Wednesday, February 29, 2012

China, CNPC, and Chad: social and environmental responsibility

Chad Pipeline (credit Al-Jazeera)
A new China-Africa book from the French Agency for International Development (AFD). In French, (an English version is foreseen soon) this book provides a summary of research done in Chad and China (2010-2011) as a trilateral partnership: with UIBE (China), GRAMP-TC (Chad) and CIRAD, with financing from the French Agency for Development (AFD).  I haven't read it yet, but it looks fascinating. Fieldwork on concrete China-Africa case studies, done by researchers with the appropriate linguistic skills, background, and contacts, is sorely needed and most welcome.
Book Summary (courtesy of Romain Dittgen)

This book analyses the factors that influence environmental management in the CNPC when operating outside of China, in the outer margins of the world oil system, specifically in Chad, a Least Developed Country. Within a sector marked by the regulations inherited from the Exxon project in Doba (implemented since 2000 with initial World Bank support), the 2007 CNPC Rônier project aims at refining part of the extracted oil and exporting the remainder, most probably through the pipeline built under the Exxon Doba project. The question of the compatibility between the systems of reference and practices in both firms thus arises.Through the prism of social and environmental responsibility, this text analyses the challenges in the interaction between Chinese oil firms, host countries and OECD-based firms.

here to download (pdf version)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Four-Way Cooperation: China, France, Uganda, UK

One of the questions I get asked most often by US government officials is:  How can we (the US) do something cooperatively with China in Africa? The idea in Washington is that a successful cooperative development activity will help to build trust, something sorely lacking these days. My response has always been that whatever you do, it needs to be focused on mutual benefit. The oil industry is an obvious place where vast scope exists for some kind of cooperation based on benefits to all three parties (social, environmental, developmental -- moving up the value chain). So far, it doesn't seem to have happened.

That's why Uganda is interesting. It's not the US, but rather China-Uganda-UK-France. China Daily reported February 21, 2012, that CNOOC (a Chinese oil company), France's Total SA, the UK company Tullow Oil, and Uganda are discussing a joint investment in a refinery to process Uganda's newly discovered oil (the country currently imports all of its petroleum products. No doubt if the project goes forward, a Chinese company will build the refinery. It's developmental, cooperative, "win-win." Can't the US foster something similar, somewhere?

H/T to Chinascope

Monday, February 20, 2012

Links I Liked: Chinese Loans in Latin America

I've been participating in a group on China-Latin American organized by the Latin America Dialogue here in Washington, DC. A new report, "The New Banks in Town: Chinese Finance in Latin America," presented to our group by Kevin Gallagher and colleagues on Thursday last week shows us how much higher Chinese financial commitments are in Latin America than they appear to be in Africa: "upwards of some $75 billion" since 2005.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Links I Liked: Brazil & Zimbabwe

Are the other emerging powers following the Chinese embrace of Africa? The Zimbabwe Herald (which is seen in Zim as the govt's mouthpiece) reported in late October, 2011, that Brazil had provided a $300 million loan to Zimbabwe for agricultural support.

If true, it shows how great emerging powers think alike. In March 2011, China Development Bank extended a $342 million loan to Zimbabwe to finance agricultural machinery imports (from China). Interesting that Brazil, a robust democracy, seems to be following Chinese footsteps in doing state-directed business with a government still seen in the US and Europe as one of Africa's foremost pariahs.

A h/t to Peking University's Center for African Studies.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Links I Liked: China's Training Programs

A dry list to some, a treasure trove of information on one aspect of the notoriously "untransparent" Chinese aid program to others.

Here is a link to a list of 129 training programs for officials and nominees from Asian countries, sponsored by China's foreign aid program, and held in China, in 2011. (This particular list was circulated in Pakistan.) Most seminars are about a month. The list has the implementing organization and the seminar topics include, inter alia:
  • Economic management
  • Learning "commercial" Chinese (this one is three months) 
  • Management of community-based Red Cross and Red Crescent projects
  • Female capacity building
  • Coastal region economic development
  • Eco-agriculture
  • Railway construction, planning, and engineering
  • Pediatric critical care
  • Financial openness and financial risk control
  • Grain storage technology
and so on ...

