"Look East" looks over
September 2, 2007 7:57 AM   Subscribe

This is the best thing that could ever happen to the people of Zimbabwe.
posted by parmanparman at 8:01 AM on September 2, 2007

When the dark lords of Zhongnanhai are embarrassed to be seen doing business with you, you have plumbed new depths of pariah-hood. You say "Axis of Evil," we say "some of my best customers and oldest friends."
posted by Abiezer at 8:18 AM on September 2, 2007

Does Mugabe have any international backers left? I didn't realize that China was giving him money. I suppose this gives some hope to the opposition, though from what I hear it's pitifully weak.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:35 AM on September 2, 2007

The article in the second link provides some decent analysis, but I don't think its tone is quite justified. OF COURSE China wants something in return for its investment: raw materials. They're not camouflaging the fact that they're interested in African products.

The #1 factor crippling the West's ability to do anything in Africa is the incredibly paternalistic idea that Western help should be "selfless" and not based on mutually beneficial economic concerns. The only way for sub-Saharan Africa to enter more fully into the world economy is by participating in the market system: goods flow one way, money flows the other way. As opposed to the current system: pictures of starving orphans flow one way, money, Bono, and indignation flow the other way.

Yes, it's not an equal economic relationship--no such tie with raw materials on one side and manufactured goods on the other can be. But, you know, the thirteen colonies were once only a source of raw materials for England. The dream of the nineteenth-century imperialists was that just such a relationship could be established, which never happened since manufactured goods could not find a market when the populace was so heavily exploited.

But there are two other, connected, reasons why China is investing so heavily in Africa. The first is that the Chinese government realizes that the advantage of cheap labor cannot be permanent in a free-trade environment; the yuan will have to be revalued eventually, and over the course of the next decade or two Chinese wages will creep up maybe to the Southern European level. African labor will remain cheap for fifty years, for more or less the same reasons Chinese labor was cheap thirty years ago. So the Chinese want privileged economic relationships with Africa as a way of maintaining their advantage in that field.

The other reason was summed up by Cecil Rhodes in 1895:
I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for 'bread,' 'bread!' and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism.... My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.
- Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism
China's rural population is migrating to the cities illegally at an unprecedented rate. This is, as far as I know, the biggest mass migration in history, on a larger scale than the barbarian invasions in the first half of the first millennium AD. China cannot handle this problem without some outlet for these people, who are living mostly on a subsistence level. Africa would be an ideal place for them.
posted by nasreddin at 8:35 AM on September 2, 2007 [5 favorites]

I'd certainly agree that there's nothing inherently wrong with China doing business in Africa, but I have seen evidence for myself that there is sensitivity over how the relationship is framed. I was working as a copy editor at one of the local English language papers during the Africa summit last year. We did a special that included interviews with various of the visiting heads of states and ministers and were expressly instructed not to mention raw materials and to remove instances where the African interviewees had brought the subject up.
It's true that the rural-to-urban migration of the last decade and more has been on a staggering scale, but I don't think there are any plans to deal with it by overseas population transfer. The current strategy is to develop towns and small- and medium-sized cities. That may not work (for a host of reasons), but even if it doesn't, I'd think some kind of deal sending Chinese farmers to the underpopulated Russian far east would be a more likely option than Africa. One Russian academic even mooted the idea of ceding Siberia a while back (admittedly not in all seriousness).
posted by Abiezer at 8:53 AM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd think some kind of deal sending Chinese farmers to the underpopulated Russian far east would be a more likely option than Africa. One Russian academic even mooted the idea of ceding Siberia a while back (admittedly not in all seriousness).

I know about this, but I'm pretending it isn't real. China and Russia will go to war over Siberia before the century is out, and my family and the places I love will be destroyed.
posted by nasreddin at 9:05 AM on September 2, 2007

Did you see that great Kaplan piece on the U.S. military advisor in Mongolia a while back, nasreddin? (Full article behind paywall it seems). The Mongolians are none to thrilled at the prospect either.
posted by Abiezer at 9:16 AM on September 2, 2007

Wow, Abiezer, that's really interesting. I feel bad for the Mongolians, since they'll be nuked as much as the Russians will be.
posted by nasreddin at 9:30 AM on September 2, 2007

Thanks for the update, Abiezer..nice to know that those fighter planes won't get there after all.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:34 AM on September 2, 2007

Time china started acting responsibly with the clout she has in Africa. The other issues' been her actions in the Sudan if I'm not mistaken.
posted by infini at 10:19 AM on September 2, 2007

Full article from the freepers.
posted by adamvasco at 10:53 AM on September 2, 2007

China has about 1.2 billion people, and is about the size of the U.S. Meanwhile Africa has a population less then a billion. I think about 840 million, and Africa is about three times the size of china.

