China in Africa: An Old Field with a New Player
AllAfrica.com, the largest electronic distributor of African news, has an interesting take on China’s impact on and relationship to Africa, asking: “Is China the Greedy Tiger Its Often Portrayed to be?”
The writer is not kind to the West, noting:
Phrases such as the “new scramble for Africa”, “voracious”, “ravenous” or “insatiable” appetite for natural resources are typical descriptors used to characterise China’s engagement with Africa. In contrast, the operations of Western capitals for the same activities are described with anodyne phrases such as “development”, “investment”, “employment generation”
But China has the advantage of never having enslaved or colonized the continent. China has also not made any false promises coated with neo-liberalism. While the West, the IMF and the World Bank put conditions that only aid in their fleecing of Africa, China has so far been willing to provide unconditional aid and invest in infrastructure.
Language is everything; style reflects moral posturing.
China wants the raw materials Africa has, so do we all: Diamonds, logs, cotton, and especially oil, importing 23% from Africa and 40% from the Middle East.
Africa, too, has suffered because of neoliberal policies:
Much attention has been drawn to the negative impact of the cheap Chinese commodities on African economies. Certainly this has contributed to the decline of industrial production and the growing retrenchment of workers. But China has essentially taken advantage of the “opening-up” of Africa’s market that has resulted from the adoption of neoliberal economic policies that the international financial institutions, backed by the majority of the international aid agencies, have forced Africa’s governments to comply with.
On this problem, the author gives China a partial pass:
Given that the relative size of Chinese imports is small in comparison to imports from industrialised countries, the blame for the decline in industrial production and growing unemployment in Africa can hardly be place entirely at China’s door.
Furthermore, it is important to recognise that some 58 per cent of exports from China are manufactured by foreign owned companies.
China, apparently, has learned from the West’s mistakes:
China’s aid is attractive to African governments not only because of the favourable terms offered, but in particular because of the lack of conditionality that is offered that has so constrained, and many would argue, undermined development that would have the potential for bringing about social progress.
The most serious worry for the US was expressed by the spokespersons of the IMF and World Bank who complained that China’s unrestricted lending had “undermined” years of painstaking efforts to arrange conditional debt relief. There is clearly concern that China can now offer favourable loans to Africa and weaken imperial leverage over African economies.
“‘Undermined’ years of painstaking efforts” are being undone. Unconditional aid–what a novelty!
Yet while China is helping,
African countries to rebuild their infrastructure and providing other types of assistance to agriculture, water, health, education and other sectors
there is the dark side about which we all must worry:
Chinese companies are quickly generating the same kinds of environmental damage and community opposition that Western companies have spawned around the world.
China may be wiser and smarter in its approach to Africa, but it has yet to learn much about the environment.