Posts Tagged ‘外交政策’

The Stark Differences Between Western and African Views on China

Friday, April 16th, 2010

bloomberg_television_logo_svgThis brief interview on Bloomberg Television highlights the dramatic differences in worldview between Westerners and Africans when it comes to their view of China.  Journalist Maryam Nemazee asks Adam Mahamat of the China-Africa Business Council with seeming incredulity as to how China can succeed where the West has failed.  In what is now becoming a rather typical answer from Africans across the continent, the fact that the Chinese do not have a brutal colonial past hanging over their current activities accounts for a lot.  Furthermore, it cannot be overstated how many African governments regard the American & European political efforts to impose transparency, legal and political reforms to be paternalistic and patronizing.  On a number of occasions, African bureaucrats have publicly complained over Washington’s hypocrisy of imposing political reforms that are not even available in the United States.  So while the American government is demanding that Kenya and other governments not spy on its own citizens’ email and phone calls, the PATRIOT Act remains in force that grants the U.S. authority to do exactly that to its own citizens.  U.S. diplomats in Africa acknowledge contradictions like this but prefer to think of them as exceptions whereas many of their African counterparts find relief in the Chinese who make no such impositions.

When will Western journalists finally wake up to the reality that the European and American adventures in Africa have been a failure — be it as colonizers or in an aid & development context?  This supposition that somehow the Chinese are going to be worse than the West is objectionable on so many levels and clearly highlights the potent paternalism regarding Africa that remains in force among too many in the Western press corps.  The list of past and present Western sins in Africa is far too long, bloody and painful to give Americans and Europeans the benefit of the doubt in this debate.  While Beijing deserves careful scrutiny of its activities in Africa, it is also entitled to fair, impartial questioning from the media.

China in Africa: the BBC’s Annoying Interview of Liu Guijin

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

BBC iplayer imageIt’s not often that senior Chinese officials make themselves available for interviews with the international media, especially in English.  So when I first heard that the BBC World Service’s “Business Today” radio program was to interview Beijing’s top diplomat on African Affairs Ambassador Liu Guijin I was genuinely excited. Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last long.  Host Steve Evans, like so many of his colleagues in the Western media, employed what has now come to be a rather standard cynicism whenever talking with Chinese officials.  It’s the same tone that we hear in the coverage over the internet in China where despite an incredible expansion in the Chinese information marketplace, journalists like Evans focus on the singular question of “what if someone wants to look up the Dalai Lama on Google?”  While I don’t dispute that China’s limitations on the freedom of speech is a legitimate issue, I do take exception when it becomes the ONLY issue.  There’s a similar trend occurring with the international media’s coverage of the Chinese in Africa.  Just as with the freedom of speech story, there are a numerous areas where China’s African foreign policy deserves credible scrutiny.  Its arm sales to despotic leaders (Robert Mugabe), support of brutal authoritarian regimes (Sudan) and active involvement in official corruption (The DR Congo) are all worthy of questioning and investigation.  However, the story of the Chinese in Africa is far more textured than just the shortcomings of Beijing’s policies on the continent.  Evans, like so many other journalists, approaches the story with a visible level of cynicism that  ultimately deprives the listener of understanding the nuances of this important story.  China’s engagement with Africa has changed the geopolitical landscape on the continent, for better and worse.  Yet, on this rare occasion to engage the Ambassador in a constructive exchange over the pros and cons of Beijing’s policies, we are led down the path of cliches about how China would respond to an African country inviting the Dalai Lama to visit.  Who cares?  This is such an extreme point with little representation of any larger issue relevant to China’s political involvement in Africa (scroll down for more on this part of the story).

Listen to the full interview here.

Here is a summary and critique of the issues addressed in the interview:


Evans opens the interview by asking Liu about “China’s motive” in Africa.  There’s nothing actually wrong with the question, there’s just an arrogance to it through the use of the word “motive.”  It’s comparable to how the BBC, CNN and other international news organizations selectively use the word “regime” to define a government.  Somehow,  Beijing is a “regime” and Washington is a “government.”  The word “regime,” as does “motive,” has a distinctly negative connotation that is rarely applied to Western governments.  I have never heard a comparable question of what “America’s motive” is anywhere in the world.   It should go without saying that China’s “motive” in Africa is multifaceted driven by a blend of economic, political, humanitarian and military interests — no different than Washington, London or Paris’ “motives” in the region.

Importantly, Liu does highlight a key difference between the Chinese perspective on Africa and that in the West.  For most government and populations in the U.S. and Europe, Africa is regarded as a basket case of war, disease, famine and decades of failed development policies.  In contrast, Liu highlights, the Chinese see Africa as opportunity.  Beyond the obvious extractive industries, the Chinese are engaging the continent as an export market that the West long ago abandoned.   Furthermore, China’s development policies in Africa are proving to be far more effective than those of bloated, expensive and ineffective Western aid agencies.  Liu rightly points that China’s effectiveness is leading to enhanced political ties in the region at the expense of the former colonial and international powers.


