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China-Africa partnership finds reciprocity

Bahauddin Foizee

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Despite concerns raised by few Western countries, such as Britain and the U.S., over the political, economic and military roles that China has been playing in Africa, China is successful in making inroads to Africa with reciprocal warm gestures from many African countries. The very visible progress in political, economic and diplomatic cooperation between Africa and China is a sheer showcase of this reality.

Why Africa is important to China?

China’s vast economy, which is the second largest economy in the world, requires huge raw materials and energy resources. As the Middle East has become a too chaotic supplier-destination for energy, China found African countries as the ideal supplier-destinations for much needed natural resources, such as oil, minerals, timber and cotton. Moreover, African markets are seriously attractive to any export-oriented industrial economy like China because of Africa’s large population (around 1.1 billion), who are potential consumers. For China, African fast-growing markets are ideal for immediate export of cheap manufactured goods that China is best in making, and also ideal for the future export of high-end products and services, towards which China is slowly moving.

Africa could be instrumental for China in its counter to the U.S.’s “pivot to Asia,” which is a diplomatic, economic and strategic offensive aimed at undermining Chinese influence and preparing for war. “One Belt, One Road” strategy, something that needs no introduction, is China’s response to U.S.’s pivot to Asia. China is seeking to include Africa within its “One Belt, One Road” strategy aimed at more closely integrating Europe and Asia via land and maritime infrastructure.

Why Africa prefers China over others?

China has adopted a flexible approach with regard to the African resource market under the “Beijing Consensus”: (i) non-interference, (ii) infrastructural development, (iii) friendship and respect (for African leaders, people and sovereignty) and (iv) Chinese model of development (operating in Africa under the influence of China’s own development history, which prioritizes “economic development” over other progress). Therefore, Beijing Consensus, according to many African intellectuals, portrays China’s intension of maintaining a strict respect for African sovereignty and China’s non-interference approach to internal issues of African countries. In line with this policy, China helps Africa with loans and infrastructure building projects without any political strings attached about democracy or transparency. Such Chinese non-interference approach gives African countries enough flexibility to work for immediate economic development.

Efforts have been made toward stronger economic integration in Africa. In 2002, the African Union was formally commenced in order to accelerate socio-economic integration and promote peace, security and stability in Africa. China has been continuously voicing in favour of such African integration in almost all China-Africa summits, symbolizing China’s intension to see Africa together as one.

China invests in the construction of African infrastructures, such as roads, railways, dams, ports and airports. Such projects create massive employments for hundreds of thousands of Africans. These (creating jobs and building a developed Africa) are very visible benefits that appeal the African people of all ages and of all walks of life towards mandating for further Chinese involvement in Africa.

China-Africa relations

The U.S., France and Britain are China’s main rivals in Africa. France and Britain were once the largest trading partners of Africa. However, from 2008 onwards, China remained Africa’s largest trading partner, while the U.S. remained the second largest. China has been giving aid to more African countries than the U.S.

China wants to move away from its low-end products manufacturing trend to high-end products. China intends to build up the low-end industrialization capacities in other countries, helping Chinese companies in their attempts to “go global” as they set up factories in other countries. And, industrialization is just the obsession that many African countries are craving for. Therefore, it seems China’s plan to build up the low-end industrialization capacities in other countries and African countries’ desire for industrialization coincides with each other, making China and Africa the ideal-most partners for each other in this regard. Chinese Foreign Minister regarded China as a most desirable and reliable long-term partner for Africa to achieve industrialization.

China has been increasing cooperation and exchanges with Africa on the cultural front, particularly in the media and education arena. Over the last decade, China extended its media presence across all major press and electronic media in Africa. The famous CCTV News Channel and China Daily have dedicated Africa editions. Africa hosts a number of Chinese cultural centres and 46 Confucius Institutes, which focuses on the promotion of the Chinese language and culture. Health care development and medical assistance have been one of the main successful areas of cooperation.

Military cooperation between China and Africa goes back to the Cold War period when China backed a number of African liberation movements, while post-cold war era witnessed a military relation based on economic interests rather than ideology. China has been sending troops to Africa to participate in peacekeeping and pledged to increase its support for the peacekeepers in Africa. Apart from peacemaking, China provides military training and equipment to a number of African countries. An increasing number of African countries have shifted their source of supply of defence hardware from traditional providers to China.

The need to protect China’s increased investments in Africa have driven China to adopt new diplomatic and military initiatives in order to try to resolve unrest in countries like South Sudan and Mali. China’s security assistance to the African Union and national militaries of many African countries is in part designed to boost their capacity to counter threats (such as attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali) to their economic interests from conventional and non-conventional armed forces. China’s first ever overseas military facility is planned to be hosted in Djibouti, located in the Horn of Africa.

