Archive for the ‘China in Africa’ Category

[AUDIO] China hardens stance against Libyan air strikes

Friday, March 25th, 2011

This article was originally published on

The Chinese government stepped up its criticism on Thursday of US and European air strikes on Libya. “We believe that the objective of enforcing the U.N. Security Council resolution is to protect humanitarian (objectives) and not to create an even bigger humanitarian disaster,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

Jiang’s comments are just the latest in a series critical signals to come from Beijing over how the coalition is implementing United Nations resolution 1973 that authorised the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya and the bombing of ground targets.

Although China abstained from the vote, Beijing has been very clear in its position that the coalition air attacks risk killing civilians and should be halted immediately.


[AUDIO] CTP Podcast – China’s Impact on Egypt’s Protests

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

China’s rise impacts the economy and political conscience of most countries. The scenes of protest and discontent seen across the Arab world January of 2011 center on a disaffected youth’s desire for a better future – and a say in the crafting of that future.

In this podcast, we debate and discuss the impact of China’s economy on Egypt. We see ramifications of the “China Price” impinging on business interests and China’s wealth creating standing in juxtaposition to what this generation of Egyptians have experienced.

Join us as we sort through perceived and real influences.

China in Africa Podcast: China and the Egyptian Uprising by ChinaTalkingPoints

[VIDEO] China faces new scrutiny in Africa (but this time it’s different)

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

A small, yet highly energetic group of demonstrators marched through the streets of South Africa’s Umlazi Township earlier this month to protest against what they claim is Beijing’s inadequate support for the United Nations’ anti-AIDS/malaria/tuberculosis initiative known as the “Global Fund.” Organized by the internationally recognized HIV/AIDS organization AHF Ithembalabantu Clinic located along the Eastern Cape in KwaZulu-Natal, the demonstrators rallied against Beijing for not living up to its financial responsibilities in the battle against HIV/AIDS transmission in Africa.

The clinic’s central charge is that China itself has benefitted enormously from the assistance provided by the Global Fund with $941 million in grants since 2002 yet Beijing has only contributed a paltry $16 million to the fund during that same period. Moreover, they add, now that China is the world’s second largest economy and Africa’s dominant trading partner, it now has the resources to not only consume less of the Global Fund’s resources but also contribute more of its own financial assets to help the fund’s activities in Africa.

This rally went entirely unnoticed by the international media and no doubt didn’t even register among Chinese officials in Pretoria. However, everyone should take notice.  There is a growing popular perception, particularly among many in the developing world, that China is no longer a victim of the industrialized world as it now itself is among the ranks of the major powers. The AHF demonstrators clearly suggest that China is facing an entirely different set of expectations among Africans than it did in the 20th century and that Beijing now has a different level of responsibilities that  it must live up to if wants to be taken seriously as a global leader (an assumption, by the way, that still remains to be seen in Africa).

The accusations of Global Fund greed are now just the latest on a expanding list of criticisms of China’s engagement in Africa.  Allegations of widespread environmental destruction, labor rights violations and a general lack of transparency in its dealings with African governments are all contributing to a growing sense of unease among a number of prominent African observers.

China would be well-advised to take heed from the message conveyed by the women outside of the AHF clinic. If Beijing wants to continue to deepen its influence in the region, the government needs to proactively engage its critics.  Engagement does not necessarily imply that the activists’ allegations are just or even accurate, but they must be acknowledged.  If Chinese officials fall back on their natural instincts to hide behind the walls and resist dialogue with their various African constituencies, then the frustrations expressed in KwaZulu-Natal will no doubt spread.

Why the US just doesn’t have a chance against the Chinese in Africa

Friday, December 10th, 2010

No doubt Africans across the continent likely reacted with puzzlement to one of the latest revelations from the stream of leaked United States diplomatic cables from the controversial whistle-blower website Wikileaks.  After a century of aggressive United States economic, political and military engagement in Africa, particularly during the Cold War, it is laughably ironic Washington is somehow dismayed that China’s foreign policy in the region may not be entirely benevolent.

While history may conclude that the ends did justify the means in the resolution of the Cold War, Africa undeniably paid an extraordinarily high price for its role in American foreign policy during that period.  Whether it was Washington’s alliance with brutal dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Jonas Savimbi in Angola or its support of the apartheid government in Pretoria as an anti-communist bulwark.