Following the international community’s successful sanctions campaign against South Africa’s former apartheid government in the late 80s and early 90s, a pipe dream still exists within the UN, US and the EU that sanctions are an effective tool at isolating despotic governments.   Yet after two decades of evidence to the contrary where Myanmar, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe and many others have defied international sanctions policies, the presumption that sanctions actually work persists.   It was refreshing then to hear Ambassador Liu challenge this conventional wisdom by clearly stating that China does not support sanctions measures because mass populations suffer disproportionately compared to the elites.  Liu was responding to Evans’ question about China’s unwillingness to join the West to coordinate a sanctions policy against Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe.   China, as mentioned earlier in this post, should be scrutinized for its military sales to Zimbabwe but not on the issue of supporting yet another failed sanctions policy.


One has to wonder what the Western media would do without the Dalai Lama.  He is such a convenient package for journalists who are either too lazy or too uninformed to know better that a question about the DL offers very little insight on Chinese policy.  Ambassador Liu stuck to the party line with his response that the DL is a separatist political figure who seeks to divide China.    Now, I understand what Evans was trying to achieve with the question by implying that if an African country invited the Dalai Lama to visit it would no doubt complicate relations with Beijing.  The reason why it is such an objectionable question in the context of Chinese foreign policy in Africa there are so many  more pressing and relevant issues that need to be addressed with someone at Ambassador Liu’s level.


1) Describe China’s military presence in Africa specifically the PLA base in the DRC’s Katanga province.  Is the purpose of the base to be part of a multilateral peacekeeping operation or its own deployment to protect Chinese interests in the eastern DRC?  Should we expect to see a larger presence of Chinese military and armed private contractors on the continent?

2) The industrial deforestation tools the Chinese are using for logging in Mozambique, Congo and Zimbabwe among other areas is raising serious concerns that the Chinese are hollowing out Africa’s forests at rate that is unsustainable.  Is China monitoring this trend and what specific protections, if any, are in place to prevent this from occuring?

3) With hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants coming to Africa each year, what is the feedback he is receiving from host governments on the presence of this large, new population?  In places like Namibia and Zambia, there is growing discontent by political leaders over the presence of an increasingly large Chinese population.  How is he responding to these challenges?


The Western media’s blatant double standard for how it treats different governments is the most annoying aspect of this whole affair.  Compare, for example, this CNN feature that goes behind the scenes on how their reporter & camerawoman interact with the U.S. military in Afghanistan.  The CNN crew is embedded with Alpha Company and as such eats, sleeps and seemingly enjoys each other’s company.  ITN and the BBC did comparable puff stories embedded with British troops in both the Iraqi and Afghan theater of operations.  This chuminess with the militaries extends to their political leaders as well when journalists like Steve Evans rarely use that same cynical approach in interviews as they so often do with Chinese leaders.

It’s really too bad as we would all benefit from less fluff coverage of Western governments and more balanced coverage of China.

Message to the West: Just Open Your Eyes

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Living here in Kinshasa, it is immediately apparent that China’s engagement is re-shaping both the Democratic Republic of the Congo but the continent as a whole.    To anyone on the ground here, it should be obvious.   I said should be obvious because despite the massive infrastructure projects and the presence of tens of thousands of Chinese immigres in Kinshasa, most European and Americans still cannot seem to grasp the depth and breadth of the power shift that is happening right now.  Whenever the topic arises in discussion with Westerners here, even among development specialists and other professionals who should be acutely aware of these kinds of trends, there is this universal puzzled reaction that takes hold.  Sometimes I feel like the guy from the “Holiday Inn” commercial who just appears at NASA to help launch a rocket and after a successful take-off, the other space engineers ask the guy “do you work here?” and he answers “nah, I just slept at a Holiday Inn.”  Well, I it really feels like I am that guy.    The development business is well entrenched here and yet, whenever I inquire with any of these expat professionals about their impressions of Chinese engagement in either the DR Congo or Africa as a whole, they have nothing to say.  Nothing.  The entire subject draws a blank.  10 minutes later, this odd role reversal takes hold and the guy who’s been here for just 9 days is educating the institutional professionals with decades of experience yet appear to have little or no knowledge on this critically important phenomenon.

There is a massive knowledge gap among the vast majority of Americans and Europeans both here and in the West about the scale of  China’s foreign policy in Africa.    What so many Westerners appear to be ignore is how China is re-shaping international relations in this part of the world and that is leading to diminished influence for Washington and Brussels, potential severe climate change consequences and the likelihood that Beijing will have exclusive control of certain strategic raw materials.

