China in Africa

CHINESE Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's rejection of the criticism of his country's interest in the African continent, which purportedly revolves around its need for the latter's natural resources (regardless of the costs), raises important questions that the international community as a whole needs to address.



First of all, Western countries that are wary of China's increasing presence in Africa should be the last ones raising concerns about the continent's diverse raw material endowments being allegedly exploited. Their rhetoric fails to appreciate just why neither the African people nor history will ever forgive them for plundering the continent over centuries, conveniently picking up raw materials in turn to fill the international market with sophisticated products at many, many times the original cost.

Secondly, China's gestures towards the continent of late are praiseworthy. In almost half-a-decade that has seen Chinese-African trade increasing four times to reach $55 billion, Beijing has moved to write off approximately $1.5 billion worth of African debt, with promises of a repeat performance "soon". Jiabao's call to the international community to "deliver on aid pledges...and reduce or cancel African debt" is also circumspect and deserves appreciation.

Beijing can and should be faulted, however, on continuing lucrative business with repressive regimes because of the comparative trade advantages. But this is not to vindicate the West's stand on the matter, considering not only their continued support for various, equally repressive dispensations, but also the ineffective nature of their clamp-down on others whom they don't like.

The African problem is, of course, compounded by relentless internal bickering that has come to typify the continent's psyche. Poverty, disease and even death fail to deter the people's appetite for agitation, terrorism and civil war. In so many ways, the Africans themselves provide an environment that invites, allows and tolerates exploitation.

The Chinese have captured the entire world's attention with their turnaround, although its unrelenting pursuit has seen them sidestep human rights and freedom concerns. Exercising prudence as it channels African resources to its growth boilers stands to raise its own profile, benefit Africa and expose and stop decades of unfair manipulation. It is hoped that China will not act as just another power-hungry economic power that tramples on rights.


More news from OPINION