By any measure, the United States was, and remains, deeply invested in Africa for its own, narrow geo-political interests.

So when considered in that context, it is somewhat surprising that the United States appears to be dismayed that China, like other countries, is aggressively pursuing its own economic, political and even military interests in Africa.

In a memo transmitted from the United States Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria on February 23, 2010, Washington’s top diplomat on African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, said: “China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons, China is in Africa for China primarily.”

The fact that Carson framed the issue in moralistic terms is fascinating because it reveals so much about how the United States still regards its foreign policy as somehow above the fray, almost with a divine sense of self-righteousness.  Implicit in his response is that Washington is in Africa not for its own interests but for the benefit of Africa in pursuit of some “altruistic” purpose.  Again, this must seem painfully ironic to those familiar with the history of American foreign policy on the continent.

The Assistant Secretary of State goes on to explain that Washington’s tolerance of Beijing’s engagement in Africa does in fact have its limits if China crosses one of the White House’s so-called “tripwires.”

“Have they signed military base agreements? Are they training armies? Have they developed intelligence operations?  Once these areas start developing then the US will start worrying,” Carson said.

So the United States seemingly has nothing to worry about until Beijing embarks on a policy to significantly enhance the militarization of its African foreign policy?  Right? Well, it appears that Washington’s perspective adheres to that old adage if you think you’re a hammer then the rest of the world just looks like a bunch of nails.

If Carson’s narrow-minded focus on the militarization of Chinese foreign policy is the benchmark of when to “worry” about the competition from the Chinese and his characterization of China’s engagement in Africa in such stark moralistic terms, then the United States truly does not understand the challenge that it is up against and likely stands only a slim chance of mounting an effective policy of its own.

For an American, such as myself, it’s hard to decide whether to laugh… or cry.

Wikileaks reveals failures of Western aid in Africa

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

It really shouldn’t comes as a huge surprise that African governments have become tired of the West’s indulgent aid and development programs that place a significantly higher emphasis on “process” over actual results.  No doubt though that the latest damning Wikileaks release will shock, SHOCK, many in the Washington aid business as it reveals an increasingly painful truth that African governments find the USA’s and other Western governments’ obsession with “capacity building” to be tiresome.  Instead, according to the Kenyan ambassador to Beijing, Julius Ole Sunkuli, China’s focus on producing tangible results with its investment and development programs are far more preferable to many African governments.

Sunkuli claimed that Africa was better off thanks to China’s practical, bilateral approach to development assistance and was concerned that this would be changed by “Western” interference. He said he saw no concrete benefit for Africa in even minimal cooperation. Sunkuli said Africans were frustrated by Western insistence on capacity building, which translated, in his eyes, into conferences and seminars (REF C). They instead preferred China’s focus on infrastructure and tangible projects.

After all, why would any African government choose to have dozens of very well paid USAID officials write endless reports, attend numerous conferences that generate yet more reports all to little or no effect?  While this may seem like an exaggeration, the amount of bureaucracy and paperwork that has come to dominate the American aid process cannot be overstated.  Pretty much everyone inside the US aid industry itself will tell you, largely off the record, how demoralizing it is to be buried in spreadsheets and reports while producing little to no tangible benefit for those supposedly intended to benefit from American “aid.”

China’s emergence in Africa as a counterbalance to U.S. and European donors has been very positive for Africa by creating “competition” and giving African countries options. — US Embassy Beijing cable 2/11/2010

While US aid industry officials complain openly about the paperwork and bureaucracy that clearly inhibits efficiency, they will in turn defend American aid using moralistic language once only employed by evangelical Christians.  Without even a shred of humility, I have personally met dozens of US aid officials who argue passionately that China’s engagement in Africa will ultimately fail because of Beijing’s refusal to adopt “democratic principles.”  The United States in turn, according to their logic, as a “beacon of freedom” has a “moral” responsibility to employ “capacity building” techniques as a center piece of its aid program.  While this may sound pedantic, it is painfully typical of widely held sentiments throughout the American aid industry.

