The Chinese are coming
July 5, 2005 2:36 AM   Subscribe

China's non-interventionist approach to Africa. They recently lifted 200 million of their own people out of poverty. Unlike the G8, they aren't concerned about corruption, aid, debt relief, social impact, human rights, the environment, or spreading democratic ideology. They build governments, hotels and industrial plants in Sierra Leone, export 60% of oil from the 'genocidal' Sudanese, sell weapons to both sides in war zones and deal arms to embargoed dictators like Mugabe. They'll be the third largest investor in Africa at the end of this year. The People's Republic of China: threatening - or Jeffersonian?
posted by Bletch (37 comments total)

 
First one
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:30 AM on July 5, 2005


How very capitalist of them.
posted by skarmj at 3:50 AM on July 5, 2005


Surprise surprise ! It sucks to have some serious capitalistic competition, expecially when you no longer live in the succesful country !

But unlike the rich and powerful, who just moved their investments to china or whatever the hell they're going..you're stuck in deep shit.

Remember it next time you vote against social security, public healthcare or in favor of wild "market driven" privatization
posted by elpapacito at 4:10 AM on July 5, 2005


It's just another market for them. Cheap Chinese imports have decimated the South African clothing and textile industry.
posted by PenDevil at 4:12 AM on July 5, 2005


Uh... why are there scare quotes around genocidal? I think everyone agrees that the Sudanese government is a pretty horrible regime.

It looks to me like China is trying to position itself like a new imperial power. Backing corrupt regimes in exchange for access to natural resources that it desperately needs. I don't see how they are actually bring jobs to africa or help normal africans.

American hegemony is bad enough, I'm terrified of Chinese hegemony
posted by afu at 4:25 AM on July 5, 2005 [1 favorite]


> Unlike the G8, they aren't concerned about corruption, aid, debt relief, social impact, human rights, the environment, or spreading democratic ideology

Unlike the G8? Sure it's not a typo?
posted by funambulist at 4:46 AM on July 5, 2005


They do back corrupt regimes, but they also make deals with other legitimate governments, too. It's a mixed bag, like the Brits and Indonesia during their occupation of East Timor.

The brazen Chinese 'immoral dealing' is one of the many advantages of having total control over the legislative and executive branches of a Government, with an oppressed and abused population. I think it's called "Pragmatic Totalitarianism."
posted by gsb at 4:53 AM on July 5, 2005


Cheap Chinese imports have decimated the South African clothing and textile industry.

If cheap imports decimate the textile industry, then surely giving the stuff away for free is even worse (i.e. devastating to the local industries), no?
The same applies to food, btw.
posted by sour cream at 5:18 AM on July 5, 2005


Sure it is. It's just that SA has some very strict labour laws (put in place because of the ruling parties very tight links with unions) and it has bit certain industries on the ass. It's ironic that the main labour union here is trying to get import tariffs in place against their communist(?) brethren over in China.
posted by PenDevil at 5:36 AM on July 5, 2005


pendevil: yeah it's ironic, as much ironic as those who proclaim free market will solve anything and are now backpedaling to protectionism claiming "unfair competition" by exploitment of workforce....a la fark "where's your freemarket God now ? "

It's even more ironic as the free market integralist support the notion workforce shouldn't organize in unions in the attempt to protect themselves from exploitment...that would be eminently anticompetitive..but again how ironic, concentrational of capital are ok if they form natural monopolies benefiting the masses ; now that's natural and fine..but wait a minute, spontaneous worker organization is natural as well !

I've got the sensation the irony ends when the bills come..whoever pays the bills doesn't laugh much.
posted by elpapacito at 5:59 AM on July 5, 2005


Cheap Chinese imports have decimated the South African clothing and textile industry.

In an interesting parallel, cheap American food imports have decimated local South American industries.

Further, the United States is the world's largest arms dealer, dollar for dollar. Our country profits from suffering around the world.

China is just one of the G8 gang, in spirit, if not word. In the end it comes down to the dollars, or yuan, or whatever. Nothing new to see here.
posted by Rothko at 6:41 AM on July 5, 2005


Uh... why are there scare quotes around genocidal? I think everyone agrees that the Sudanese government is a pretty horrible regime.

