Sunday, 23 June 2013

China & Africa: A Review of Media Coverage [A Primer of Sorts]

For the past couple of weeks, during my commute, I’ve caught glimpses of a specific pair of adverts through the windows of the Tube. It’s taken a while for the adverts to be rolled out along the Northern Line, but on Wednesday I was finally able to get a look at them properly: it’s a pair of posters for The Economist, which focus on China’s policies and activities in Africa…


The Economist Posters, Chalk Farm Tube Station (Northern Line)

The posters offer either the beneficial or negative impact of China’s Africa policies:


The Pro-List


The Con-List

I thought the presence of this advertising campaign (creepy skull-like transformation of Africa notwithstanding) was interesting. It also generated the spark for this post. I decided it might be a good idea to offer a little bit more of a survey of some recent China-Africa coverage, and share some handy links for people who would like to read more on the subject for themselves.

Coverage is pretty easy to split into “More Positive” and “More Negative” information, but many (not quite enough to be “most”) articles do offer a mix of reportage, explaining China’s positive influence and impact on the African nations and communities it does business with, and also the less positive impacts. This primer divides along those lines, and is followed by a short Further Reading list.

More Positive…

According to Chris Alden, Daniel Large and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, editors of China Returns to Africa, as quoted on the UN’s ‘Africa Renewal’ website, China has exercised a very realist approach to its dealings with Africa. Specifically, that “the overarching driver has been the Chinese government’s strategic pursuit of resources and attempts to ensure raw material supplies for growing energy needs within China” – including oil, coal, iron ore, timber, and copper, among others. The relationship, proponents report, has been one of give-and-take. China’s hunger for resources is catered for, while Chinese manufactures have flooded in to African markets – including, among others, clothing, jewellery, electronics, and building materials.

In addition to help to develop nascent recourse industries, China has committed “billions in aid to Africa as part of a charm offensive”, backing roughly 1,700 projects in 50 countries on the continent since 2000, and amounting to $75bn/£48bn (this figure is an estimate, given China’s reticence to release information about its foreign aid spending). US researchers, reports The Guardian, have found that “transport, storage and energy initiatives account for some of the largest sums, [but] the data also reveals how China has put hundreds of millions of dollars towards health, education and cultural projects.” All of this, of course, offer considerable benefits for a continent that has often struggled to get adequate aid. The Guardian continues,

“China has also sent thousands of doctors and teachers to work in Africa, welcomed many more students to learn in China or in Chinese language classes abroad and rolled out a continent-wide network of sports stadiums and concert halls.”

In another article for The Guardian, it was reported that “China's African aid programme aims to offer 18,000 government scholarships and train 30,000 Africans by 2015” (the initiative was announced by Hu Jintao in 2012). China’s direct, rather uncomplicated approach to aid programs has also helped speed up the process of getting these projects moving and in place.

China’s efforts in Africa (and other areas) have been seen by others, especially in the US and skeptics, as part of a rise in a “Beijing Consensus”. This is as opposed to a Washington Consensus, with Beijing’s more relaxed, pragmatic deal-making seeming preferable to that with the United States and other Western powers, who may focus more on ethics, human rights, and so forth. In addition, China does not have the same qualms about dealing with internationally spurned nations. (See below.)

“China’s policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of African countries and its fast approach to aid delivery make it more attractive than Western donors, whose aid often comes with demands to improve human rights and democracy.” [Source]

Further weakening the position of Western and better-established states, is growing scepticism and shrinking foreign aid budgets – these only open the doors further for Chinese opportunities.

Joseph Nye, however, has suggested that China’s investments and “soft power” campaigning will only benefit them so much, as “Great powers try to use culture and narrative to create soft power that promotes their national interests, but it’s not an easy sell when the message is inconsistent with their domestic realities”, and that “in an information age in which credibility is the scarcest resource”, China’s continued attempts to control the internet and frequent jailing of human rights lawyers, could end up “torpedoing its soft-power” efforts.

The Chinese government, and Chinese corporations have been involved in multiple building projects across Africa, providing much-needed infrastructure and cultural projects, including: an Opera House in Algeria, a hospital in Zambia, or sports facilities in Ghana. (China’s largesse is seen as hiding or distracting from its ulterior motives – see below.)