The level of self-righteousness on the part of US aid supporters is simply staggering.  One can only hope that this blunt assessment of the US aid process and the preference for Chinese projects that produce tangible results will serve as a long overdue wake-up call to an industry that desperately needs a new moral compass.

[AUDIO] China in Africa podcast: The Sino-U.S. Soft Power Showdown

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

China in Africa Podcast: The Sino-U.S. Soft Power Showdown

Travel to almost any African capital and even before you make it from the airport to downtown there is a very high likelihood you will pass a Chinese construction project along the way.  From the new terminal at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi to the main road connecting Kinshasa’s N’Djili Airport to the city center, the Chinese construction boom is immediately evident.

Simply put, the magnitude of China’s construction drive in Africa is so vast that only the rapid industrialization of the Chinese economy itself and the U.S.-funded Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II can compare in scale.

All this construction is a central component of Beijing’s foreign policy agenda where it builds roads, dams, hospitals and other badly needed infrastructure in developing countries in exchange for vital natural resources.  On the surface, this arrangement has all the hallmarks of pure mercantilism but to leave it at that overlooks critical subtleties that are now beginning to sway the balance of international influence across the continent.

In a recent article for the Asian affairs website “The Diplomat,” military affairs journalist David Axe details how Chinese construction projects are opening a new front in Beijing’s increasingly ambitious global soft power agenda.    China, he writes, is simultaneously competing for influence with the established foreign powers in Africa while copying Western diplomatic tactics.

“Where the U.S. sends soldiers, the Chinese build roads.  Their approach [to soft power diplomacy] could not be farther apart.” – Military Affairs Journalist, David Axe

Earlier this year, Axe spent two months in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where he covered a U.S. military joint training operation with the Congolese armed forces.  To get from his hotel to the training grounds, Axe and the U.S. troops drove along Boulevard 30 Juin, Kinshasa’s main thoroughfare that was recently re-paved and widened by the Chinese.  That road, Axe realized, had come to represent the stark differences in how Beijing is engaging with countries like the DRC and Washington’s growing reliance on its military:

“That China and the United States are in a race to gain sway over countries possessing vital natural resources, not only in Africa but across the developing world, is hardly news. But the scene in Kinshasa—US troops speeding down a Chinese-built road—underscores the differing strategies Washington and Beijing have tended to pursue. While it has fallen on the US military to lead the country’s forays into Congo and other mineral-rich nations, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan, China has traditionally preferred underwriting infrastructure projects.”

In addition to the public perception benefits associated with building infrastructure in many of the world’s poorest countries, Beijing is also turning to its military forces as another tool in its soft power diplomacy kit, according to Axe.  The deployment of Chinese naval forces off the coast of East Africa to take part in multi-national anti-piracy operations along with the launch of the new hospital ship “866” are two recent examples that Axe highlights to demonstrate how the Peoples Liberation Army (and navy — the PLAN) are playing an important role to shape African perceptions of the Chinese.

While media outlets like Xinhua and CCTV along with educational organizations such as the Confucius Institutes have traditionally been the centerpiece of China’s public diplomacy initiatives in Africa, it appears that Beijing may have a much broader soft power agenda that also includes all of those roads and bridges as well.

The interview with David Axe and other ‘China in Africa’ podcasts are all available on iTunes.  Click here for more information.

[AUDIO] China in Africa Podcast: “Aid, Trade & Some Indignation”

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

China in Africa Podcast: Aid vs. Trade in Africa

Sure, there’s a vigorous debate over just how many hundreds of billions of dollars the West has sent to Africa in the form of “aid” over the past half-century since colonial independence.  Some estimates put it in the trillions, while the OECD and others claim it’s merely in the 800 billion dollar range.  Regardless, the sums are huge.

That said, the amount of money is not what’s in question, the more pressing issue is what has all this “aid” actually accomplished?

The “aid” business

Each year NGOs, state actors and multi-lateral organizations like the UN pour ever greater sums of money into African states and rarely, if ever, are they actually held to account for the effectiveness of these costly programs.  Despite ever growing aid and development budgets, many of the key poverty indicators across Africa remain stubbornly high.

