Chinese colonialism?

People working at an assembly line at the Huajian shoe factory in Dukem, Ethiopia China has fast become Africa's largest trading partner, with varied investments

Is China becoming Africa's new colonial master? Is Beijing sucking away resources to drive its own economic growth, while offering little in return?

Or is such talk the product of fear and envy? Is it a sign of Western anxieties, that China is fast becoming the new power in Africa, building more equal relationships, and undermining Western influence on the continent?

China is certainly a real force in Africa. Just look at the clutch of presidents and the officials from many more parts of Africa who have made the long trek to Beijing this week for the China-Africa Co-operation Forum.

The visitors certainly have incentives to be here. They are being showered with attention, feted at banquets and tantalised with the prospect of preferential loan deals.

Start Quote

We should have a fertilizer manufacturing plant here instead of importing the product from China which causes delays and poor harvests”

End Quote Raila Odinga Kenyan prime minister

Neo-colonialist charge

But China is extremely sensitive to the charge it's a neo-colonialist power and is trying hard to refute it.

Ahead of the forum the People's Daily newspaper, the Communist Party's main mouthpiece, warned that "a trickle of critics... have struck a chord of dissonance, warning of the 'new colonialism' looming on the continent in a veiled swipe at Beijing's efforts to forge closer ties with Africa".

The opinion piece, from the official Xinhua news agency which echoes official opinion, said the charge was "biased and ill-grounded", the relationship is based on "equality and mutual benefit... fact is more convincing than rhetoric".

"Africa's exports of crude oil, minerals, steel and agricultural products have played an active role in lifting the Chinese people's livelihood. Meanwhile, the continent also serves as an indispensable market with great potential for Chinese products," it explained.

"China also provides Africa with much-needed products and technologies, and a vast market for its commodities," said Xinhua. "What's more, Beijing focused on helping build the continent's productive capacity by improving its infrastructure and boosting the manufacturing sector, rather than involving the so-called "resource-grabbing practice".

President Hu Jintao picked up the theme at the forum, repeatedly calling this "a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership".

He said "the Chinese and African peoples have always treated each other as equals... we will... forever be a good friend, good partner and good brother of the African people".

Chinese President Hu Jintao (R) with South African President Jacob Zuma China has pledged $20bn (£12.8bn) in credit for Africa over the next three years

He, too, had a barrage of facts to show China is bringing benefits to Africa. "China has built over 100 schools, 30 hospitals, 30 anti-malaria centres and 20 agricultural technology demonstration centres in Africa. It has met the pledge of providing $15bn [£9.58bn] of lending of a preferential nature to Africa....China has trained close to 40,000 African personnel...and provided over 20,000 government scholarships" said China's president.

Media barrage

China's commerce minister even got poetic, penning an article in the China Daily highlighting the way China is investing in Africa, not just stripping resources from it.

"In Malawi, a landlocked African country, rows of cotton cultivated by local farmers with instruction from Chinese experts are budding; in Ethiopia, a shoe factory built with investment from the China-Africa Development Fund is teeming with local workers; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a hydropower station financed by credit from China has just been inaugurated," wrote Chen Deming.

He went on: "In Yiwu, a city in East China, Chinese customers are selecting South African wine at the Exhibition Centre for African Products; at the New Port of Tianjin, a cargo ship loaded with fruit and textile products from Benin is preparing for tariff exemption procedures to enter the Chinese market. These are the encouraging scenes unfolding before us."

At the forum itself, China has promised $20bn of new loans, reduced tariffs on African imports and help for Africa's development. All of this is designed to show that China is different from colonial powers.

The English-language mouthpiece, the China Daily, gave space to Sehlare Makgetlaneng from the Africa Institute in Pretoria, South Africa, who wrote: "The West's claim that China's relationship with Africa is neo-colonialism... results from the fear its strategic interests will be harmed as a result of structural changes in African countries and China's growing presence on the continent."

A Chinese worker fixes pipes at a construction site in Khartoum, Sudan A number of Chinese companies bring in their own people to Africa

Despite this media barrage, though, there are still concerns in many parts of Africa that this is not an equal exchange, concerns that the investment deals are opaque and open to corruption, that Chinese infrastructure projects often import Chinese labour rather than developing local skills, that Chinese firms may exploit local workers, that cheap Chinese products undermine Africa's ability to build it's own industries, that for all the new roads, railways and ports, this is not a mutually beneficial relationship.

Winning over doubters?

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga is at the forum. He will be signing deals for new power plants and roads. But before he left Kenya, the PM Press Service said he wanted to talk to China's leaders about areas where trade has "not worked well."

"We import a lot of manufactured equipment like tractors, ploughs and harvesters. I feel that we should by now be having a tractor manufacturing plant here in Kenya. There is no reason why we should be importing tractors from China year in year out. These are some of the things we want to engage the Chinese on," Mr Odinga was quoted as saying.

"We should have a fertilizer manufacturing plant here instead of importing the product from China which causes delays and poor harvests," he added.

And that may be the key for China, if it can invest more in African factories and businesses, not just infrastructure and buildings, if it can create more jobs in Africa rather than export more Chinese-made products to the continent, if Kenya gets a tractor factory and a fertilizer plant, China may win over many of the doubters.

Damian Grammaticas, China correspondent Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian Grammaticas China correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    This is how world economics works: Western and Japanese companies take their productions to China due to low cost. 90% of the profits go back to the West and Japan while 10% stay in China to pay for the Communist Party and cheap labour. This in turn forces China to look for resources to satisfy, meet the production and cost targets set by Western and Japanese companies (aka the real Masters). The cheapest resources China could find are in Africa. It's basically to maximize profits for Western and Japanese companies. It keeps the Communist Party happy with many Chinese employed thus no riots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Is Beijing sucking away resources to drive its own economic growth, while offering little in return?