Often, it seems, Chinese inroads into communities and countries in Africa starts with a slew of positive impacts, before issues arise. Alexis Okeowo, writing for the New Yorker, explained it thus:

“Chinese investors made deals with the government to mine its natural resources, filling federal coffers with billions of dollars. Chinese immigrants moved into cities and rural towns. They started construction companies; opened copper, coal, and gem mines; and built hotels and restaurants, all providing new jobs. They set up schools and hospitals. But then instances of corruption, labor abuse, and criminal coverups began to set the relationship between the Chinese and the Africans aflame.”

More Negative…

Perhaps the most recent signs of tension between China and its African partners has been in Ghana, the continent’s second-largest gold producer. In early June 2013, Ghanaian law enforcement swept up roughly 170 Chinese nationals, in a crackdown against those who have been operating illegally, overstaying visas, or entered the country through other “unapproved routes”. [See also coverage in Wall Street Journal]

Chinese mines, reports the New York Times, “have left the countryside dotted with holes, [and] polluted water supplies.” Given the various restrictions in place, some have raised accusations that “the Chinese use Ghanaians as fronts in order to practice small-scale mining from which foreigners are otherwise barred.” In addition, outbreaks of violence are not uncommon between locals and Chinese immigrant workers (legal or otherwise). For example, in October 2012, Ghanaian security forces shot a Chinese miner. In China, coverage of the arrests has helped stoke frustration and anger with African treatment of Chinese workers – many of whom emigrate to Africa in search of work, lured by the (false) prospects of quick, high earnings.

“The arrests in Ghana are the latest reminder of continuing friction between China, which is investing heavily in a continent with plenty of natural resources, and Africans who routinely complain about Chinese disregard for local laws, customs and labor rights. Unions and workers have described unequal pay and brutal treatment, notably and recently in Chinese-run oil operations in Niger.” [NYT]

Many Africans (citizens and politicians), writes Okeowo, have become resentful of China’s African policies, “unhappy with [the] unbalanced relationships in which China has taken proprietorship of African natural resources using Chinese labor and equipment without transferring skills and technology.”

Lamido Sanusi, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria since 2009, wrote the following in the Financial Times, about China’s “exploitative” neo-colonialism in Africa:

“The Chinese, on the other hand, buy Nigeria’s crude oil. In much of Africa, they have set up huge mining operations. They have also built infrastructure. But, with exceptions, they have done so using equipment and labour imported from home, without transferring skills to local communities. So China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism. The British went to Africa and India to secure raw materials and markets. Africa is now willingly opening itself up to a new form of imperialism… China is no longer a fellow under-developed economy – it is the world’s second-biggest, capable of the same forms of exploitation as the west. It is a significant contributor to Africa’s deindustrialisation and underdevelopment… Africa must recognise that China – like the US, Russia, Britain, Brazil and the rest – is in Africa not for African interests but its own. The romance must be replaced by hard-nosed economic thinking. Engagement must be on terms that allow the Chinese to make money while developing the continent, such as incentives to set up manufacturing on African soil and policies to ensure employment of Africans.”

Sanusi’s interpretation of the China-Africa economic relationship is in stark contrast to former President Hu Jintao’s expressed intended relationship with African nations: “We should oppose the practices of the big bullying the small, the strong domineering over the weak and the rich oppressing the poor.”

Former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton articulated a similar sentiment, when she warned, in 2011, against a “new colonialism in Africa,” in which it is “easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave.” [Huffington Post, Reuters] Many news outlets considered Clinton’s statements aimed at China, with Bloomberg claiming the former Secretary was “chastising” China for its policies. “Chinese state-owned companies have been criticized in the past for ignoring the social and environmental impact of their projects when investing in resource-rich African countries,” reports Nossiter and Feng in the New York Times. “But the Chinese government has rejected criticisms that it is behaving like a colonial power.”