Aid industry critic and NYU professor William Easterly argues that the aid business itself is partially to blame for the problems.  The high level of professional incompetence on the part of too many young and inexperienced aid “experts” mixed with the economic distortions that result from the billions of aid dollars that flow through these countries often combine to form a toxic mix with debilitating consequences.

Enter the Chinese

Ten years after the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit that marked Beijing’s renewed enthusiasm for African engagement, the surge of Chinese investment, migration and influence across the continent is unmistakable. Like the West, the Chinese are pouring billions of dollars into Africa.  However, that money is largely going to support an aggressive agenda to acquire natural resources with complex cash and infrastructure deals.

Beijing’s so-called “No Strings Attached” trade-based approach has sparked the ire of Western governments and the aid industry who largely dismiss the Chinese as neo-mercantalists, even neo-colonials. That indignation, though, is prompting a growing number of analysts to raise their eyebrows.  Fellow African blogger and Beijing-based policy analyst Bradley Gardner highlighted in a recent article, “Aid, Trade & Some Indignation,” the inherent contradiction of EU/US states generously subsidizing their agricultural sectors that ultimately deprive developing world farmers of selling their goods at fair market value; subsequently impoverishing these states only to make them more dependent on Western aid.

The recent shooting of Zambian mine workers by Chinese supervisors and the well-documented corruption that accompanies many of China’s massive natural resource deals are indicative that Beijing’s African foreign policy is troubled in equally challenging ways.  However, the Chinese rejection of the Western aid model and the emphasis on trade deserves our attention.  After all, in a shorter period of time, China pulled more people out of subsistence poverty than any other society in human history — with only minimal international assistance.

Les Chinois En Afrique

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

The French radio network “Radio France International” has published a very interesting interactive map detailing Chinese investments, populations and infrastructure projects across Africa.  Although the map is in French it’s nonetheless easy to follow for non-Francophones and offers a great visualization of how vast China’s engagement with Africa has become.

It is important to remember that just five years ago this map would have looked entirely, with just a fraction of the dots on the map that highlight China’s economic activity.  For better and for worse, the Chinese have moved with unprecedented speed to enhance diplomatic ties with governments across the continent.  Furthermore, the migration of hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasants, laborers and entrepreneurs is another important facet of this engagement that the RFI map nicely illustrates.

[AUDIO] Chinese Relationship and Marriage Customs in Africa

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Chinese Relationship and Marriage Customs in Africa by ChinaTalkingPoints

There are no precise figures on the size of the Chinese population in Africa.  Given the fluidity of this immigrant population and the weak immigration controls in most African societies reliable numbers are just impossible to achieve.  There are very sophisticated networks that serve as pipelines for people to make the long journey from China to Africa, and not surprisingly, most of these are out of sight of Western observers.  Nonetheless, without foundation, a number of journalists and academics have speculated that the population now hovers around a million Chinese living across Africa.  If accurate, there are now more Chinese living in Africa than there were French residents at the height of the French colonial period in the 19th and 20th centuries, according to authors Serge Michel and Michel Beuret.

Despite the impressive size of the Chinese population on the continent, there is remarkably little investigation into the social and cultural aspects of this community.  The overwhelming majority of analysis about the Chinese in Africa, including on this blog, focus on the geo-political and economic impact while essentially ignoring the often poignant human stories of the individuals who have made this long inter-continental journey.

“You have a lot of young people who have to come of age in Africa where it is very difficult to find a partner and this creates a whole other dynamic within the [Chinese] community.”   – Solange Chatelard, Sino-Zambian relations scholar

In this edition of the “China in Africa” podcast, Sino-Zambian relations scholar Solange Guo Chatelard  details why traditional Chinese marriage and relationship customs are critical to understanding the social glue that binds the Chinese diaspora in Africa.  While it goes without saying that immigrants of all kinds bring along their social customs, Chatelard explains that in Africa there are unique challenges confronting Chinese immigrants that often frustrate their ability to easily replicate longheld relationship, courtship and  marriage customs.

The China in Africa podcast is produced weekly and is available on iTunes.