The Chinese are engaged here.  They are on the ground in ways that Americans and Europeans could never conceive.  Moreover, the scope of that engagement is truly breathtaking and now researchers are beginning to get a grasp of the magnitude of their involvement in Africa.

USC China MapThe USC U.S.-China Center has produced an interactive high-level overview of where Chinese investment in Africa is flowing.   Mouse over the different countries to get a brief summary of China’s investment there.  It’s also interesting that they have highlighted the growing number of Chinese language and cultural centers known as “Confucian Institutes.”  This map is an excellent first step to better understanding the scope of Chinese investment across the continent.   What is astonishing is that the vast majority of the investment detailed on this map has happened within the past 5-7 years!  When you see firsthand the amount of equipment, people and supplies the Chinese have imported here, it gives you pause.  Simply put, the Chinese are bringing the same fanatical zeal for development that transformed their own society to the African infrastructure projects that are now reshaping dozens, if not hundreds of cities like Kinshasa.

While this is by no means a zero-sum game or Cold War-style face-off between China and the West, if the West continues to essentially ignore China’s aggressive, new global outlook, its already diminishing international standing will no doubt continue to deteriorate.

Welcome to the Congo, now pay up!

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Sicomines(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo) — on this my first night in the capital, I thought it would be fitting to talk about what it actually takes to get here.  For the average visitor, it’s rather straightforward: pay the $75 visa fee, show your Yellow Fever vaccination card and you are a welcome visitor to the DRC.  Now, if I happen to represent a company, say a Chinese company, the price of admission is considerable higher.  No, let me rephrase that… ASTRONOMICALLY higher.  In some excellent reporting by the website Africa-Asia Confidential, some of the first reports are emerging over just how much the Chinese have paid to access the DR Congo’s vast natural resources.

  • Chinese contractors in the Sicomines mining consortium are reported to have paid a $350 million dollar entry fee that includes some $50 million in signing bonuses given out to varies Congolese entities.
  • $23 million of that $50 million is now reported to be “missing” or “unaccounted for,” according to Africa-Asia Confidential.
  • The $350 million dollars was a small part of a $6 billion ore-for-infrastructure contract between Chinese state-owned companies and the Congolese mining giant Gecamines (other Congolese companies are also reported to be included in this deal).

Read the full report “Kinshasa’s Missing Millions” from Africa-Asia Confidential here…

The lack of accountability and transparency in China’s natural resource deals in both the DR Congo and across Africa are now starting to show signs that it may ultimately weaken China’s position on the continent.   Here in Kinshasa, President Joseph Kabila is making some of his first public remarks on his growing impatience with the Chinese.  It’s worth noting that Kabila’s comments are worth taking with a huge chunk of salt as he is likely posturing to pressure the Chinese to finish their infrastructure projects so he can claim credit ahead of next year’s presidential elections.  Furthermore, there is widespread speculation that Kabila himself may be among the beneficiaries of some of those “missing Kinshasa millions.”  Nonetheless, that he feels sufficiently embolden to begin using public pressure against the Chinese is noteworthy.

Kabila may in fact be following the lead of Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata who came within a hair’s breadth of winning the October 2008 presidential elections.  Sata ran his campaign on a platform opposing Chinese investment in Zambia, calling the nature of the deals unfair and “colonial.”  Sata, and potentially now Kabila, may be the first indications of growing unease over the speed, scope and scale of Chinese investments in the region.  Their main criticism: labor.  Unlike the waves of foreign investment by former colonial powers, the Chinese have added a distinctive twist to their investments.  Rather than rely on local labor to implement the huge number of infrastructure projects across the country, tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasant laborers have been imported to build the ports, roads, mines and telecommunications infrastructure projects Beijing promised in return for access to the host country’s natural resources.  Before anyone else in Africa complained, Sata was a vocal critic of these deals.  If elected, he promised to re-negotiate the labor contracts to make them more equitable for Zambia by reducing the presence of Chinese workers.  Sata’s threats were heard in Beijing with the government there threatening to end its investment program in Zambia if the opposition leader was elected.  Sata lost by a very small margin.

The DR Congo and Zambia are not alone in their gnawing frustration over the use of imported Chinese labor.  In Southeast Asia, the New York Times reports growing resentment in Vietnam and other nations over the presence of Chinese workers at the expense of local labor.  So the key question now is how will Beijing react to what appears to be a small, yet discernible trend opposing their overseas labor policy:

  1. Will they ignore the criticism and continue to employ the aggressive natural resource-for-infrastructure deals?
  2. The Chinese are extremely sensitive to public opinion at home and have become quite adept at responding to shifting political winds.  Will they apply that same dexterity with their natural resource-driven foreign policy?
  3. Will they offer a few minor face-saving public gestures to satisfy their overseas critics that provide sufficient political cover to continue their operations minus a small percentage of imported Chinese labor?