Not everyone is as critical of the Beijing Model/Consensus, and China’s actions in and with African nations:

“China’s political and economic foray into Africa almost resembles the West’s exportation of its liberal democratic institutions through military occupation and reconstruction. Its economic model, state-led capitalism, however, has been far more useful in Africa. The profound relations China has with its African partners provide the opportunity for it to expand its leverage over the countries while maintaining mutual benefits… In comparison [to the US and other Western powers], China dangles the complete package with money, technical expertise, and its leverage in the UN Security Council shield the country from international sanctions.” [Al Jazeera]

Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist and an outspoken critic of Western/International aid, who has argued for years that such support has stifled Africa’s development, perpetuated cultures of corruption and generally slowed the continent’s growth, is a self-described “Sinophile” who supports (with reservations), China’s policy in Africa…

“… in a strange way it’s exactly what we need in terms of delivering economic growth and meaningfully reducing poverty. We need jobs, we need investment, we need trade, we need foreign direct investment, whether investment domestically but also from the outside. It’s not some magic pill, everybody knows that this is the formula, and finally the Chinese are showing up, again, not just in Africa, but around the world with that elixir, that mix of opportunities to really transform these countries. Remember, 70% of the populations of these places is under the age of 24. There is no escape: we have to create jobs.” [CNN]

Moyo also dismisses the ‘neo-colonialist’ interpretation of China’s forays into Africa, arguing that it is “absurd” to consider Chinese actions as a form of colonialism of any kind, “because China has so many economic problems in itself.” I’m not sure I accept this argument, because it has not been uncommon for nations suffering from domestic problems to deflect attention by expanding overseas operations – most of which bring in wealth, thereby alleviating problems at home.

Another recent area of concern for the West, was the division of Sudan, from which the new nation of South Sudan was created in 2011, and China’s close ties with the Bashir government. Where Ghana is of considerable mining interest to China, Sudan is a huge oil exporter. China was not always active in investing in Africa:

“The ’80s was a decade of economic death spell for the country, as it could not compete with western aid. As China began its ascent on the world stage as an economic power in the ’90s, it needed oil and resources, and thus turned its attention on Africa once again, especially towards Sudan’s oil industry.” [Al Jazeera]

Roughly 75% of Sudan’s oil resources are now in South Sudan. Indeed, China had long enjoyed close relations with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’ regime, and the bedrock for that relationship was most certainly oil. Given events in Sudan, and especially in Darfur, and China’s investment in and thirst for Sudanese oil, China’s relations with the country have created the biggest test for Beijing’s sustained policy of internal non-intervention.

On his first official journey abroad after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant, in 2008, for his arrest, “accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to murder, rape, torture, ethnic cleansing and other actions in Darfur”, Bashir visited China. He was “confident of one thing: He won’t get arrested,” reported the Washington Post. In large part, this is due to China’s support for his regime. Interestingly, what was missing from a lot of recent articles that have discussed Beijing’s relationship with Khartoum, is how much Chinese aid went towards purchasing weapons, which were then used in Bashir’s operations in Darfur. Before his sojourn to China, Bashir had sent a trusted aide to Beijing for a meeting with Zhou Yongkang, the Chinese Politburo member responsible for law and order, who was also the former head of the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), “an enormous state oil company with billions of dollars invested in Sudan.” When the rest of the world had shunned business with Sudan, Al Jazeera reported, CNPC “went ahead with its investments while the civil war raged on in Darfur. It became the biggest investor in Sudan, importing 70 percent of Sudan's total oil exports in 2010.”

“Officials in South Sudan say China has agreed to loan it $8bn (£4.9bn) for major development projects,” the BBC reported in April 2012. According to a government spokesman, the funds “would be used to build roads, bridges and telecom networks, and to develop agriculture and hydro-electric power.” Apparently, the loan came with “no strings attached”. There was “no mention of plans to build a new pipeline to export oil from the newly independent state.” China imports the bulk of oil produced by the two countries, and “wants to maintain good relations both with Sudan – a long-time ally – and with the South, which acquired the lion’s share of the region’s oil production when it seceded”.