The Personal Challenge of Being Chinese in Africa

Friday, October 1st, 2010

For most people, the Chinese engagement with Africa is an enigma.  The combination of these two peoples, cultures and, increasingly their politics, are just so foreign to most of us that we do not have the necessary reference points to form an opinion. Instead, what emerges, is a series of emotional arguments that mistakingly lay a Western colonial filter over a lack of understanding of Chinese culture on top of deeply-ingrained stereotypes of Africans themselves.  From coffee shop conversations to newsrooms to college classrooms, the misunderstandings of the Chinese in Africa are pervasive.  And I think I know, in part, why…

The Faceless Monolith

The prevailing perception of the Chinese in Africa is one of massive international conglomerates doing shady deals to extract the continent’s natural resources with no regard (e.g. No Strings Attached) for politics or human rights.  While there is no doubt some truth to that, as is there is with all stereotypes, it is entirely misleading.  The hundreds of thousands of Chinese who have emigrated to countries across Africa are individuals that are too often hidden behind physical and cultural walls that prohibit meaningful interactions between the Chinese and outsiders (Africans, Westerners, etc…).   This lack of engagement leads to journalists, academics and others to extrapolate based on what limited information is available and that leads us back to these huge generalizations that too often mislead the outside world.

Regrettably, the Chinese in Africa story does not fit neatly within the traditional narrative structure of western journalism.  It is just too complex a story to portray within the traditional protagonist/antagonist formula that has come to define so much of contemporary Western journalism.  To understand this story, you have to get know the individuals who live it.

Meet Kafka

Picture of blogger "Kafka" taken in Qingdao, China

While perusing through the online classifieds posted on the Chinese in Africa BBS I came across an entry from a user named “Kafka” (卡夫卡) who emigrated a few years ago from the Eastern Chinese city of Qingdao to the Cameroonian city of Douala on the West Coast of Africa.  In his signature on that post, he included a link to his blog on the popular Chinese portal site (the 17th largest website in the world incidentally, according the internet ranking service that features entries that are essentially a diary detailing his experiences managing a small hotel and restaurant in Douala.

Kafka is typical of many young Chinese expatriates who find refuge online from the rigors of daily life in Africa.  As with all expatriates everywhere, there is obvious relief being among your own people who share a common language, values and experiences.  Chinese bloggers in general, including Kafka, are far from shy and reserved as they so often are in the presence of foreigners.  So blogs like Kafka’s are an invaluable resource to get to the personal level that is so often missing from the standard coverage of the Chinese in Africa.

“Time moves so slowly,” Kafka wrote in a June 2010 blog entry, “that it makes your brain go stupid.”  In this particular entry, that is representative of a lot of the posts from young Chinese living in Africa, Kafka shares his struggles of dealing with the monotony of daily life for young emigres in often remote parts of Africa.

“Everyday, all I know is to go online, eat, work, sleep and don’t even know what the point of reading or studying are.  Occasionally, I see online when the annual college entrance exam starts and finishes — all now faint memories of when I left school .  I once had tremendous opportunities [written with the Chinese idiom of  a ‘thousand soldiers and tens of thousands of horses’] to cross those bridges (into a different defined by academic success), however today I have probably forgotten everything.


“Before I heard people say, after work then you can become lazy, for me that’s ridiculous as I have  become so lazy [all the time], I just need to find a reason to stop [being so lazy] and when I go to work to not feel that this isn’t always the case.  Everyday I feel so lazy, lazy when I wash, lazy when I leave the house, lazy when i’m walking down the street… I just don’t know what to do with myself.


“The work life here in Africa is obviously not the same as it is back in China.  Here [in Cameroon] you don’t work from 9am to 5pm, you don’t need to check in with the boss everyday, don’t need to wear a tie; but here things just don’t work very well and there’s not the security there is back home and sometimes I am held-up at gun point and blackmailed.  There aren’t the conveniences that there in China where whatever you want you can have — if you want a certain kind of entertainment you can have it.  [Here] there’s just nothing to do but stay home, surf the web and watch TV.


Looking through the blogosphere

Kafka’s isolation and disappointments appear to be quite common across the Chinese in Africa blogosphere.  There are dozens of posts published in the just few weeks alone that reveal that same sense sense of personal despair.  Obviously, it is hard to tell how representative Kafka is of such a large and diverse expatriate population however, his and the other blogs do offer a rare, first-person view of the distinct challenges confronting this new immigrant population in Africa.