January 12, 2006

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China: Africa's New Colonizer?

An article in the Times of London provocatively covers Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's visit to Africa to tie up various natural resource contracts, including a US$2.3 bn MOU with Nigeria to get access to one of its oilfields. To quote the article:

China now obtains about 28 per cent of its oil imports from Africa — mainly Angola, Sudan and Congo. Chinese companies have snapped up offshore blocks in Angola, built pipelines in Sudan and have begun prospecting in Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.

Chinese interests are not limited to energy. One of the biggest Chinese mining operations on the continent is the Chambishi copper mine in Zambia. In South Africa, China-controlled ASA Metals Ltd said last week that it wanted to triple output of ferrochrome — an alloy used in stainless steel to deter corrosion — by 2008. And Chinese investors are seeking nickel deposits in such fragile nations as Burundi.

Chinese-funded enterprises in Africa increased by 77 in 2004 to 715. The new companies invested $135 million with plans for investment of $432 million, a Chinese official said.

Trade has soared. Two-way trade leapt 39 per cent in the first ten months of last year to £18 billion. Exports totalled $15.25 billion while imports reached $16.92 billion. Between 2002 and 2003, trade soared by 50 per cent to $18.5billion — the fastest growth China has seen with any region.

The numbers are impressive, but what really makes the article controversial is the final paragraphs:
Some African businessmen complain that China is flooding the continent with cheap goods and putting domestic manufacturers out of business.

To counter such criticisms, China ensures that its investments are accompanied by medical and other humanitarian aid, scholarships and generous construction projects. Chinese scholars bristle at suggestions that Beijing is mining the continent for resources needed to fuel the Chinese manufacturing machine.

He Wenping, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said: “Western media says China is carrying out a ‘new colonialism’ in Africa. That is a deliberate distortion of mutually beneficial China-Africa co-operation. China has built large-scale industries and supplied badly needed skills and funds to African countries.”

I have to say that while some of the regimes that China cozies up to, like Burma, North Korea or Zimbabwe are very unsavory, what they are up to in Africa is generally no different from most Western powers. In general, Africa is hardly offering up compelling alternatives to Chinese goods, and this even with the high tariff barriers many of the African states maintain. Seems like alarmist journalism to me from the Times. What do you think?

posted by HK Dave on 01.12.06 at 11:05 AM in the China politics category.


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