"Pretty horrible" does not equal "genocidal." The word "genocide" gets tossed around far too freely these days; I have yet to see any evidence that the Sudanese government is trying to wipe out an entire ethnic group. They're supporting one faction in a fight over land, a faction which uses extremely brutal methods. Isn't it enough to condemn that for what it is, which is not genocide?
posted by languagehat at 6:50 AM on July 5, 2005


Ditto.
posted by Catfry at 7:01 AM on July 5, 2005


New flies, same shit.
posted by signal at 7:30 AM on July 5, 2005


"Africa is a good environment for us to invest in, because there's too much competition in Europe and America."

Seems like a new (old) take on post-Colonial business as usual. And a smart one. Go to the developing world and wring it out. I'm not sure what's Jeffersonian about it, except that it's something the US has engaged in for years.
posted by OmieWise at 7:31 AM on July 5, 2005


Or, on preview, what signal said.
posted by OmieWise at 7:32 AM on July 5, 2005


I have yet to see any evidence that the Sudanese government is trying to wipe out an entire ethnic group.

Excellent article on what is and isn't genocide. The quote below stood out to me. By not declaring something genocide then Governments have a way out:

"a U.S. Defence Department memo from May of 1994 warning officials to "Be careful. Legal [office] at State [Department] was worried about this yesterday. A genocide finding could
commit us to actually 'do something.'"

posted by twistedonion at 7:42 AM on July 5, 2005


FWIW, when I was in Ghana in 2002, the Chinese were investing in a national theatre in Accra (repairs to the building they had funded years ago) and a youth centre aimed at street youth in Kumasi. From this (admittedly limited) personal experience, I'd agree with gsb's statement that its a mixed bag.
posted by carmen at 7:42 AM on July 5, 2005


I have yet to see any evidence that the Sudanese government is trying to wipe out an entire ethnic group.

And the Hutus were just fighting for political dominance in an effort to undermine Kagame's military power.

Look at the sides here. On one, you have black farmers and nomads whose militias are backed by Chad (a country that does not have a history of good Arab relations). On the other, you have a well-armed Arab militia backed by an Arab government with the use of air raids, soldiers, and supplies.

The fact is that Janjaweed militias and Sudanese troops have attacked villages, killed civilians, and in the case of the Janjaweed, have committed mass rape. In doing so, they have successfully displaced an entire population, most of which are not Arab, out of the country.

If the targeted attacks against specific ethnic groups by other ethnic groups for the purpose of clearing them from a region via death or displacement isn't genocide, what is?
posted by shawnj at 7:48 AM on July 5, 2005


Some details about Chinese investment in Ghana.
posted by carmen at 7:57 AM on July 5, 2005


If cheap imports decimate the textile industry, then surely giving the stuff away for free is even worse (i.e. devastating to the local industries), no?

The same applies to food, btw.


Well, perhaps. But you can have the Aid group buy the food from famers and re-use that as much as possible to build up the farming base.
posted by delmoi at 8:01 AM on July 5, 2005


I know, it really is one of those mixed bag issues, here we have a country who's 'the god-damned commies', yet is also a major trade partner who the U.S. and other countries have a lot of investments in and which has loaned lots of money to the U.S. On one hand they're 'the evil empire', on one hand they're 'our most important trade partner and lender'.
I suppose one could point fingers, but considering how certain other countries handle themselves around the world these days, why bother? One may as well piss in the wind . . .
I'm not saying the China is not a bad country, just that other countries that point fingers would do best to clean their own houses before pointing those fingers. . .
posted by mk1gti at 9:50 AM on July 5, 2005


Now China is back in Africa, spreading capitalism and a model of development in which human rights, democracy and welfare are distractions from the main business of economic growth.

I don't know how anybody can still call China "Communist" -- they're not even "state capitalist" anymore . And by the way, China's government, ruling party and most influential business cliques are definitely not leftist either.

And mk1gti, adopting your criteria as policy would mean that no country (or company, or family, or church, or...) would ever improve itself, because it would always tell its critics to "clean their own houses before pointing those fingers". This is why your comment is a stupid one.
posted by davy at 10:03 AM on July 5, 2005


From twistedonion's link;
"The 1948 convention provides a stringent definition of genocide. It must involve "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.."
Consider me educated. I withdraw my ditto.
posted by Catfry at 10:16 AM on July 5, 2005


The same applies to food, btw.