Links I Liked: William Wallis on China, Europe, Africa

William Wallis, the Financial Time's Africa correspondent, reflects -- in "China Builds on Europe's Africa Ruins" -- on the new AU Headquarters. Wallis ponders the contrast between the Chinese approach and that of Europe, noting French president Nicholas Sarkozy's October 2007 speech in Dakar (which barely made a ripple):
“The tragedy of Africa is that the African has never really entered history,” Mr Sarkozy said to open mouths in the audience and a barrage of outrage on web sites throughout French-speaking Africa. “The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words. In this realm of fancy there is neither room for human endeavour nor the idea of progress.”

Buried though they were in broader remarks, the French president’s comments were reminiscent of the Hegelian underpinnings of colonial thinking and the notion that African history only began when Europeans brought “progress”. It was an extreme example of the kind of outmoded thinking which still influences debate about Africa in the west.
Wallis also notes (as I pointed out in The Dragon's Gift), China has been building Ministry of Foreign Affairs buildings (and some Ministry of Defense buildings) as diplomatic gifts for African governments in many countries. My thought was that this helps boost good will and soft power in a key ministry. Wallis wondered "has Beijing hardwired African diplomacy to its own advantage?" An interesting question. Perhaps these ministry buildings would benefit from a thorough "bug cleaning"?

A hat tip to Henry Hall at China Africa News.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Guest Post: Human Rights Watch Responds to Critique of China in Zambia Study

Zambian miners
Below is Human Rights Watch's response to Sautman and Yan's critique, summarized yesterday in China Africa: The Real Story.

My blog post and comments on the debate continue below the Scribd text. (If you can't read the insert, please let me know! This is a novel technology for me, as the coding in these guest posts for some reason made them impossible to simply insert.)

Human Rights Watch Responds

From my point of view, an anonymous comment on my original blog post sums up some of the valid criticism: "This report is a case of truth in facts, not truth in reporting..."

I agree that the report provides pretty convincing evidence of human rights problems, and some improvements, in one Chinese company in Zambia -- unlike Sautman and Yan, I don't have the knowledge or the stamina to examine all of the details of the research. And it's likely that other Chinese companies share some of these problems across Africa. But I am bothered that the draft of the study that I reviewed did not contain a comment that later jumped out at me when I read the published summary. Here it is, in bold:

Over the past decade, China has rapidly increased its investment throughout Africa. But while many commentaries have examined the ambivalent relationship between China and Africa, few have systematically examined what Chinese investment means in human rights terms, particularly for Africans employed by China’s state-owned companies. By investigating the specific practices of particular Chinese employers, the conditions of a given set of workers, and the enforcement of labor laws by a particular African government, it is possible to begin to paint a picture of China’s broader role in Africa (emphasis added).

Why does this bother me? Two reasons:

First, the particular Chinese company in Zambia chosen for the study has had a history of very highly publicized labor conflicts, and one terrible disaster where over 50 Zambians died in an explosion. Imagine if the Nature Conservancy had written: "by investigating British Petroleum (BP)'s Deepwater project in the Gulf of Mexico [remember? the big spill?], it is possible to begin to paint a picture of Britain's broader role in North America." I think most people would say: huh?

Second, I was also surprised by the choice of words, that HRW felt that their study was "the beginning" of painting a picture of China's broader role in Africa. Many serious reseachers have already done detailed studies of a number of aspects of China's role in Africa. These studies are, together, aggregating up into a more detailed picture. The HRW study surely fits into this picture, but it is not the start. And the picture of China in Africa is far more complicated than labor relations in one -- or even all -- Chinese-owned mines.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Guest Post "One Barking Dog Sets the Whole Street a-Barking"

Miner in Zambia             photo credit: Reuters
In early November 2011, a brief spate of headlines followed the publication of Human Rights Watch's report on labor practices in a major Chinese company in Zambia: "You'll Be Fired If You Refuse: Labor Abuses in Zambia's Chinese State-owned Copper Mines." HRW thanks me for reading and commenting on a pre-publication draft of the report. I also met with HRW's main researcher Matt Wells, a young lawyer, and several others at HRW as the idea for a report coalesced into actual research.

