Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"China in Africa," February 5, 2007.

This week, President Hu Jintao is visiting seven countries identified as China's strategic trade and investment allies: Cameroon, Liberia, Mozambique, South Africa, Sudan, the Seychelles and Zambia.

Simultaneously, and for the first time, the World Social Forum met in Africa. On Tuesday four NGOs--Focus on the Global South, Fahamu, Kenya Debt Relief, and Moving Mountains--sponsored a Seminar on China in Africa: New Colonialism or South-South Solidarity.

Ever since the Berlin Conference of 1883, which Belgium's King Leopold II called "the sharing of Africa's magnificent cake," the West has appropriated exclusive rights to sub-Saharan Africa's resources. Although centuries of struggle to end the slave trade, colonial rule and apartheid fell short of real justice, Western influence is now being challenged by China.

In the 1960s, during the Mao Zedong era, China supported high-profile projects of independent Africa as gestures of socialist and anti-imperialist solidarity.

During the Cold War, China sought to woo African nations away from the Soviet Union and the West by sending technicians to leftist African states, providing military expertise to African armies, and offering modest economic aid.

During the 1990s, during international failures represented by the Somalia Affair in Canada, the Task Force Ranger fiasco in the US and, above all, the Rwandan genocide, a number of Western countries turned their backs on Africa. China has moved to fill the vacuum.

Chinese policy toward Africa evolved under the rubric of South-South cooperation. According to Christopher Alden, senior lecturer in International Relations at the London School of Economics, writing for YaleGlobal magazine, China’s foreign policy changed in 1993 when it shifted from being an oil exporter to being an oil importer.

Today, China invests in Africa to support its own growth demands.

"Since 2000, almost 700 Chinese companies have opened their doors in Africa. China's trade to the continent experienced a three fold increase, making China Africa's third largest trading partner after the US and France (surpassing Britain). China sees Africa as a source of raw materials, especially oil. Twenty-five per cent of China's oil supplies are now sourced in the Gulf of Guinea region" (WSF Seminar on China in Africa Jan 18 07

January 12, China officially unveiled an Africa Policy Paper

In November an Exposition in Beijing.

It would be a mistake to interpret Africans ambivalence toward these developments as a simple for-it-or-against-it dualism.

Many African governments view China's new interest in Africa as an alternative to western pressure, and a source of financing without the sometimes damaging IMF and World Bank conditionalities.

Today, about 30 per cent of Africa's exports go to Asia. Five years ago, the figure was half that. Trade between Africa and China grew 50 per cent in 2005.

China has so far written off the debt of 31 African countries and has given approximately $5.5 billion in assistance to the world's poorest continent. (ATol Dec 23 06

World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, who may chafe as Western dominance in the aid and credit market fades, criticises China's banks for not applying the Equator Principles to their investments in Africa. In this way, he accuses China of encouraging an investment climate that ignores environmental impacts, human rights, and corruption.

To be sure, Chinese business practices have drawn considerable criticism. Zambian workers, for example, complain of low wages and poor work conditions. Critics have also raised questions about safety regulations in Chinese-owned firms. In April, 2005, Zambia's worst industrial accident killed more than 50 people in a Chinese-owned explosives' factory.

But Africans well know that brutal exploitation of labour, corruption, favoritism, environmental degradation, and political oppression have continued under the watchful eye of the WTO and other neoliberal Western financial institutions as well.

Sudan is a case in point. Eva Dadrian, an independent broadcaster and Political and Country Risk Analyst points out that

"Extensive diplomatic efforts by the AU and the international community are being made to persuade Sudan’s African, Arab and Asian allies to help change President al Bashir’s mind and to reach an agreement for a 'hybrid' AU-UN force to be sent in 2007....Some observers suspect that oil is the main 'motivation' behind the heightened interest of the international community and specifically that of Washington. Yet, there is no geological evidence of oil reserves in Darfur. [According to Dadrian] Academics and some diplomats are behind the spread of these false reports. If one looks into the oil issue, one can see that China, Malaysia and India hold the concession rights for oil development and exploration in Southern Sudan and in the Kordofan province.

