Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New Low for South African Reporting on Chinese Immigrants

Here come the Chinese...
Kevin Bloom and Richard Poplak writing in the Daily Maverick, "Chinese shopkeeper cover story a new low for South African Journalism," deftly deconstruct the cover story in Noseweek, yet another piece of "yellow journalism" about Chinese immigration into southern Africa. Here's the lead for the Daily Maverick story, describing the Noseweek piece: "a humid conspiracy theory wrapped in the guise of journalism, and when it isn't racist and xenophobic, it's plain wrong."

One of the main themes of the Noseweek story is that the mom & pop Chinese shops one can easily find in many parts of South Africa are part of a giant plan, rendering them pieces of one huge "chain store". Anyone who has actually interviewed Chinese traders (as I and many others have, including Bloom and Poplak) would realize that this is so silly that it would be laughable if it wasn't deliberately intended to arouse xenophobic fears.

I'm really glad to see an uptick in the fact-checking coming from the continent. Wonder when we'll start seeing something similar coming out of China?

A hat tip to Sven Grimm at the Centre for Chinese Studies, Stellenbosch University.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

China to Build West African Coastal Highway?

In the mid-1980s, I traveled with a friend by bush plane, bush taxi, canoes, and by foot along the coast of Liberia from Monrovia to Abidjan in Cote d'Ivoire. Anyone going along that same route today would probably have to use the same means: there is no continuous coastal road around the bulge of West Africa. In many places (see map) there is no road at all, and one walks, and fords the brown rivers by ferry or canoe.

About five years ago, I listed to a Chinese bank official tell me that his bank wanted to build a road around the coast of West Africa. The colonialist never built it: such a road makes no sense for trade or grabbing natural resources. Output from mines or forests usually goes from the interior out to the closest port, not along the coast.  But it makes sense in terms of getting from A to B. Think of the great Highway One along the east coast of America (being inundated by Hurricane Sandy, as I write).

I never heard about this road plan again ... until tonight, when Google alerts brought me this story from Ventures' Oluwabusayo Sotunde:
China signed an agreement on infrastructural development and economic cooperation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Thursday in Abuja, Nigeria. The pact which was signed by the Vice Minister, Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, Li Jinzao, involves China building a [2000 km] trans-West African highway (which will go through nine states).
This is the fabled coastal highway. Will it happen? As with any of these projects: follow the money. This would be hugely complicated, with nine countries responsible for repayment of any finance. Perhaps it will be tendered as a private-public partnership, with tolls. That's the Chinese model.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

China-Africa Oil Ties: How Different from the US?

An updated report from the Council on Foreign Relations on China-Africa Oil Ties makes several statements that made it past reviewers (and that reflect conventional wisdom):

Quoting journalist Howard French, the report says that "unlike the West, China 'has declined to tell African governments how they should run their countries, or to make its investments contingent on government reform'."  And quoting Fanie Herman and Tsai Ming-Yen, the report says: "The U.S. focuses on humanitarianism, good governance, and democratization of petroleum-producing states in their oil diplomacy approach," unlike China.

I would have expected better than this in a report coming from the Council on Foreign Relations. Is the US oil diplomacy approach really focused on good governance and democratization in Equatorial Guinea, Angola, or Saudi Arabia? I don't think so. Have Western companies like ExxonMobil, Freeport McMoRan, American Tobacco, etc., made their natural resource investments in Nigeria, Chad, the DRC, or Zimbabwe contingent on governance reform? Again, I don't think so.

The VOA reported on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent trip to Africa, saying:
Clinton kicked off her trip with a speech in Dakar by saying the U.S. will seek out business opportunities but not at the expense of democracy and human rights.  'The United States will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep the resources flowing. Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will,' she said.
Below is a photo of our president and his first lady smiling with the President of Equatorial Guinea and his first lady. The dictatorial government of Equatorial Guinea is a serial human rights abuser, but it's oil rich, and US companies are the beneficiaries. These are the real choices we're making.

We're more likely to have a solid basis for understanding Chinese engagement in Africa if we in the West stop assuming that we're the good guys, that our oil diplomacy is pure, that our companies wouldn't think of investing in a non-democratic country ... "unlike China".

[updated November 4, 2012]

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chinese Aid and Cooperation: Media Coverage

A Finnish student's master's thesis on bias in media coverage of Chinese aid and cooperation finds that media coverage (unsurprisingly) from China was overwhelmingly positive, that from the West overwhelmingly negative, and that from Africa, on balance, neutral. The dissertation starts with the observation that Western beliefs about Chinese aid and cooperation have real consequences:
This was demonstrated when Finland announced at the beginning of 2012 that it would revalue its development co-operation starting from March. Development Co-operation Minister Heidi Hautala indicated that human rights were to become the new main focus of Finland’s aid. The reason for this shift was announced to be the increased involvement of China and other rising donors in development aid practices. The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (HS 2012) reported that China, which according to widely held beliefs tends to neglect human rights, has a growing effect on Africa and therefore, the rest of the world should be more concentrated on balancing against this neglect and improving the human rights facet of aid. This means that the perceptions about Chinese aid, no matter how close to or far away from the truth they are, are actually influencing the decisions other countries are making regarding their foreign assistance policies.
The author is Kitta Hirvensaloor. For more, continue here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

China's Role in Sudan-South Sudan Oil Diplomacy

In an interview with Foreign Affairs, Alex de Waal summarizes the Chinese role in the recent agreement between the two Sudans on resuming oil exports:
China has taken a very simple position with regard to both parties, which is that it wants to see oil production and export resumed by a fair agreement as soon as possible, and it has pressed both parties to negotiate seriously under the facilitation of the African Union. It has shown no interest in any other solution than utilizing the existing infrastructure, which was built by the Chinese for this purpose. So it has played a low-key but very consistent and firm role.
I agree with de Waal. As I have noted before, China has engaged in an unprecedented "shuttle diplomacy" in Sudan. At the same time, Beijing's diplomatic dance at the United Nations has been fairly nuanced. After first resisting US-led efforts to pass a Security Council resolution with teeth (i.e. threats with sanctions) to stop the growing violence between the Sudan and South Sudan, Beijing joined the other SC members in a unanimous resolution threatening sanctions, at the request of the African Union. The contrast with Beijing's response to regional efforts by the Arab League regarding the Syria crisis is interesting (and would make a useful research paper).

For a bit more background on this, see the Think Africa article by James Green,