China-Africa Summit

The ministerial meeting in China in October 2000 was the first collective dialogue held between China and African countries, establishing the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in order to strengthen alliances, sign contracts and make important announcements. Since then Chinese and African partners meet every three years for the summit of FOCAC, or otherwise known as China-Africa Summit.

During the 2015’s summit, which was held in South Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion over a three-year deal in loans and assistance to the African countries. On the media front, Xi said that China would provide training for 1,000 African media practitioners each year, and would set up satellite TV programs in 10,000 African villages. Xi also pledged to provide funding for 200 African scholars and 500 African students to visit China each year. China would also provide 2,000 education places and 30,000 government scholarship places for Africa. China would establish regional vocational education centres and colleges, train 200,000 technicians and provide the Africans with 40,000 training opportunities in China. Xi pledged some 200 poverty reduction projects, 30 teams of agricultural experts and a limited amount of debt relief to some of the poorest African countries.

As part of China-Africa peace and security program, Xi pledged that China will provide $60 million in free assistance to the African Union to build and maintain its army, both its regular army and crisis response, as well as support UN peacekeeping in Africa. China’s new Africa policy paper pledged more military cooperation, including technological cooperation, joint exercises, personnel training and intelligence sharing. China’s goal is to build up African capabilities so that the African countries – as well as organizations like the African Union – can ensure their own stability. However, Xi made it clear that through increasing economic and military cooperation, China does not intend to colonize Africa. President Xi clearly stated that China strongly believes that Africa belongs to the African people and African problems should be handled by the African people. Xi also clarified that China’s latest military efforts are to combat militancy, and not to engage itself in the local African conflicts.

Criticisms against China

There are widespread accusations that China is a neo-colonial power in Africa. And that China-Africa cooperation have given rise to human rights abuses. Other criticisms are economic in nature. There are accusations that African workers face ill-treatment and poor pay by Chinese companies and that the influx of Chinese workers take away local jobs. The criticisms go further in alleging that African markets are harmed by low-cost Chinese-made products, which put great competitive pressure on local industries and businesses. Some argue that China’s involvement in Africa currently benefits primarily the African elites, and not the general Africans.

However, according to several African intellectual corners, these aforementioned accusations are part of a larger propaganda originating from the Western corners in order to undermine China’s influence over Africa. According to such African sources, African culture has already been plagued by centuries of Western domination and the imperial economic and social structures.

Observations

Unlike Western economic giants, China made development – not pursuing democracy and transparency – the sole model for its partnership with Africa. With such a flexible approach, China seems to anticipate that African governments would find China a better choice over the West with regard to long term partnership.

China continues to expand its influence in Africa on diplomatic, cultural and commercial fronts, while working to secure and stabilize Africa for China’s own long term gains.

It is clearly in the interest of Africa to avoid full alignment with either of China and the West, but to play one side against the other — which might work to decrease raw material prices and to earn other leverages. In this way, it would be well guaranteed that negotiating power remains in the hands of local African policy makers, ensuring end of all sort of exploitation against Africa.

Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst and columnist, and regularly writes on greater Asia-Pacific, Indian Oceanic region and greater Middle East geopolitics. He also - infrequently - writes on environment & climate change and the global refugee crisis. Besides Modern Diplomacy, his articles have appeared at The Diplomat, Global New Light of Myanmar, Asia Times, Eurasia Review, Middle East Monitor, International Policy Digest and a number of other international publications. His columns also appear in the Dhaka-based national newspapers, including Daily Observer, Daily Sun, Daily Star, The Independent, The New Nation, Financial Express, New age and bdnews24com. He previously taught law at Dhaka Centre for Law & Economics and worked at Bangladesh Institute of Legal Development.

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Freedom, Sovereign Debt, Generational Accounting and other Myths

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“How to draw the line between the recent and still unsettled EU/EURO crisis and Asia’s success story? Well, it might be easier than it seems: Neither Europe nor Asia has any alternative. The difference is that Europe well knows there is no alternative – and therefore is multilateral. Asia thinks it has an alternative – and therefore is strikingly bilateral, while stubbornly residing enveloped in economic egoisms. No wonder that Europe is/will be able to manage its decline, while Asia is (still) unable to capitalize its successes. Asia clearly does not accept any more the lead of the post-industrial and post-Christian Europe, but is not ready for the post-West world.” – professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic diagnosed in his well-read ‘No Asian century’ policy paper. Sino-Indian rift is not new. It only takes new forms in Asia, which – in absence of a true multilateralism – is entrenched in confrontational competition and amplifying antagonisms.  The following lines are referencing one such a rift.