It's kinda difficult to start a business when you've nothing to eat, eh?
posted by eustatic at 10:18 AM on July 5, 2005


By the way, Firefox crashed before I'd finished reading that article and now New Statesman won't let me see it for free again for 24 hours. That's what I get for not remembering to save everything I want to read.
posted by davy at 10:44 AM on July 5, 2005


And the Hutus were just fighting for political dominance in an effort to undermine Kagame's military power.

Give me a break. We're not talking about the Hutus, or the Nazis either, both of whom were unquestionably intent on genocide. Can we skip the red herrings? We're talking about the situation in Darfur, which is considerably more complicated. I've read a fair amount about it, and have come to the (obviously provisional) conclusion that, nasty as it is, it's basically a land war rather than ethnic genocide. For one thing, there are no clear ethnic distinctions in Darfur, just tribes whose self-identification as "Arabs" comes and goes according to circumstances and convenience. I read an excellent article that goes into great detail, but at the moment I can't find it, so instead here's a New Yorker piece by Samantha Power that goes into some of the background:
Darfur, which is roughly the size of Texas, was an autonomous sultanate until 1916, when it was conquered by Britain and incorporated into Sudan. The area is topographically diverse—high desert in the north flows into lush grasslands in the south—and ethnically kaleidoscopic. It is populated by some ninety tribes and countless sub-clans. Virtually all of Darfur’s six million residents are Muslim, and, because of decades of intermarriage, almost everyone has dark skin and African features. To a visitor, Darfurians appear indistinguishable.

Despite the tradition of ethnic mixing, the population has recently begun subdividing between “Arabs” and “Africans,” who are known, derogatorily, as zurga, or “blacks.” People of Arab descent tend to be nomadic, herding camels in North Darfur and cattle in the south. The three largest African tribes are the Fur—Darfur means “land of the Fur”—the Zaghawa, and the Masaaleit. The Africans generally farm, though certain groups, like the Zaghawa, sometimes maintain farms while also sweeping south with their herds during the harvest season. Competition among the tribes—for economic, not ethnic, reasons—has always been fierce, but tribal leaders customarily resolved these disputes, and their decisions were respected by the authorities in Khartoum.

In the nineteen-eighties, however, competition for land intensified. There was a regional drought, and the expanding Sahara began transforming arable soil into desert. The introduction of tractors and other mechanized farming equipment fed the ambition of some African farmers. Arab herders in North Darfur began to resent the seasonal forays of Zaghawa herdsmen into Arab-occupied grazing areas. African farmers grew hostile to the camel-riding Arab nomads from the north who increasingly trampled their farmland as they roamed in search of pasture. Arabs from countries to the west—Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad—also began flooding the region, exacerbating the feuds. Farmers who had once celebrated the annual return of Arab nomads, whose animals had fertilized their farmland and helped carry their harvests to market, began to impede their migrations.

Instead of intervening to defuse these tensions, Khartoum’s leaders essentially ignored them. A previous government had weakened the tribal-administration system, in favor of state institutions that had little legitimacy in Darfur. As a result, the region lacked a trusted system for resolving conflicts. The tribes grew more polarized, and they began gathering arms to defend their economic interests. Between 1987 and 1989, serious battles broke out between Fur farmers and Arab camel herders. Some twenty-five hundred Fur were killed, forty thousand cattle were lost, and four hundred villages were burned; five hundred Arabs died, and hundreds of the nomads’ tents were burned. Even though a local inter-tribal conference was held in 1989, its recommendations for compensation and punishment went largely unheeded—leaving outstanding grievances that would explode fourteen years later.
(Emphasis added to bring out salient points.) If you want to call that "genocide," that's up to you; I prefer to reserve the term for much more clear-cut cases. I trust it's clear that I don't think Darfur is any less of a hellhole or there is any less need to do something about it because I don't call it "genocide," and frankly I find it strange that people have to call it by the worst name around in order to work up their indignation. (Talking mainly about the US Congress, not present company.)
posted by languagehat at 12:12 PM on July 5, 2005 [1 favorite]


I reinstate my ditto!
posted by Catfry at 12:23 PM on July 5, 2005


You have to admit, it's pretty hard to compete against a country which jails untold tens of thousands for political reasons and puts them to work for what works out to pennies a day making goods for the export market.

