Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Elcano Royal Institute/Real Instituto Elcano, a Spanish think tank, has just published a short article of mine, "China in Africa: Seven Myths." Here's an overview:

"Sensationalism and rumours cloud our ability to understand China’s growing engagement in Africa. Many of the fears about Chinese aid and engagement in Africa are misinformed. This paper unpacks seven myths: (1) ‘China is a newcomer to Africa’; (2) ‘China targets pariah regimes’; (3) ‘China hurts the West’s efforts to build democracy’; (4) ‘Chinese aid is huge’; (5) ‘Chinese aid is mainly used to win access to resources’; (6) ‘China is sending millions of farmers to Africa, leading the land grab’; and (7) ‘Chinese companies bring in all their own workers’.

While China’s rise in Africa is cause for some concern, efforts to gain a more realistic picture should help Africans and their other development partners to craft appropriate responses." Click here to continue.


Anonymous said...

As you use the word "myths" (implying that they have their roots in reality) and not "fables" (completely fabricated) I can endorse everything that you mentioned.
Only, as you know, on each of these seven myths there are so many other facets who can explain the origin of those myths.
I try to follow the news on a daily basis and I see these myths mainly emerge in four areas (rather than from Berlin to Tokyo):
in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific and in the border countries with China. And this is probably no coincidence.
There is no direct correlation with the size of the Chinese presence in certain areas. Economically and demographically, the Chinese presence in Singapore eg is very strong but not so those 7 myths ...
What I am particularly worried about is the nature of the criticism of the Chinese presence in Africa itself which is becoming very racist.
And there is, as always, an economic basis.
In Europe, there has never been any anti-Chinese racism, the reason beeing that the Chinese did never compete with the Europeans for economic activities. In the Netherlands you had for instance the phenomenon of "Chinese peanuts men" who sold peanuts at public events. No Dutchman wanted to make a living of this kind of job.
In the Congo older Congolese think back with nostalgia to the period of Belgian colonialists and, they hope (in vain) for the return of their "Belgian uncles". But the colonials have never practiced a profession that could be done by Congolese people.
The Chinese presence in Africa is different; from the smallest jobs to the highest functions, these immigrants compete directly with the local population (which also includes the Chinese locals who are active in Africa for decades).
And by a whole series of circumstances they do so with great success, something naturally arouses jealousy with the locals.
And then it is no longer a question if those 7 myths are, or not, based on facts, then the perception by locals is that these Chinese are supported by the Chinese state, advantaged by their own state, do not have to pay taxes, etc ...
If you are suddenly out of business you try to find an explanation….
So far all this is still rationally, but very quickly it takes an outspoken racist and xenophobic nature that is independent of any reality. For example, if a Japanese football referee makes a questionable decision against the home team, the Chinatown of Lubumbashi has to suffer for it.
Although every now and then this already provoced deaths, this racial hatred (which is mutual) has the potential to lead to pogroms in a period of crisis.
Evidence? As said, I try to see what’s happening on a daily basis and the evidence are ancedotal small events, seldom fatal, but it's not for nothing that China already has warned several African states, that they are responsible for the safety of the Chinese in their country.
But do yourself a try: take any article from an African newspaper that deals with the relationship between Africa and China, and no, in the article, you will rarely find it, but have a look at the "comments" and I bed that three-quarters of them will have a very anti-Chinese character…
And as I am speaking of English or French language newspapers, the comments are not of the streethawkers but of well educated intellectuals and are nonetheless often very xenophobic. More than once I’ve seen analyses that express the fear that they will undergo the same fate as the indigenous peoples of Latin America ... ..
In this context I’m afraid that facts and myths make a very explosif cocktail…

Deborah Brautigam said...

Well said. Amy Chua wrote eloquently about resentments and the frequent fate of successful "economic minorities" in World on Fire -- a book that didn't receive nearly the same media attention as her current work: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Anonymous said...

When 'things' go the wrong way, everywhere you can find some migrant workers or minority groups being singled out to serve as scapegoats to the authorities or locals.

Anonymous said...

I think that one of the core problems arising from the Chinese presence in African countries lies in the fact that as individuals, Chinese nationals neglect too much paying some attention to their inter-individual relationship with the local populations. They seldom endeavour to learn spelling properly local languages, except for some horribly pidginized ''sentences'', showing by this way that they are interested only in earning money. If one doesn't master a country's language, how can you expect to promote friendly exchanges with the local population? How can you expect to understand properly other people's modes of thinking, feeling, acting and behaving etc.

Anonymous said...

Too many Chinese nationals don't behave in a suitable way with their African counterparts. They are quite ignorant that they are not unwelcomed at the outset. But very quickly, their behaviour seems to exhibit very crude complex of superiority, arrogance and contempt. When some customers enter their shop and salute, they seldom give them any polite reply in return. They think that since they are Chinese, everything is due to them.