For my part, [Dadrian says] I have always believed that the fighting in Darfur should not be seen as an isolated issue, but in a wider regional context. The entire Sahel region, from Mauritania to Sudan, faces a common problem: droughts and underdevelopment that lead to a scramble over the meagre resources between nomadic tribes and pastoralists, mainly Arabs or Arabised, and African non-Arab agriculturalists and farmers. This has been the situation since the 1960s. Only sustainable development assistance to the entire region of the Sahel can help quell current and future clashes between those communities. But before sending any international development aid, peace must be restored to Darfur" (Pambazuka Dec 21 06

China's growing relationship with Angola, another Marxist Leninist government, is sure to rankle Westerners of the neoliberal persuasion.

Angola is China's largest supplier of crude oil on the African continent, and its third-largest supplier in the world just behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. In 2005, Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan visited Angola offering a $6.3 million interest free loan, and a pledge to invest $400 million in Angola's telecommunications sector, plus another $100 million to upgrade the Angolan military's communication network.

In 2005, Portugal, the former colonial power, read the handwriting on the wall and signed a strategic partnership for cooperation and friendship with China. Loro Horta of the liberal American Power and Interest News Report notes that "After five centuries in Africa, Portugal seems to have realized that it cannot survive on the continent as a relevant political and economic actor without closely cooperating with China. Faced with a lack of enthusiasm from its Western friends to balance China's growing power on the continent, bandwagoning seems to be the only alternative left for Lisbon. As noted by a melancholic Portuguese diplomat: "Across the vast African savannas where once our ancestors built their first churches and forts, the wind from the East is blowing stronger than the wind from the West."

Speaking to IRINnews, Liu Guijin, Chinese ambassador to South Africa It could be a good thing. outlined China's policy: "We follow five basic guidelines of peaceful coexistence in our relations: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; mutual non-aggression; non-interference in each other's internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful coexistence - and these also apply to Africa". (Simon Rougheen ISN May 15 06

On the other hand, Anene Ejikeme, writing in the East African Standard of Nairobi (Jan 8 07) recalls that

"Just weeks before Zambians went to the polls to elect a president, China announced suspension of its investments until after the outcome. The two major candidates were incumbent President Levy Mwanawasa and Mr Michael Sata.

"China threatened that if Sata won, it would pull out its nationals and resources. It accused Sata, a populist who drew huge crowds with nationalist rhetoric, of having met Taiwanese officials. Sata denied this, saying he had met businessmen and recognised Taiwan as a sovereign state. To China, Taiwan is a rebel province.

"Mwanawasa won the elections. During the campaigns, he apologised to China for Sata's "anti-China" stance. There is no doubt that Zambia would have lost much had China really made good its threat and pulled out. The Chinese government owns and operates mines and manufacturing industries in Zambia. Dozens of Chinese entrepreneurs also operate in the country" ().

"China is helping Ethiopia build the continent's biggest dam; it will launch a communication satellite for Nigeria in 2007; and is introducing a new anti-malaria drug in Uganda. China’s state radio station has opened a station in Kenya, delivering 19 hours of broadcasting every day. In 2003, 550 Chinese troops joined a UN peacekeeping operation in Liberia" (ISN May 15 06).

Hu Jintao's visit is his second in less than a year. Chinese Foreign minister Mr Li Zhaoxing spent more than half of January visiting about a dozen countries in Africa.

On January 12, China officially unveiled an Africa Policy Paper which outlined the future relationship between Africa and China. As stated in its forward, the Policy Paper was created " with the view of promoting the steady growth of China-Africa relations in the long term and bringing the mutually beneficial co-operation to a new stage."

By contrast, over the last six years, George Bush visited Africa once, Paul Martin once, Colin Powell, when he was Secretary of State, once. Tony Blair's Commission on Africa released an ambitious policy document called "Our Common Future." But embers from the west have cooled, and to switch metaphors, the ball is in the Africans' court.

As Ejikeme puts it, "If African leaders do not act, they will be remembered for presiding over a time when Africa cast off Western imperialism to embrace an Eastern variety."

That's it for World Report from Nelson, BC.

My gratitude for the spirit of cooperation at Kootenay Coop Radio which helps make this broadcast possible.

Podcasts and mp3s of World Report are available at radio4all. You can find a text based on this segment with links to more detailed sources at terral-worldreport dotblogspot dot com. There are links to both on the website--cjly dot net forward slash worldreport. To comment or suggest a story send surface mail to Box 767, Nelson, British Columbia Canada V1L 5R4 Attention: World Report or email to earthling at cjly dot net.

I'm Jim Terral at Kootenay Coop Radio from our new studios in Nelson. Thanks for listening.

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