Very interesting interview by Ning Er of the Southern Metropolis Daily, with Li Anshan, international-relations professor at Beijing University, about China’s role in Africa. First part here, second part here.
Well worth reading the whole thing, but in this extract Li deals with the accusations of colonialism:
NE: But there has been criticism from the international community about China’s linking of “aid” and “investment” in Africa. The claim is that bundling aid and commercial activity together is a new form of colonialism.
LA: In February 2006, the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary [Jack Straw] said during a trip Nigeria that what China is now doing in Africa is the same as what the British did 150 years ago, and this sparked a discussion about China’s “new colonialism”.
But it’s a ridiculous comparison. Colonialism is an application of force, and China is in Africa on a foundation of equality and mutual benefit. In December 2007, I met with Nigeria’s consul-general to Hong Kong during a lunch meeting at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. He said that they wanted to do business with China – why? Because we can sit down as equals, to discuss and negotiate, and they don’t have that status when dealing with the west.
Or again, due to the unrest in Sudan, other nations pulled out and Sudan came to invite the Chinese in. In 2003, Canadian firm Talisman Energy withdrew from Sudan and CNPC wanted to take over Talisman’s interests [in an oil pipeline and production project] – but for the sake of diversity the Sudanese government opted to sell to an Indian firm, which was offering a higher price. But this didn’t affect CNPC’s partnership with Sudan. If China was colonialist, Sudan wouldn’t have been able to do this.
During my trip to Mali in April, we visited a sugar company in Ségou, the country’s second largest city. The plant was built with Chinese aid, but after completion and handover it failed to make a profit and became a joint venture. The president is a Chinese woman, but the vice-president is Malinese, as are many of the senior officials. Once the company was profitable, it was able to make significant improvements to its local area, which is now a small town with a residential area and a school – it was really moving to see that. One European academic on the trip was dubious, saying aid is aid, business is business, why mix them up? But in fact, whatever you do, as long as the area benefits it’s a good thing.
The west’s traditional aid model in Africa is in trouble, it’s moribund. Meanwhile China has been combining aid and investment since the 1990s, and that has provided huge stimulus to the projects involved. Zambian academic Dambissa Moyo wrote a book last year called Dead Aid, which was controversial in the west. She laid into western aid-giving, saying that the trillion dollars of aid poured into Africa over the last half-century had failed to have any positive outcome – and had, in fact, been damaging. I think the western model is unsustainable, and China should look to its own experience.