It would make a lot of sense for china to offload a lot of it's people there. They could sends hundreds of millions. That would certainly be pretty weird.
posted by delmoi at 11:42 AM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

There have been two related stories I've thought about making MeFi posts about lately, but didn't get around to. One is the massive refugee flows (possibly more than 3 million people) from Zimbabwe, mostly into South Africa. Because neither the governments of Zimbabwe nor South Africa want this, the vast majority of migrants are illegal, giving the South African farmers they tend to find work with free rein to abuse them.

The other is the creation of the newest U.S. military regional command, Africom. It got an informal inauguration this January, when it coordinated and participated in the Ethiopian strikes against the Somali Islamists (see Thomas Barnett's excellent article in Esquire about that and Africom's unusual focus on "civil affairs"). It came to mind here because I just read Paul Collier'sThe Bottom Billion, which argues that if we really want to help Africa, one of the more important things we can do is provide military intervention to prevent coups or civil wars. And since Zimbabwe seems to be on track for widespread civil violence in the next 12 months, and people may start starving come winter, that may become a tempting option for both us and Britain. Not because anyone has any practical or political interest in prevent Mugabe from quitting or being overthrown, but because, as Collier discusses, having one civil war or coup greatly increases the chance of having more (what he calls "the conflict trap"). Removing Mugabe may end one set of problems but create another.
posted by gsteff at 1:08 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Er, Zimbabwe is in the southern hemisphere, so I guess its already winter there.
posted by gsteff at 1:25 PM on September 2, 2007

people may start starving come winter

Isn't it already winter down there with them being in the southern hemisphere and all?
posted by rolypolyman at 1:50 PM on September 2, 2007

The typical conception of "winter" doesn't really work in central-south Africa. There are generally 3 seasons: a hot and dry season, a hot and wet season, and a not-so-hot and not-so-wet season.

In that region, the hot and wet season generally occurs around the time of Europe and N. America's "winter." Ironically, this is often the season most often associate with famine. Despite the torrential rains and exploding plant growth, there has been little growing for several months, so many families have already eaten all of their stores before their new crops are ready to harvest.
posted by i less than three nsima at 2:38 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Now, if only China would withdraw its support for Sudan...
posted by toma at 4:07 PM on September 2, 2007

Kaplan's article most interesting, many thanks, though one would like to know more about how the colonel was ordered there in the first place (who in DC decided, based on what, how the task was described to the colonel, how his allies and enemies stack up in the Pentagon- all that unknowable sort of thing).

In the meantime- more on China and Mongolia from the Asia Times.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:16 PM on September 2, 2007

A dead Quaker: Zimbabwe gets support from South Africa. Critically the South Africans provide them with electricity.

WaPo article on this subject.

The South Africans will not directly finance Mugabe however according to all Africa.
posted by sien at 6:45 PM on September 2, 2007

toma - there does seem to have been a shift in how China is dealing with its relationship with Sudan too. You have that part of the Telegraph article where Malloch-Brown tells an audience, "Beijing's position had changed dramatically. It had actively engaged with the United Nations in putting pressure on Sudan to accept an international peace-keeping force."
It seems typical to me of Chinese diplomacy that this adjustment has happened without much fanfare, but you also have the appointment of a special envoy for Africa, Liu Guijin, who's been making the right noises.
posted by Abiezer at 9:07 PM on September 2, 2007

Thanks for the note Abiezer. Let's hope the envoy is serious and not just posing for foreigners. I'm still waiting for the 'Annan plan for Sudan'....*sigh*

Perhaps China's waking up to the possibility that the instability could spill over into its investments and installations and that turning your back on a genocide is not a practical solution.

Otherwise, you'd have to assume they'd rather keep selling and shipping arms to Khartoum for the brutal campaign. That can't be good for international P.R., especially with those Olympics coming...
posted by toma at 5:44 PM on September 3, 2007

God this makes me sad. I lived there for a year in 87, shortly after the war. I was too young to really understand the politics of the place, but it seemed like the transition from white rule was working. Zim was supposed to be an success story. When I was there it seemed like it could have been even though there was a lot of tension between different ethnic groups. There was a good infrastructure, they fed themselves with their own resources. They were able to sell wheat to other countries. It should have worked. Everyone I knew there was working hard to make it work but they were all driven out of the country years ago. I am so sad.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 10:13 PM on September 3, 2007

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