Africa: the Chinese Takeaway

CHINESE PRESIDENT Hu Jintao is touring Africa, but is the continent being stripped of its natural resources to fuel China’s economic boom?


Hands of Chinese President Hu Jintao and Omar Bongo, of Gabon, who was awarded ‘full military honours’ in Beijing.

Experts are increasingly concerned that China is waging a ‘neo-Colonial’ resource-grab potentially as damaging as Western exploitation.

President Hu arrived in Morocco yesterday and will travel on to Nigeria and Kenya as China accelerates the pace of its economic engagement.

Today Bob Geldof urged the West to speed up efforts to eradicate poverty before Beijing takes the initiative.

Speaking from Johannesburg, he said: ‘It’s going to have to happen now because China will be all over Africa…and they will embrace any government.’

David Nyekorach-Matsanga, head of the UK-based think-tank Africa Strategy, told Blink that African states had turned to China because it was not associated with the West’s legacy of oppression.

But he warned that China risked being seen as a ‘neo-colonial power’ if terms of trade were unfair to Africa.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe visits the Chinese president last year.
The newly emerging Asian superpower of 1.3 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population, is poised to overtake Britain as the fourth-biggest economy by the end of 2006.

China has been accused of going on an oil safari with billion-dollar deals with Nigeria, Sudan and Angola, in addition to mineral mining and timber logging.

But China is also credited with raising the market price of commodities benefiting Africa, investing in infrastructure such as roads and hospitals, writing off debts and providing quick loans with few catches.

The Chinese approach contrasts with decades of neglect and marginalisation towards Africa from Western governments and institutions.

China’s trade deals are free of ‘good governance’ clauses favoured by the West, a factor of particular importance to Sudan and Zimbabwe.

China shares the same bitter experience of being bullied and oppressed by the West
Lui Guijin, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa
The only ‘condition’ appears to be support for China’s reunification agenda. Just six African states recognise Taiwan today, compared to 20 in the early 1990s.

And while China is busy hovering up Africa’s oil and other natural resources, a wave of cheap manufactured goods from China is flooding into Africa – most notably TV’s and other household appliances, and textiles such as shoes and clothes.

With Chinese businesses way more efficient than African textile factories, many businesses in South Africa, Ghana and other states have closed with thousands of jobs losses.

Another complaint against China is its importation of labour rather than developing African skills. China has 10,000 workers in Sudan alone including, according to Human Rights Watch, Chinese prison labourers involved in building a US$8 billion pipeline from Sudan to the Red Sea.

China are building on Cold War links with many states in the continent. For the African leaders China is still proving a valuable bulwark against US and British imperialism even as old Communist ties are being replaced with capitalist ones.

The Chinese are not shy in playing the anti-colonialist card. Lui Guijin, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, was quoted recently as saying: “China is the biggest developing country in the world [and] share the same bitter experience of being bullied and oppressed by the West.”

But Princeton N Lyman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and expert in African studies, told Blink that while China was building infrastructure in Africa that was counter-acted by the illegal logging of timber in Gabon, Central African Republic, and the Chinese use of their own labour.

Speaking from Washington, he said: ‘China is a major importer of timber from central Africa, and much of that is coming out illegally and violating environmental standards.’

President Hu’s Africa tour this week is one of many high-profile political visits. Two years ago he visited Algeria, Gabon and Nigeria.
Last month the China National Offshore Oil Corporation brought a 45% stake in Nigerian oil fields for US$2.3 billion.

China the second biggest oil consumer after the United States, has also tied up oil deals with Sudan. This has been matched by China’s use of a United Nations veto to block Western sanctions on Khartoum over the Darfur ‘genocide.’

Angola is the third major oil producing nation for China, which was given a major boost with a US$3 billion oil-backed loan made by China’s state-owned Eximbank in 2005.

A deal which occurred after Angola rejected IMF demands for greater transparency in its published oil accounts. Some three quarters of Angola’s oil output is destined for China.

Esther Stanford, convener of the Forum of Afrikan Descendents Against Racism, said: ‘This is a development that we must watch with keen eyes. Ultimately we do not want to exchange one oppressor with another.’

She said there were many potential advantages to China’s involvement in the continent but the terms of trade must be determined by African leaders.

Chinese investment can be beneficial to Africa. China is Helping Uganda’s anti-malaria effort, and cancelled Senegal and Liberia’s debt while investing millions in their infrastructure.

They are building railways in Angola, roads and bridges in Rwanda, a dam in Ethiopia, and are helping Nigeria launch a communications and weather satellite into space.

Experts say Africa is grown-up enough to be aware of potential pitfalls in its relationship with China, but concerns remain that patterns of exploitation by the West could be repeated from the East.

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