At the end of 2017, Brahma Chellaney, a professor with the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, wrote an article titled “China’s Creditor Imperialism” in which he accused China of creating a “debt trap” from Argentina, to Namibia and Laos, mentioning its acquisition of, or investment in the construction of several port hubs, including Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Piraeus in Greece, Djibouti, and Mombasa in Kenya in recent years.

These countries are forced to avoid default by painfully choosing to let China control their resources and thus have forfeited their sovereignty, he wrote. The article described China as a “new imperial giant” with a velvet glove hiding iron fists with which it was pressing small countries. The Belt and Road Initiative, he concluded, is essentially an ambitious plan to realize “Chinese imperialism”. The article was later widely quoted by newspapers, websites and think tanks around the world.

When then United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Africa in March, he also said that although Chinese investment may help improve Africa’s infrastructure, it would lead to increased debt on the continent, without creating many jobs.

It is no accident that this idea of China’s creditor imperialism theory originates from India. New Delhi has openly opposed China’s Belt and Road Initiative, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as it runs through Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which India regards as an integral part of its territory. India is also worried that the construction of China’s Maritime Silk Road will challenge its dominance in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Based on such a judgment, the Indian government has worked out its own regional cooperation initiatives, and taken moves, such as the declaration of cooperation with Vietnam in oil exploration in the South China Sea and its investment in the renovation of Chabahar port in Iran, as countermeasures against the Chinese initiative.

Since January, India, the United States, Japan and Australia have actively built a “quasi-alliance system” for a “free and open Indo-Pacific order” as an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative. In April, a senior Indian official attending the fifth China-India Strategic Economic Dialogue reiterated the Indian government’s refusal to participate in the initiative.

The “creditor imperialism” fallacy is in essence a deliberate attempt by India and Western countries to denigrate the Belt and Road Initiative, which exhibits their envy of the initial fruits the initiative has produced. Such an argument stems from their own experiences of colonialism and imperialism. It is exactly the US-led Western countries that attached their political and strategic interests to the debt relationship with debtor countries and forced them to sign unequal treaties. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is proposed and implemented in the context of national equality, globalization and deepening international interdependence, and based on voluntary participation from relevant countries, which is totally different from the mandatory debt relationship of the West’s colonialism.

It is an important “Chinese experience” to use foreign debts to solve its transportation and energy bottlenecks that restrict its economic and social development at the time of its accelerated industrialization and urbanization. By making use of borrowed foreign debts, China once built thousands of large and medium-sized projects, greatly easing the transportation and energy “bottlenecks” that long restrained its social and economic development. Such an experience is of reference significance for other developing countries in their initial stage of industrialization and urbanization along the Belt and Road routes.

In the early stage of China’s reform and opening-up, US dollar-denominated foreign debt accounted for nearly 50 percent of China’s total foreign debts, and Japanese yen close to 30 percent. Why didn’t Western countries think the US and Japan were pushing their “creditor imperialism” on China?

Some foreign media have repeatedly mentioned that Sri Lanka is trapped in a “debt trap” due to its excessive money borrowing from China. But the fact is that there are multiple reasons for Sri Lanka’s heavy foreign debt and its debt predicament should not be attributed to China. For most of the years since 1985, foreign debt has remained above 70 percent of its GDP due to its continuous fiscal deficits caused by low tax revenues and massive welfare spending. As of 2017, Sri Lanka owed China $2.87 billion, accounting for only 10 percent of its total foreign debt, compared with $3.44 billion it owed to Japan, 12 percent of its total foreign debt. Japan has been Sri Lanka’s largest creditor since 2006, but why does no foreign media disseminate the idea of “Japan’s creditor imperialism”?

In response to the accusation that China is pursuing creditor imperialism made by India and some Western countries, even former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa wrote an article in July using data to refute it.

Most of the time, the overseas large-scale infrastructure construction projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative are the ones operated by the Chinese government and Chinese enterprises under the request of the governments of involved countries along the Belt and Road routes or the ones undertaken by Chinese enterprises through bidding.

It is expected that with the construction of large-scale infrastructure projects and industrial parks under the Chinese initiative, which will cause the host country’s self-development and debt repayment ability to constantly increase, the China’s creditor imperialism nonsense will collapse.

An early version of this text appeared in China Daily

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Arrogance of force and hostages in US-China trade war

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Even before the ink on the comments made by those who (just like the author of these lines) saw the recent meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires as a sign of a temporary truce in the trade war between the two countries had time to dry, something like a hostage-taking and the opening of a second front happened. The recent arrest in Canada under US pressure of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China’s telecommunications giant Huawei, is unfolding into a full-blown international scandal with far-reaching consequences.

