Friday, January 20, 2012

What do Africans Think About China?

Aubrey Matshiqi/CPS
Today I spoke with a reporter from Al Jazeera who asked me, as many do, what "Africans" think about "China". It's always hard to even begin to give an answer to a broad question like that. I tried to break down "Africans" and "China" into subcategories. I spoke about public opinion polls from the BBC and elsewhere. The truth is, there are many, many different views. Where you stand depends on where you sit, as they say.

Right after we hung up, I received an email from Yoon Jung Park with a link to an interview with Aubrey Matshiqi, a senior research associate at the South African Centre for Policy Studies - an independent policy research institution that produces original studies on South Africa's and the rest of Africa's policies, governance and democratisation challenges.

He spoke about China, and this is what he had to say:

In December, I was part of a discussion during which an American warned that developing countries such as South Africa should be wary of China. He argued that China is a hegemon and that its narrow political and economic interests are the centre of its universe. Well, he did not put it this well, but I am certain you get my drift.

There is nothing original about these warnings. People warn us dim-witted Africans about China all the time.

What I find amusing – I no longer have the energy for anger – is the fact that these words of wisdom always come from Europeans and Americans and South Africans who are part of the Western sphere of influence. There are many ironies that are lost on these people. Because they are too numerous to mention, I will share just a few.

Firstly, it is extremely problematic that, as a man who has spent almost half a cen-tury on this planet, I thought, for most of that time, that the English-speaking parts of the West were the philosophical, cultural and economic centre of the universe. This is a product of centuries of cultural and economic domination which, in many cases, was imposed violently.

Secondly, I did not experience China as a hegemon. It is America and Europe that imposed themselves and their ways on us.

Thirdly, my experience of the hegemony of the West has largely been that of a gap between its liberal democratic aesthetic and the moral content of its relations with the ‘Third World’.

That said, as a democrat, I recognise the gap between China’s economic resurgence and its very deep democratic deficits. This article is, therefore, not about waving the Chinese flag in your face. As I have said before, the global economic crisis and shifts in the global system from West to East constitute an opportunity for us to reconfigure the content of global economic relations and work towards a less unethical or more ethical global cultural, environmental and economic order. If this does not happen, it is highly unlikely that sub- stantive democracy will become a reality for most people on this planet.
To continue reading, or to see the video interview, click here. H/T to Yoon Jung Park.

1 comment:

stuart said...

This is hardly a balanced response to the posed question. Matshiqi is a senior academic - certainly not representative of millions of Africans at grass roots, many of whom would tell you a different story.