Battlepanda: China's Betting on Africa


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

China's Betting on Africa

Have you ever gotten really tired with a blog that is good but at the same time relentlessly focused and biased on one topic? I feel that way about the Peking Duck. I'm no fan of the PRC. But over at the Duck it seems every other post is about the evils of the PRC (and the various problems of chinese society in general) in shrill and blindered terms.

Case in point, Ivan's recent post about China's recent diplomatic moves to build closer ties with Africa:

I've heard enough. Enough of this stomach-churning shit about bloody Communist China's "friendship" with the various nations of Africa. [snip]

And there's a LOT of bullshit going on in China's current propaganda campaign about the (deeply racist) Communist Party's "friendship" with "Africa" (whatever the hell "Africa" is, "Africa" is far, far more diverse, culturally and religiously and politically, than Europe is.....)

Thus, let me apply Occam's Razor to the current Chinese Communist Party propaganda campaign vis a vis "Africa" (whatever the hell "Africa" is, as I said, "Africa" is even more diverse than Europe is):

The CCP is just re-hashing the old (and failed) Mao-ist attempt to justify the CCP's claim to unchallenged dictatorship by positing a fantasy of the CCP being the (Leninist) "leader" of the "developing world."

In other words, this ridiculous propaganda campaign has at least as much to do with the CCP's desperate attempts to rationalise its Leninist claim to unchallenged (historically "inevitable") dictatorship, as it has to do with any predatory economic ambitions which the PRC has in Africa.
It's easy to get queasy when you think about an anti-democratic behemoth like China doing business with the kind of ugly, corrupt tinpot dictators that seems to be endemic to Africa. However, since when has the West's approach of alternate applications of exploitation and charity ever done anything good for Africa? Besides, to be perfectly honest, the U.S. has never backed off making deals with bad, bad, people when it suited us, and the world would be a worse place if we stopped. Put yourself in the place of an average African: given the way things are over most of the continent, what would you find preferable? More of the same, or a crack at change, China style?

There's some legitimate concerns that if the Chinese are just after the oil and other raw materials and thus will not help African countries' industrial development beyond those sectors. However, from what I've seen, those raw materials are what the African economy is going to have to go on for now and the Chinese are giving them a far sweeter deal than other countries. They're building infrastructures and building relationships with resource-rich nations that are currently basket cases in a way that could pay off big down the line.

The law of diminishing returns seems to suggest that capital should flow from developed nations, where the biggest investment opportunities are snapped up to developing nations which still have a lot of room to grow. But in the real world the opposite is frequently true for the investor as the security and infrastructure in many undeveloped countries are so damned bad. Think of China as a megainvestor who can overcome those obstacles to some degree -- they've got enough clout to bargain directly with the central gov and they're big enough to diversify in countries all over Africa.

(How valuable will close relationships with oil-producing African states like Nigeria and Angola be around 2030 to a country like China or the United States? Something to think about.)

As for the charges of racism...give me a break. I'm sure that Ivan is right in that each individual culture in Africa is like a unique snowflake. But given their shared need for development, I don't think the political correctness or otherwise of Chinese sloganmakers is at the top of their concerns right now. And please tell me, when you contrast the western and Chinese approach to Africa, which offers the more dignity to Africans?
The People’s Republic has declared 2006 “the Year of Africa.” The West had its own unofficial Year of Africa in 2005, and it is instructive to compare the two. The industrial nations conducted a sort of moral crusade, with advocacy organizations exposing Africa’s dreadful sores and crying shame on the leaders of wealthy nations and those leaders then heroically pledging, at the G8 meeting in July, to raise their development assistance by billions and to open their markets to Africa. Once everyone had gone home, the aid increase turned out to be largely ephemeral and trade reform merely wishful. China, by contrast, offers a pragmatic relationship between equals: the “strategic partnership” promised in China’s African policy is premised on “mutual benefit, reciprocity and common prosperity.” And the benefits are very tangible. Earlier this month, at a much-ballyhooed summit meeting in Beijing attended by political leaders from all but five African states (the ones that recognize Taiwan), the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, announced that China would provide $5 billion in preferential loans and credits over the next three years, effectively doubling aid to Africa, while canceling many outstanding debts. A dozen Chinese companies signed agreements for $1.9 billion worth of construction projects and investment.
[Article hat tip: Dymaxion World, where John adds some good comments.]