Publications