China's African Safari
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Issue Vol 26.2 Apr-Jun 2011 | Date : 08 Jun , 2011

Chinas oil consumption is forecast to grow by at least 10 per cent annually for the foreseeable future.

Some countries, however, are no longer as willing to extend a red carpet toward the globe-trotting Chinese. Although political strings might not come with Beijing’s cash, there are economic catches. The roads, mines and other infrastructure on offer are most often built by armies of imported Chinese labor, cutting down on the net financial benefit to recipient nations. Chinese companies investing abroad also tend to ship in nearly everything used on building sites, from packs of dehydrated noodles to the telltale pink – hued Chinese toilet paper. It’s not only the contracted Chinese workers who show up, either. Within a few years, their relatives invariably seem to materialize to set up shops selling cheap Chinese goods that threaten the livelihood of indigenous entrepreneurs. Locals who do get work on Chinese-funded projects complain that their bosses don’t heed national labor laws ensuring minimum wage or trade-union protection. Over the past three years, anti-Chinese riots have erupted everywhere from the Solomon Islands and Zambia to Tonga and Lesotho.”

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They go on to describe the picture in Papua New Guinea (P.N.G). “Prime Minister Michael Somare returned home from Beijing, triumphant at having snared the country’s largest foreign-investment project to date. The euphoria was shortlived. Landowners brandished slingshots and announced they wouldn’t sign off on their tribal territory being used for mineral extraction, no matter what document was signed in China’s Great Hall of the people. Environmentalists cried foul over plans to deposit mine waste in the sparkling Basamuk Bay, while local workers protested conditions that even P.N.G.’s Minister for Labor and Industrial Relations David Tibu described as slave like and “not fit for pigs or dogs.” Skirmishes repeatedly broke out between villagers and the 1,500 plus imported Chinese laborers, some of whom were working illegally in P.N.G. At the same time, anger has boiled over because of an influx of thousands of Chinese who over the past couple of years have monopolized businesses that by law should be reserved for P.N.G. nationals. In May, anti-Chinese riots convulsed cities nationwide, and several people were killed amid the looting of Chinese owned shops. “Our timber,” says Damien Ase, founder of the nonprofit Centre for Environmental Law and community Rights in Port Moresby. “But we get so little in return.”

India_Defence_ReviewEdward C. Chow in his study ‘China’s Soft Power in Developing Region’ for Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says: “Indeed, here, as elsewhere in Africa, limitations on China’s attractiveness as an alternative development model and a more generous business partner may actually be on display. After the initial appeal of the newcomer, it turns out that Chinese commercial demands are not much different from the West’s in exploiting African natural resources. Chinese chauvinism is similar to Western racism; the use of large numbers of Chinese workers on projects disadvantages local labor; and the import of cheap Chinese goods, such as textiles, competes against indigenous products. Expectations have been raised by high – level political engagement and rhetoric, but they are difficult to fulfill on the ground.”In addition to local resentment, China is faced with difficulties at another level. Bill Emmott former editor of ‘Economist’, has quoted in his book Rivals: “Big investments and resources supply contracts in African countries such as Angola, Zambia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia and above all Sudan have confronted China with a new set of dilemmas”. In Sudan, in particular, China has found it hard to reconcile its traditional stance against interference in any other country’s sovereign affairs with its other now traditional stance of supporting the decisions of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.

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In recent years, the UN has wanted to send peacekeepers to the western Sudanese province of Darfur, to prevent further genocide, and the Sudanese government has refused to accept them. At first, the Chinese response to this was to do nothing and hope the world would look the other way.

If China is pumping so much money into these regions, why should riots happen? Why is there a groundswell of resentment against Chinese presence?

But in 2007-08 the Darfur issue threatened to damage China’s image in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. Steven Spielberg was caught in the middle: the famous film director was acting as a consultant on the Olympics opening ceremony and on a film being made about the games. Hollywood hit out at Hollywood: Mia Farrow asked in an article in the Wall Street Journal for whether Spielberg wanted to be ‘the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games’, a comparison with the director who made a film for Hitler about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Stung by such publicity, the Chinese government began to try to persuade the Sudanese to comply with the UN request. But Spielberg quit, regardless.”

So, what lies ahead? China’s growing trade and purchases of commodities from resource rich African countries gives those countries more money with which to buy manufactured goods; the newly created China African Development Fund is to make $ 5 billion available for Chinese investments in Africa, (2010), whereas China invested $ 6 billion in the period 2000 – 2006. So, despite local resentment and backlash against Chinese investors and its labor force, the present Chinese investment pouring into Africa are unlikely to cease. In fact, the US as the leading economic power has a strong interest in maintaining Chinese integration into global markets including oil markets as long as they adhere to international rules. Increased Chinese investment will mean increased supply for the world markets from which all countries can prosper.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Rohit Singh

Rohit Singh is a Research Assistant at the Center for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)

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