It would be unwise to bet against the Chinese.  I have done it numerous times in the past and I have regretted it later.  That said, the Chinese are in a totally new space here and they are operating without precedent in international relations.  No country has expanded its natural resource extraction footprint as quickly, aggressively and with as much man power as the Chinese have.  So Beijing must learn as it goes.  For the rest of us, this will be among the most important foreign policy lessons of our generation.

(中文) 美国人有多不了解中国在非洲的崛起

Monday, February 15th, 2010

china us oil small大多数中国人难以完全理解美国人是多么漠视发生在自己国界之外的事件。中国观察员在这方面的困惑一点都不难理解,因为从他们观察角度来看,美国是一个远比中国更为开放和全球化的国家。所以美国人怎能对重大的地理政治变化视而不见?是的,他们确实是这样的,最明显的例子就是,目前在非洲大陆,根据几个可靠的评估,美国这个最大的投资者正处在被中国替代的边缘。 “好吧,那又怎样?”那些怀疑论者会说。投资模式随着时间发生改变,有时候美国是第一,有时候不是,这是公平的。不过,我请你们考虑的一项非常重要的发展在非洲造成的后果:石油。 (more…)

Richard Behar on China’s March into Africa

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

rbeharVeteran journalist and overall China-skeptic Richard Behar gives an interesting overview of China’s rapid economic ascent across Africa in this January 27, 2010 speech at the University of Nebraska.  Behar is best know for writing an excellent 24-page special report on China in Africa for the U.S. business magazine “Fast Company.” If you have not read this report, it is highly recommended as it provides a comprehensive overview of the changing geopolitical landscape. Furthermore, this Nebraska speech may also be worth an hour of your time.  Although he is a bit heavy on the cliches, he lays out an interesting perspective on the declining influence of Western powers in Africa and China’s meteoric rise.  Watch the full interview here.

Among his key points:

  • African governments prefer to deal with China who does not lecture them on political transparency or human rights.
  • China does not impose arduous restrictions on aid.
  • Memories in Africa are long, remembering back to the Cold War era where the West supported brutal dictators.
  • Chinese aid to Africa is now believed to exceed World Bank assistance.
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo and its vast natural resources is the big prize for China in Africa.
  • There are more Chinese embassies in Africa than any other nation.
  • More Chinese citizens are believed to live in Africa than any other foreign country.
  • Half the supermarkets in Lesotho are owned by Chinese merchants.
  • There are more Chinese in Nigeria than there were Britons at the height of the British empire.
  • China’s corrupt business culture meshes well with much of the culture of corruption in African business.
  • Africa is now the number one transit point for Chinese counterfeit products going to the West.
  • The effects of counterfeit Chinese pharmaceuticals across Africa will never be known.
  • American presidents have been misguided in thinking that increased trade with China will lead to more freedom there.
  • Chinese timber operators are decimating Mozambican forests.  Locals call it the “great Chinese take out.”
  • China is now the world’s top consumer of timber and is looking to Africa as a new source of raw timber.
  • Any African nation that accepts money from Beijing must sever ties with Taiwan.
  • 1-2 million DR Congolese workers are “indentured” to Chinese mine owners earning $3 per day (“on a good day.”)
  • China now obtains a 1/3 of its oil from Africa and Equatorial Guinea is central to their oil strategy in Africa.
  • China is getting most of the new oil contracts at rates U.S. and other international companies cannot match.
  • Africans and Chinese see Western hypocrisy in their talk of political reform while funneling World Bank money to dictators.

BBC Newsnight: Chinese Influence in Zambia (Part 2)

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

news_newsnightOne of the central questions to consider when watching this BBC Newsnight report on China’s growing influence in Zambia is how Beijing’s insatiable need for natural resources will clash with China’s instinctive policy of non-interference in other countries internal affairs?  For most of China’s Communist-era, the non-interference doctrine has served as one of the main pillars of its foreign policy.  Yet, what constitutes interference?  Just by the scale of China’s investments in comparably small economies like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, it can be credibly argued that China’s involvement does have a distorting effect to the political, economical and even cultural environments of these countries.  Is that “interference” per say?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It is clear though that Zambia highlights the new challenges to the once simple non-interference” doctrine.

(中文) 中国在非洲找油遭遇阻力-华尔街日报

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Sorry, this entry is only available in 中文.

(中文) 中国悬而未决的中东外交政策

Thursday, October 8th, 2009


因此中国政府从根植于革命意识到基于务实政治的政策调整必然经历了一个走势急剧的学习曲线. 今天,中国中东政策的中心目标可用一个词来概括:平衡. (more…)