/ 6 January 2011

Chinese wooing in Africa: Boom without democracy

Once again, China has scored points in Africa. Beijing wants South Africa to become the fifth member of the Bric countries — the acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China, the world’s leading newly advanced economies.

South Africa is flattered, since Turkey, Indonesia and Mexico have markedly larger economies. South Africa’s growth rate is also well below the Bric level.

But China’s initiative is yet another example of Beijing’s offensive in Africa, a continent succumbing to China’s wooing.

Even the government of democratic South Africa is fascinated by the perspectives of growth and prosperity in China under an authoritarian regime.

Just how fascinated the government of President Jacob Zuma, and especially his African National Congress (ANC) party, is by China’s centralised planned economy and forced domestic peace can be read in the countless contacts and visits by high-ranking delegations to China.

Increasingly, ANC officials — and many officials of other African nations — are being trained and schooled in China, according to the Mail and Guardian.

The Chinese model of the sole-governing Communist Party seems to be more attractive even to the party in power in democratic South Africa.

China disperses itself
China is making even more effective inroads in authoritarian nations such as Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and Congo.

“The Chinese offer attractive solutions out of hand without political demands, and we Europeans just can’t match that,” complains a high-ranking European Union diplomat in Maputo, Mozambique.

Beijing puts together deals involving loans, investment and projects in return for exploitation of natural resources such as oil, gas, iron, copper, bauxite and uranium. Projects include highways and hospitals, airports, stadiums and presidential residences.

China is after good business deals and is little interested in how African leaders treat their own people or minorities.

“China’s aide to Africa is oriented towards Africa’s needs without political pre-conditions being set,” Chinese Deputy Minister of Commerce Chen Jian stressed in 2010.

Much to the joy of dictators, there is no “imperialist intervention”, no annoying demands for compliance on standards of human rights or international law.

For that matter, the Bric nations India and Russia, also on an expansion course in Africa, are little interested in mismanagement or corruption here and there.

Miserable Chinese
China has a presence in more than 40 African nations. More than a million Chinese experts and skilled workers are on the ground in Africa.

But the concept, which reflects Chinese doubts as to African expertise and commitment, could be politically explosive.

WikiLeaks documents cite US diplomats in Angola and Nigeria reporting on growing dissatisfaction in those countries. The Chinese in Africa, who mostly live in isolated enclaves, are largely unpopular — particularly because the flood of cheap Chinese imports such as textiles often ruin domestic producers.

Their image is also tarnished by the often miserably working conditions at Chinese operations. In addition, they are linked to smuggling, poaching and over-fishing in many places.

And yet, China’s influence in Africa is growing undiminished. The up-and-coming Asian world power has already overtaking the United States and trade partner number one.

Beijing had invested more than $100-billion in Africa by 2009, according to African Business magazine. Trade between Africa and China rose to over $100-billion in 2010. And in South Africa, the continent’s biggest economic power, China overtook Germany as the country’s major trade partner.

Western diplomats view China’s growing influence in Africa — especially its political influence — as an ominous sign of a development which places little worth in democratic values.

The influential ANC Youth League goes even further than the ANC party itself and dispatch representatives to Stalinist North Korea. The young South African political officials called North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Il the “great guardian” for peace, according to Business Day. — Sapa–DPA