    "Canada is on the cusp of global energy greatness but can only reap the benefits of its vast resources if it acts immediately, according to a report released today by the Senate's energy, environment and natural resources committee."

    Do it now or lose it to other countries very soon.

    You cannot eat what's in the ground, you have nothing to offer but what is in the ground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I notice that when Colonalist past is mentioned the slave trade always
    comes up. Yes the west took 11million slaves from Africa and the East took
    took around 18million and It is estimated that up to 25million Chinese
    died in the cultural revolution but please today is today different leaders
    different times you don't stop buying cars because the one your grandfather
    had was a bad one, give the Chinese a chance they could be a lot better than the old European model.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    And in other news on China, "the signs of lawlessness are everywhere" in China.

    In a "suburb of Shiliuzhuang, in southern Beijing, was attacked at dawn by a fleet of bulldozers, and a small army of hired security men. Within hours the place was devastated.

    There had been no warning, and no consultation. The local authority had agreed to the area's destruction over the heads of the population; there will be a big redevelopment here.

    But the people who have lived all their lives in Shiliuzhuang will receive little, and perhaps nothing."

    China's money should stay home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Anyway, if you want African labour for Chinese projects, then you must accept different costings and completion time. You have to forego Chinese efficency too. As a buyer, you can have what you want. You just have to pay for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Samp 18.

    I can confirm that I do not live in China but I do live in SE Asia! I have friends in China (Shanghai) and have been offered work there (which I have turned down).

    Don't be so quick to judge. It's all good playing Mr Whitey in a developed city, but try being a farmer evicted from your home after 30 years with nowhere to go but a crummy apartment in a big city. If you had no schooling, no chance of working...would you be happy?

    I stated facts. You should try the same before jumping to conclusions.

    Btw, do you use a proxy? You could get 10 years. How would that make you feel?

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    IPC1998- hundreds of years is really over the top only tiny areas on the coast line wher in european hands for more than a hundred years, areas like south africa, mozambique and angolan coastline and parts of the gold coast where under european control for over a hundred years the rest of africa was under european control for 100 years or less. before posting learn your history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Africans are free to build their own factories to produce whatever they want. After hundreds of years of colonialism, some Africans seem to have forgotten this. After all, the Chinese does not have the most advanced technologies and Chinese management style and worker working conditions are not comparable to the advanced West. Surely, the Africans want the western standard employment for their workers that the Chinese cannot deliver. So Africans should aspire to work for western comapnies and not Chinese companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.


    Pure capitalism.

    China is not a communist state. It's a corrupt, human rights abusing clique at the very top.

    Just human nature, I'm sorry to say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    no one said china had bombed africa or tried to overfrow their regimes but like the us and other countries they have supported rebel in civil wars

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    When have buying and selling of goods and services between willing parties for cash or equivalent at market value become colonialism? Those Africans who think that the Chinese are not good trade partners need not trade with them. They are free to trade with somebody else. The Chinese do not have aircraft carriers, stealth bombers or other armed forces on the African continent or around it to compel anyone to trade with them at their terms. Moreover, the Chinese have never ever bombed an African country and imposed a regime change for one the Chinese approved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    This world has no real justice, no so-called human rights. all we have is hypocrisy and the ugly truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    One has to learn to obtain the respect of others, if not others will take advantage of one. This happens everywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Shall we all get paranoid and worried then? Let's spread some more panic and gloom!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    A note of caution to my African colleagues. I'm from South Korea and I remember clearly a distasteful incident that happened three years ago. Shanghai Motors of China had acquired Ssangyong Motors of Korea in a merger due to financial troubles in the latter company. At the time of the merger, there were promises of investment and access to the Chinese market. What really happened was, Shanghai Motors spat out Ssangyong Motors just after four years, which was just enough time for it to steal all the technology of the Korean company.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    China with it's enormous appetites will strip a place bare and move on. Many African marine environments are being plundered of their vital apex predator the sharks, to feed a seemingly endless demand for shark fin, when they are finished the fast Buck has been made the future for subsistence fishermen wrecked!

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    a Afro-American told me with all conviction more than 200 Million Slaves were thrown over board during shipping in the Salve trading time
    And sharks where still plying the shipping roots.. The he told me this with all conviction it was sad because the real story was bad enough. It don't need enhancing with revisionist. B.S.
    He was shocked when I mentioned that black people were also
    ( Traders in Slaves )

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    4 Hours ago
    "...ALL of the problems affecting Afrca today are caused by the West."

    Views like this perpetuate the problems in Africa. No one here will deny the crimes of the past, and very few will defend them. I agree with you 100% that many years of western colonialism had a terrible impact.

    But 'ALL' of Africa's problems are our fault? African leaders want to absolve themselves of all responsibilty. Are you saying Africans have no control over their own actions?

    Are we to blame for Arab slave drivers? Darfur? Over-population? Tribal warfare? Drougt? Witch doctors?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    The Chinese are good at extracting the maximum for nothing or very little in exchange. The Africans will find that out for themselves, but this, knowing the Africans, will take time. People in the west or elsewhere should mind their own business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    It gets a bit boring to read the comments section of this column to see countless actusations of 'bias' and 'propaganda'. On this very website you'll find a, frankly, rather positive piece on the China-Africa relationship:

    Similarly look at the article on the last 10 yrs, and yes, you will find references to human rights abuses, but read it properly and you'll see the other side.

    A quote, from the BBC: "In a century's time, people will still marvel at China's extraordinary rise to wealth and success"




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