SHANGHAI - Amid increasingly harsh Western
criticism of its "neo-colonialist" conduct in
Africa, the Chinese government has issued a
circular demanding that Chinese investors and
workers on the continent behave themselves better.
The new policy was issued on the eve of
the China-Africa Cooperation Forum and summit in
Beijing this weekend to mark China's 50th
anniversary of cultivating relationships with
African countries, with an apparent additional aim
of winning the hearts
minds of the Africans.
Over the past few
decades, some 16,000 Chinese doctors have worked
on the continent as a goodwill gesture to
Africans. The tradition can be traced back to the
late chairman Mao Zedong, who in the 1960s began
to send "angels in white" to Africa and barefoot
doctors to the rural areas of China. The tradition
continues even today to show China's goodwill and
build its image among Africans.
recent efforts to bill China as an "angel in
white" for Africa have been seriously challenged
by a new kind of emissary as trade and business
have grown by leaps and bounds. That has led to
criticism, especially by Western countries, that
China is engaged in some new kind of
"neo-colonialism" in Africa.
response to such criticism, Beijing has moved to
readjust its Africa policy. The move seems somehow
reluctant as it comes at a moment when China's
success in African arouses in Western countries
criticism perhaps sometimes tinged with jealousy.
Beijing is afraid that a barrage of criticism from
Western countries could sow discord between China
and its African friends.
Council, China's cabinet, last week issued "Nine
Principles" to "Encourage and Standardize
Enterprises' Overseas Investment", which in plain
words could be interpreted as a warning to Chinese
enterprises in Africa: behave yourselves.
The principles require Chinese companies,
most of which are state-owned enterprises, to
abide by local laws, bid contracts on the basis of
transparency and equality, protect the labor
rights of local employees, protect the
environment, implement corporate responsibilities
and so on.
So far, Beijing's interests in
Africa have paid off handsomely, particularly in
helping to ease its increasing thirst for oil.
China imported 38.3 million tons of crude oil from
Africa in 2005, accounting for 30% of its total
oil imports. Four African countries - Angola,
Sudan, the Congo Republic (Congo-Brazzaville) and
Equatorial Guinea - were among the top 10 oil
exporters. In the first six months of this year,
Angola overtook Saudi Arabia as the biggest oil
exporter to China.
Africa's economic exchanges with China: exporting
raw materials in exchange for manufactured goods.
A trade pattern in China's favor is taking shape:
China is flooding Africa with cheap manufactured
goods while shipping back oil, timber, copper,
diamonds and other raw materials - some might say,
the essence of colonialism.
increasingly depends more and more on trade with
Asian countries, especially China. Asia is the
third-most-important market to Africa, after the
United States and the European Union. China led
the skyrocketing growth of Africa-Asia trade with
an annual growth rate of 30% from 2000 to 2005.
China-Africa trade will be well over US$50 billion
But development economists are
deeply worried about the emerging economic
partnership. The World Bank is interested in
introducing the "Chinese model" of development to
Africa, but some experts doubt the
trade-and-investment model with China will do
anything helpful in nurturing the continent's
competitiveness in world market.
is under-trading manufacture goods with China, but
over-trading oil with China," concluded Harry G
Broadman, a World Bank economic adviser on Africa.
The history of economic development teaches that
countries relying largely on natural resources
will end up with weak economies. Also, development
experts pointed out that China cannot provide
world-class technology, management know-how and
infrastructure to its African friends.
A 'neo-colonial' power Any
outside power making inroads in Africa is bound to
be haunted by charges of colonialism. China cannot
take it for granted that it can get rid of that
A sense of moral
superiority over Western countries may be the
cornerstone of China's soft power in Africa.
Beijing is adept at tapping into the colonial
history inside the collective memory of African
countries whenever Western countries criticize
China's ignorance of human-rights issues on the
continent. China is equally ready to label its
Western competitors as the real "neo-colonists".
By blaming Africa's underdevelopment on
colonialism, Beijing believes it has established
the moral high ground. From training "fighters for
freedom" in the revolutionary 1960s and early
1970s to providing scholarships to children of
African elites, China has been exporting its
values for years. By successfully linking
neo-colonialism with the neo-liberalism of Western
countries, China has been able to win the hearts
and minds of African elites.
policy has been undermined by the behavior of many
Chinese companies in Africa. China's moral case is
spoiled by support for authoritarian regimes
caring nothing about human rights, bribing its way
into big contracts, leaving one big empty hole
after another on the continent after extracting
minerals, and making Africa both a supplier of raw
materials and a market serving China's "world
The Chinese government
hopes that in the spirit of "angels in white",
this weekend's forum and summit, not to mention
writing off $10.9 billion in debt owed by 31
African countries, could be a good chance to put
some new ingredients into the "Beijing consensus"
between China and 50 African countries.
Scott Zhou is a Shanghai-base
analysts on China's politics, economy and