Neocolonialism nonsense

Updated: 2014-05-13 07:23

By Jean-Marc F.Blanchard (China Daily)

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It is clear from Premier Li's visit that China is endeavoring to help African countries grow beyond just being resource suppliers

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has just concluded a four-nation - Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya - visit to Africa, during which he signed numerous deals in areas such as high-speed railways, roads, utilities, agriculture, communications and solar power.

China and Africa are major economic partners with bilateral trade around $210 billion in 2013, and Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa totaled slightly more than $14 billion in 2012. Furthermore, China is a major purchaser of African commodities, minerals and energy, indeed, Angola and Nigeria are two major oil suppliers to China. Moreover, China has pledged an estimated $30 billion in loans to Africa, with a significant amount provided to Angola. Of note is the fact that Ethiopia is the home of the African Union, while Nigeria hosted the 2014 World Economic Forum on Africa.

Premier Li's visit gives us an opportunity to consider anew the claim that China's involvement in Africa is nothing more than another form of neocolonialism. At first glance, this assertion has some plausibility given the structure of Sino-African trade, which often involves African countries providing primary goods to China in return for manufactured goods and heavy Chinese investment in Africa's natural resource sector. Upon more serious reflection, however, it is highly questionable to equate China's general involvement in Africa with neocolonialism.

In the past European countries forcibly toppled African governments. European countries totally dominated the economic, cultural, and social life of certain African countries and stationed their militaries in Africa without permission. There is simply no parallel between now and then. And focusing more narrowly on the issue of neocolonialism in the realm of economics, which is the real issue, we find African countries asking China to engage with them in tackling the current structure of trade, which they recognize fits contemporary economic realities.

Critics have pointed to the risk that Chinese infrastructure is making African countries vulnerable by concentrating their exports on China. Some have expressed concern about the nature and quality of Chinese-built infrastructure, and have noted that some Chinese companies in African countries such as Angola, Uganda, and Zambia have been found wanting in terms of using local employees and managers, respecting the environment, and adhering to corporate social responsibility norms. Another area drawing attention is the transparency of China's activities and their effect on good governance.

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