Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) China is becoming more active politically and economically in Africa, declaring that it does not want to "pillage" the continent's resources the way Western colonialists have done. And yet its main goal is extracting raw materials, oil first, relying on its own companies with little local developmental spin-off.
"We will not repeat the mistakes of the bloody pillaging [of Africa] and human rights abuses of the Western colonisers," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said yesterday. "China is a responsible country."
Speaking before Nigeria' parliament Chinese President Hu Jintao said that by "the year 2020 . . . GDP would quadruple that of 2000 to reach US trillion, averaging US$ 3,000 per head". Hence, he told Nigerian lawmakers, Beijing would be able to provide Africa with help to fight diseases and back African Union efforts to end conflicts across the continent. "China's development will not pose a threat to anyone. On the contrary, it will bring more development opportunities to the world," he stressed.
"From our assessment this is the century of China to lead the world," Nigerian President Obasanjo said at a late-night banquet in honour of the Chinese leader. "And when you're leading the world we want to be very close behind you."
Hu reassured his Nigerian counterpart that China wants to deal with Africa on equal terms and for their mutual advantage, develop relations that are based on friendship and respect for the development of the world's peoples and peace.
Many analysts are however less sanguine about China's intentions and highlight the gap between what China says and what it does. First of all, Beijing is investing in poor but mineral-rich countries like oil and gas, iron, cobalt, wood, etc., but its investments benefit only minimally local mining sectors since activities are carried out by Chinese state companies whilst oil is shipped to Chinese refineries and terminals.
Furthermore, there is little capital investment in local economies since raw materials are often paid in public works provided by Chinese and only Chinese companies. Low-end labour might be local, but management remains Chinese. Under such terms African countries are locked in since breaking any deal would mean leaving works incomplete. And financing is done by Chinese banks.
Beijing has repeatedly said that it does not get involved in the internal affairs of other countries. This has meant that it has not been interested in how the money it pays to local elites is spent and whether the wider population benefits or not.
China has said that it wants to favour peace in Africa, and yet it has sold weapons to Zimbabwe and vetoed UN sanctions against Sudan (one of its major oil suppliers) despite bloodshed in that country's Darfur region.
Since its own economic development has involved little respect for the environment and given China the unenviable title of most polluted country in the world (70 per cent of its water is not drinkable), its resource-management practices abroad are not that different from those it has applied at home. Now that it as reached a critical stage in its domestic development and is trying to clean up its act, Beijing has shown that it is not prepared to extend the same concern to other countries. Entire forests in countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, Africa and Latin America have for instance been devastated to supply Chinese industry.
In addition to suppliers of raw materials, China is looking for foreign markets for its own manufacturing sector, and Africa is a vast, untapped market for highly competitive Chinese goods, especially for the many state-owned companies that can sell at a loss. This way it has secured a trade surplus with the continent (since oil is paid for in public works and other services) and created an imbalance that is leaving many African countries in debt.
At the same time, Chinese manufacturers have been out-competing nascent local industries. Morocco for instance was a leading textile manufacturer but has seriously suffered as a result of Chinese competition in Europe and now has had to accept to be China's bridge into Europe.
As Mr Hu told Nigerian lawmakers yesterday, "Africa has rich resources and market potential". (PB)