China’s inroads into Africa’s agricultural sector has included 20 facilities that former President Hu Jintao said would “help African countries increase production capacity.” This may be true, but there was nevertheless a backlash when the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo proceeded to lease thousands of unutilized hectares of land to a large Chinese company, in a deal that Oxfam and others have criticized as a “land grab.” (There are also those who disagree with this characterization.) It is not an uncommon belief that China’s focus on Africa’s agricultural potential is substantial, as the continent has perhaps the largest amount of uncultivated land potential. Agriculture, like the natural resource industries, is just another area which has experienced China’s “aggressive Africa penetration”. Many Africans often complain about poor quality Chinese-made products, and also blame the lower prices of imported manufactures for the collapse of local industries (this is a time-honoured complaint of almost all nations – see, for example, the United States’ similar complaints about first Japan and now China; Great Britain’s complaints about the United States after independence; and so forth). Furniture and textiles industries across Africa have pushed back against China-made imports, to varying degrees of success. [Source]

A widespread complaint about Chinese corporations operating in Africa regards their lack of attention to safety standards. This complaint, like issues with shoddy manufactures is heard not just in Africa, but in many countries in which Chinese corporations have operations. [For more on China’s manufactures, I would recommend China, Inc. by Ted C. Fishman.]

Alexis Okeowo, in the aforementioned New Yorker piece,

“The Chinese have managed to accomplish at least one impressive thing in Africa—they have made everyone else uncomfortable. The Americans are uneasy, worried about (and perhaps jealous of) China’s rapid and profitable investments throughout the continent, and the developmental assistance that it has started to provide in some areas. Europeans have only to look at trade figures: the share of Africa’s exports that China receives has shot from one to fifteen per cent over the past decade, while the European Union’s share fell from thirty-six to twenty-three per cent. China is now Africa’s largest trading partner.”

Some of the Chinese largesse, mentioned in the previous section, has been seen as a distraction from ulterior motives. For example, some of the developments (such as sports facilities) in Ghana were provided by PTI, a Chinese arms manufacturer. Critics have accused PTI of “exporting weapons to repressive regimes such as Burma and Zimbabwe, which [in turn] paves the way for resource extraction” by other Chinese-owned firms. PTI’s sports gifts to Ghana coincided with orders for patrol boats, and billions of dollars’ worth of bilateral agreements with Beijing and other Chinese companies. In other words, China’s “kind-hearted diplomatic gesture[s]” (such as the training programmes) are instead seen as “calculated, long-term investment to win the hearts and minds of Africa's future leaders, many of whom fear China's investment in the continent may come with invisible strings attached.”

The story of China in Africa is complex and continuing. In this post, I’ve hoped to provide a few starting points for those interested in learning more about the relationship. I’ve linked to as many outside sources as I could find in an evening, and each of them has, in turn, yet more links to further coverage and analysis of the issues and situations I’ve mentioned. Feel free to share other links, suggestions, thoughts in the comment thread, below.

Further Reading…

There is a large and growing selection of publications written on the subject of China’s forays into Africa. The first that I came across was China Safari by Serge Michel and Michel Beuret (Nation Books, 2009). Other notable titles include Deborah Brautigam’s The Dragon’s Gift (OUP, 2011), which poses the questions, “Is China a rogue donor, as some media pundits suggest? Or is China helping the developing world pave a pathway out of poverty, as the Chinese claim?”; China Into Africa, a collection of essays, edited by Robert I. Rotberg (Brookings Institute, 2008); China Returns to Africa (Columbia University Press, 20??), another collection of essays (and mentioned above); Pádraig Carmody’s The New Scramble for Africa (Polity Press, 2011), which takes the discussion beyond just China’s role in the continent. It is also worth checking out David Shambaugh’s China Goes Global (OUP, 2013), Martin Jacques’s When China Rules the World (Penguin, 2012), and Dambisa Moyo’s Winner Take All (Penguin, 2012). I would also recommend Harry G. Broadman’s article from Foreign Affairs, “China and India Go to Africa” (Mar/Apr 2008). A simple Google search will throw out plenty of hits on the subject of “China and/in Africa”, but I would recommend using the search options within other sites for better, perhaps more-reliable/-legitimate options. (Economist, The Atlantic, TIME, New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, and other major news outlets are perhaps the best sources.)

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