It was clear to me that Matt Wells was trying to do a careful, balanced report, that Chinese labor practices in African mines are roundly felt to be in need of improvement. While I offered some suggestions for improvements, overall I thought the research was sound, and that Matt and HRW had done due diligence in his reporting on the realities of working for one Chinese mining company.

For most people who heard about it, the HRW report was a headline, and little more. But for a small group of people who follow China-Africa relations very closely, the debate over the report has continued, amongst ourselves, and in the pages of the South African magazine Pambazuka. [click here for the lengthy Pambazuka critique of the HRW report by two Hong Kong academics, Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, and here for HRW's response, and here for Sautman and Yan's rejoinder.]

I invited HRW and Sautman/Yan to do shorter guest posts here at China Africa: the Real Story. Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong's critique follows, and HRW's response will be in a separate post (technology limitations).

Guestpost:  One Barking Dog Sets the Whole Street a-Barking

Yan Hairong and Barry Sautman

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that singles out Chinese state-owned enterprise(SOE) China Non-ferrous Metals Mining Co. (CNMC) as 'the worst´ foreign-investor in Zambia's copper mining industry exemplifies a Chinese proverb:  'one barking dog sets the whole street barking.´ As soon as HRW leveled its accusation,thousands of media sources rephrased it as proof that 'the Chinese´ were the super-exploitersof Africa. That was entirely predictable, as the HRW report had cued such pronouncements by stating that it is 'a useful magnifying lens into Chinese labor practices in Africa´ that³begin[s] to paint a picture of China's broader role in Africa.´ HRW thereby called to mindlongstanding stereotypes of Chinese cruelty and bolstered the anti-Chinese atmosphere beingfostered by Western politicians and media in response to China's rise (See, e.g. 'On Recent Beijing Visit, a Tall Order for Zambia VP,´ Voice of America, Jan. 10, 2012).

Friday, February 3, 2012

Links I Liked: China, Gabon, Forestry Dialogue

photo credit: China Talking Points (2010)
Sometimes I come across China-Africa links that may not have caught many reader's eyes. With a bow to Chris Blattman, I'm going to institute a new practice of "Links I Liked" to bring these to readers' attention, in addition to my own original blog posts and commentaries.

"Dialogue between IFIA and Asian operators in the Congo Basin forestry sector"  (May 22, 2008).

This rather dry sounding title describes a fascinating workshop held in May 2008 in Libreville, Gabon, on responsible forestry activities. The Congo Basin Forestry Partnership and the Inter-African Forest Industries Association met with Asian (mainly Chinese and ethnic Chinese) companies active in the forestry sector.

The Germans sponsored it all, with the intention that "dialogue, of course, should particularly include the new arrivals, not necessarily aware of all of the region’s efforts and progress in promoting sustainable forest management."

The Chinese were interested, particularly in the business realities of certification. Some 80 people attended the workshop, including many "new arrivals" -- people from Beijing but also the local Chinese embassy, Chinese companies CAITEC, TBNI, LGG-Gabon, WWF-China, Sinopec, China Eximbank -- as well as dozens of Gabonese and non-Gabonese environmental associations.

Meet Ms Li Kun, a representative of COFCO, a major Chinese corporation with 850,000 hectares of forestry concessions in Gabon. She describes COFCO's plans to obtain Ecocertifor Véritas certification for their products, their use of MICRO BOIS traceability and exploitation follow-up software. The COFCO Group in Gabon currently employs more than 530 people, 80% of whom are Gabonese nationals.

What happened? Another good follow-up topic for student summer research...

For more on Chinese extractive activities in Gabon and DRC see this excellent report by Swedish scholar Johanna Jansson. H/T to Eric Olander at China Talking Points (and to Johanna).

post-script from Johanna, who had trouble posting this comment on the blog:

I am just catching up with your blog and I am amazed at all the new, thoughtful and useful content. Your energy is quite something. Thanks for the blog!
Thanks also for linking to the report. I did some later field work in Gabon in 2010 in collaboration with Brainforest, Cifor and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs on forestry, mining and fisheries, never managed to make much of the data beyond the report for Cifor since I started my PhD shortly afterwards, but I wrote an update for Pambazuka: click here.

DB adds: Some of the Cifor research has been published as part of a series on the impact of Chinese trade and investment on forestry in Africa: See it here.