That's also one reason I don't shop at Wal-Mart, and am pretty picky about the origin of what I buy elsewhere.
posted by clevershark at 12:53 PM on July 5, 2005


The party line on sending aid to Africa seems to be something like "How do we know if the government officials will put it to good use, instead of just buying another Jaguar/Learjet/palace/whatever?" Well, I suppose one of way of doing that would be to actually go over and spend the aid money in person by building hotels, stadiums, etc. Sure, there is still going to be graft, but that kind of direct investment is going to put a lot of people to work too. Anyway, it certainly makes sense for China to invest heavily in Africa, since they're one of the few places that could conceivably undercut them in the out-sourcing/manufacturing biz. =P
posted by idontlikewords at 2:34 PM on July 5, 2005


languagehat, your extended quote regarding the origins of the current conflict in Darfur, while enlightening, is about as relevant to the applicability of the word "genocide" as an exegesis of the Treaty of Versailles would be in determining whether the Nazis committed genocide.

The standing definition of genocide in this thread seems to be "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group," from the 1948 Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Regardless of the origins of this conflict, it seems clear (from the very story you cite) that the parties in Darfur are now identifying themselves and one another along ethnic and/or religious lines for the purposes of the conflict, however recently those lines may have been imposed.

Take the Rwandan genocide as an example. It's generally believed that the ethnic tensions there were not nearly so fierce before the Belgians assumed control after WWI and turned a mostly-Tutsi governing class into a totally-Tutsi ruling elite. And yet 70-odd years later, there was a wholesale slaughter of "ethnic" Tutsis by Hutu hoardes. Of course racial distinctions are cultural creations; how long must they endure to be "real" in your ontology?

Insofar as there's ever a point in distinguishing genocide proper from "really terrible human rights catastrophe" generally, the point lies in identifying the conflict as having gone straight to the depths of humans' capacity for inhumanity, abandoning all rationality and empathic tendency whatsoever. Maybe this is never a useful statement to make, since peace is always the priority; maybe it's an important observation in order to recognize that, whatever its initial scope, the conflict has gone beyond a mere land quarrel and that any solution will need to be correspondingly more comprehensive.

I've spent some time in Africa and I'm just as skeptical as anyone of any rhetoric that may lead Western people to think that "they're just a bunch of damn savages." But if genocide is what's going on, and it needs to be acknowledged as such in order to be properly resolved, then it's better to acknowledge that and get moving on it.
posted by rkent at 2:36 PM on July 5, 2005


It would be great if Africa became China's call center (a la India and the USA). Set up a bunch of language schools and turn them loose on the "emerging" Chinese middle-class. I would love to hear what Mandarin with a Swahili accent sounds like! =)
posted by idontlikewords at 2:38 PM on July 5, 2005


The Chinese are poised to start competing economically against the United States with much vigor. The US will surely lose a lot of influence if loses its place as the world's leading economy. This inroad into Africa doesn't mean much by itself, but keep an eye on the future.
posted by publius at 2:53 PM on July 5, 2005


This is why your comment is a stupid one.
posted by davy at 10:03 AM PST on July 5 [!]
-------------------------------------------
Yes, your comment is. . .
posted by mk1gti at 3:04 PM on July 5, 2005


Catfry, you're my favorite mefi person right now, because you're willing to change your point of view as you receive more information about a given subject. Twice in this thread, in fact.
posted by davejay at 3:31 PM on July 5, 2005


idontlikewords: "It would be great if Africa became China's call center (a la India andthe USA). Set up a bunch of language schools and turn them loose on the"emerging" Chinese middle-class. I would love to hear what Mandarinwith a Swahili accent sounds like! =)"

Actually South Africa has a burgeoning call center industry servicing Europe and the UK especially. We have a large English speaking population and Afrikaans is close enough to Dutch/German that after 2 or 3 months training operators can handle calls from there as well.
posted by PenDevil at 1:11 AM on July 6, 2005


Also we're in the same time zone.
posted by PenDevil at 1:17 AM on July 6, 2005


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