井底之蛙

4/25/2007

It’s not Imperialism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:45 am

Via Yahoo a roundup of recent stuff on China’s involvement in Africa. China of course has growing economic interests in Africa and very little interest in things like promoting democracy or whatever. Jia Qinglin is currently in Africa building international solidarity. There have been a number of complaints of late about China’s growing power in Africa, and in Ethiopia  the Ogaden National Liberation Front has killed a number of Chinese oil workers to encourage China “to refrain from entering into agreements with the Ethiopian government.”

Jia has pointed out that China’s involvement in Africa is “normal business practice on the basis of equality and mutual benefit…It is totally different from the plunder committed by colonialists in Africa.”This is pretty much the standard Chinese line. What imperialism is is always a complex question, but I was struck by how much the current Chinese leaders sould like Japanese leaders talking about Manchukuo in the 1930s. In the case of many of the Japanese they were being honest, meaning they actually believed the stuff they were peddling. I assume Jia Qinglin does as well.

Hey, I almost did a post without a map. Here is Yahoo’s map of the growth of Chinese interests in Africa.

China in Africa

7 responses to “It’s not Imperialism”

  1. We’ve been talking about this a lot in my China Issues seminar: we read Qian Qichen’s book (I highly recommend it, by the way) and several students have taken foreign affairs and Africa as research topics. The commentary on China’s Africa relations really do parallel the criticisms made of lots of other countries’ business/diplomacy/aid practices in Africa (Japan, in particular).

    I would compare the Chinese position in Africa more to the US and British position in Latin America, I think. That the Chinese practices are “standard” doesn’t mean that they aren’t neo-imperialist: their interactions with Africa — including their Security Council votes — are very carefully calibrated to preserve and enhance its status as an economic periphery.

  2. lirelou says:

    China is in Africa for precisely the same reasons that other countries are in Africa. They have interests there, and it should surprise no one that their aid, loans, etc, to any African government will be proportional to their perceived interests. That is common sense. Using its influence to extract favorable concessions, whatever, does not render them imperialist. What nation in its right mind would take any action that was not “calibrated to preserve and enhance its status”? Now, were China to appoint an ambassador to some African country which was highly reliant upon Chinese aid to survive, and that worthy began issuing orders to the country’s leadership relating to domestic and international issues, which the country was expected to take or implement under paid on losing Chinese assistance, the China could justly be accused of being neo-imperialist.

  3. lirelou says:

    Sorry, “under paid on” should read “under pain of”.

  4. Du Yisa says:

    Hi Lirelou.

    You wrote: “Now, were China to appoint an ambassador to some African country which was highly reliant upon Chinese aid to survive, and that worthy began issuing orders to the country’s leadership relating to domestic and international issues, which the country was expected to take or implement under paid on losing Chinese assistance, the China could justly be accused of being neo-imperialist.”

    Please look at this Financial Times article and this CNSNews article, about the 2006 election in Zambia. Two highlights:

    From the FT article:

    “Li Baodong, China’s ambassador in Lusaka, said Beijing might cut diplomatic relations with Zambia if voters elected Michael Sata, an opposition candidate, as president, Zambian media reported on Tuesday…. Mr Sata has been quoted calling Taiwan a “sovereign state,” angering China, and has also spoken out against Chinese labour practices in Zambia.”

    From the CNS article:

    “[Sata] cited cases in which Chinese companies have been accused of exploiting Zambian workers with low pay and poor working conditions, and an incident last July when five workers at a Chinese-owned copper mine were shot and injured during a violent protest.

    Miners and police accused Chinese managers of shooting the employees, while the company blamed the police for the shooting….

    Copper is by far the country’s biggest export by value, and China is a leading investor in the sector. Workers in Chinese-owned mines are reported to earn substantially less than those in others.”

    Sata (the opposition candidate) lost the election. Although PRC concerns about Taiwan might have been the primary factor behind their position vis a vis the election, Sata’s concerns seemed to focus mainly on labor and sovereignty issues (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), rather than pacific rim politics.

    PRC meddling in African politics has evidently not yet reached the level of US interference in Latin American politics, but this incident seems to fit your stated criteria above.

    Finally, the PRC 1979 invasion of Vietnam was arguably precisely due to the fact that the Vietnamese leadership had ignored the instructions of its ‘worthy’ neighbor to the north. That said, I personally see no reason to characterize the 1979 invasion as ‘neo-imperialist’. The prefix is unnecessary.

    Cheers

  5. Laurie says:

    Agree with Lirelou — this needs viewing in terms of a classical realist projection of state power to advance the ‘national interest’. The Chinese are cleverly going about re-establishing an equivalent of the tributary states that governed China’s foreign relations throughout so much of imperial history.

  6. Maybe increased Chinese interest in Africa will propel western business to stop ignoring the place, or maybe it won’t, since Chinese business interests are obviously backed by Chinese state power, unlike western business.

    Just to play the devil’s advocate here, perhaps it is only FDI backed by the political power of a large state that would succeed or be viable. That’s not to say that it couldn’t be morally reprehensible at the same time.

    It is possible that all local development efforts come to nil because of local elites predating on each other. South Korea under Park Chung Hee is a similar example of strong state led development subsidised by the large outside state of the United States (See Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, for the most balanced treatment)

    I don’t think this is the first time in history for this pattern. American obliviousness and incredulity as to what was happening in South Korea (e.g. Kwangju Massacre) during South Korea’s development may have parallels to this new African situation.

  7. lirelou says:

    Du Yisa, salient points. Almost “touche”. However, is Zambia dependent upon Chinese aid? I don’t know, but if they are, then China’s actions were certainly neo-imperialist. Otherwise, they appear to be typical diplomatic maneuvering. As for China’s 1979 punitive campaign against Vietnam, as it was limited in scope, I believe the prefix is merited.

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