Recently, Professor Horace G. Campbell conducted a series of lectures on various topical issues in Kenya. Josephat Juma presents excerpts from the lecture: China in Africa: Challenges to US Hegemony that was presented at Charter Hall, Nairobi on 23rd July, 2007. Campbell is Proffessor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University in New York.
Many negative aspersions are being touted about China’s engagement in Africa. Some refer to China as Another Asian Tsunami in terms of its products finding their way into world markets. Others see China as destroying jobs by offering cheap products while the rest portray it as the voracious giant devouring Africa’s resources. But compared to US and Europe, it is still a small player.
Chinese engagement in Africa is not recent. It spans over 3000 years. This is evidenced by ceramics in Timbuktu, Sahel, Great Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The 15th Century imperial fleet, for example, led by Admiral Zheng, visited East Africa while on his global circum-navigatory expedition.
China has supported many African countries in their liberation struggle. In the early 70s, when Tanzania and Zambia wanted to build a railway line cutting across the two countries, the West told Tanzania that the feat was impossible. China came in and said it was possible. The railway currently stands as monument of Chinese liberation.
In 2006, China celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Africa. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao visited 10 African countries and hosted African heads of states in Beijing. In February 2007, Hu Jintao visited 8 countries in 12 days, traveled 38,000 km, met 20 leaders, 100 high level persons, carried out 90 activities and made more than 30 speeches. This was all to showcase China’s ties with Africa.
Why China is making headway in Africa
Africa has suffered under the structural adjustment programs forced upon it. Aid and trade have been increasingly conditional. The US and World Bank claim to be fighting poverty in Africa, but after two decades of structural adjustment, the conditions of the African poor have worsened, with indices of exploitation and deprivation increasing by geometric proportions. According to one estimate, at the present pace of investment in Africa from the West, it will require more than one hundred years to realise the Millennium Development Goals. Chinese investment potentially provides an alternative for African leaders and entrepreneurs, while providing long term potential for the development of African economies.
How Does the West view China?
Following the Beijing summit, Western commentators were quick to understand the historic importance of this meeting for Africa. ‘We Europeans should not leave the commitment to Africa to the People’s Republic of China ... We must take a stand in Africa,’ said Angela Merkel, German Chancellor.
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’ concerned that China could now offer favourable loans to Africa and weaken imperial leverage over African economies.
The National Security Strategy paper published by the Bush administration in September 2002 declared that no state would be allowed to challenge the military supremacy of the United States in the 21st century. Inter alia, the National Security strategy maintained that: ‘Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival ... that poses a threat of the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. ... Our strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.’
It is hypocritical for Western states to be concerned about how China is approaching Africa when they have had centuries of relations with Africa, starting with slavery and continuing to the present day with exploitation and cheating.
China’s Promises for Africa
Chinese investments in Africa are having and could continue to have positive impacts. China is helping African countries to rebuild their infrastructure and provides assistance to other sectors such as agriculture, water, health and education. This could have very positive spin-offs in lowering transaction costs and assisting African governments to address social calamities such as poor health services, energy crisis, skills development among others.
China’s official development discourse is explicitly non-prescriptive, employing a language of ‘no strings attached’, quality and mutual benefit. It emphasizes the collective right to development over the rights-based approaches focused on individual rights. China has become a big investor in mining and natural resources in Africa as it seeks raw materials to feed its economic growth. The purpose of Tubatse Chrome is to make money rather than to supply metal to China.
China will double its current assistance to Africa by 2009. It will provide $3 billion in preferential loans; $2 billion preferential buyer’s credit; establish the China-Africa development fund ($5 billion) to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Africa; cancel debts to HIPC; establish 3-5 trade/economic cooperation zones; offer training and scholarships for thousands of Africans; build 30 hospitals and build the AU Conference Centre.
China ranks 2nd in the world (after USA) in the number of bilateral investment treaties - 117, of which 28 are in Africa. China is 2nd largest consumer of petroleum products. USA remains the largest consumer, with 25% of its requirements destined to come from Africa by 2009
Chinese companies operating overseas abide by local laws, bid contracts on the basis of transparency and equality, protect the labor rights of local employees, protect the environment and implement corporate responsibilities.
How Africa should View China
China should be looked at in the context of other players. Its behavior should be addressed, whether it is really any different to the US or others. Chinese companies behave no different in practice to those of other MNCs. China's respect for human rights is no worse track record than that of US companies. Ordinary people across the planet now view China more warmly than they do to the United States. Polls taken by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and the BBC show that majorities of people in most countries today consider China to be a more positive influence and less of a threat to international peace than the United States is. Such sentiments are particularly strong in the developing world.
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