Meng Wanzhou faces extradition to the United States where she is suspected of violating US sanctions against Iran, namely by making payments to Tehran via the UK branch of the US bank HSBC. The question is, however, how come someone is trying to indict a Chinese citizen according to the norms of American law, and not even on US territory to boot?

China’s reaction was extremely tough with Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoning the Canadian and US ambassadors in Beijing and demanding the immediate release of the detainee, calling her detention “an extremely bad act.” First of all, because this is yet another arrogant attempt at extraterritorial use of American laws.

Other countries, above all Russia, have already experienced this arrogance more than once; suffice it to mention the cases of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, or of the alleged “Russian hackers,” who, by hook or crook, were taken out to the United States to face US “justice”.

Enough is enough, as they say. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is usually careful in his choice of words, said that while Russia is not involved in the US-China trade war, it still regards Meng’s arrest as “another manifestation of the line that inspires a rejection among the overwhelming majority of normal countries, normal people, the line of extraterritorial application of their [US] national laws.”

“This is a very arrogant great-power policy that no one accepts, it already causes rejection even among the closest allies of the US,” Lavrov said. “It is necessary to put an end to it,” he added.

One couldn’t agree with this more. But first, I would like to know who really is behind this provocation, even though China’s reaction would have been much anticipated. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou sent US markets into a tailspin and scared investors, who now expect an escalation of the trade war between the United States and China.

The point here, of course, is Washington’s displeasure about Huawei’s activities, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that the US Justice Department has long been conducting a probe into the Chinese company’s alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran.

There is more to this whole story than just sanctions though. The US accuses Huawei (as it earlier did the Chinese ZTE) of the potential threats the company’s attempts to use tracking devices could pose to the security of America’s telecommunications networks. The United States has demanded that its closest allies (primarily Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with whom it has set up a system for jointly collecting and using Five Eyes intelligence) exclude 5G Huawei products from their state procurement tenders.

I still believe, however, that the true reason for this is not so much security concerns as it is a desire to beat a competitor. Huawei has become a world-renowned leader in the development and application of 5G communications technology, which looks to the future (“Internet of Things”, “Smart Cities”, unmanned vehicles and much more.)

Since technology and equipment are supplied along with standards for their use, there is a behind-the-scenes struggle going on to phase out the 5G standard developed by Huawei from global markets.

As for the need “to put an end to this,” the big question is how. Formally, detainees are extradited to the United States in line with national legislation, but at Washington’s request (which often comes with boorish and humiliating pressure from the US authorities and is usually never mentioned in public).

Add to this the US Congress’ longstanding practice of changing, unilaterally and at its own discretion, already signed international treaties and agreements as they are being ratified – another example of “arrogance of power” as mentioned before.

The question could well be raised at the UN Security Council, but its discussion is most likely to be blocked by the US representative. However, there is also a moral side to the assessment of any political practice the work on international legal norms usually starts with.

If China and Russia, as well as other countries equally fed up with the “arrogance of power” submit a draft resolution “On the inadmissibility of attempts at extraterritorial use of national legislation by UN member states” to the UN General Assembly, it would most likely enjoy the overwhelming support by most of the countries of the UNGA, maybe save for just a dozen or so of the most diehard advocates of Washington’s policy…

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Will China Save the Planet? Book Review

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Barbara Finamore has been involved in environmental policy in China for decades.  Her new book, Will China Save the Planet?,is a succinct report (120 pg.) on the short, yet promising history of China’s actions to address climate change and pollution.

Chapter 1 is about the recent global leadership role that China has taken in the fight against climate change.  At first, the PRC was hesitant to commit to specific pollution-reduction benchmarks.  After experiencing increasingly devastating bouts of industrial smog in the 1990s however, China began to take its environmental commitments more seriously.  It has set out to become the de facto leader in combatting climate change through ambitious domestic action and sponsoring international conferences.  The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement has only furthered China’s dominance.

Chapters 2-4 give in-depth analysis on China’s efforts to wean itself off of coal, develop its renewable energy capacity and become a global leader in electric vehicle production.  China has long used coal to fuel its unprecedented rate of industrialization.  In recent years, it has pledged to wean itself off of coal dependency by enforcing coal plant efficiency standards, enacting a cap-and-trade program, managing grid output, promoting local politicians based on their success in implementing green policies and supporting green energy developments.  China is now home to many of the world’s top manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and commercial & private electric vehicles.

There is much to applaud China for in its efforts.  Finamore writes that, “After growing by an average of 10% annually from 2002-2012, China’s coal consumption leveled off in 2013 & decreased in each of the following three years… Largely because of the dip in China’s coal consumption, global CO2 emissions growth was basically flat between 2014-2016.”  By moving away from coal, China has been able to, “Every hour… erects a new wind turbine & installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.” As of last year, “Chinese solar manufacturers accounted for about 68% of global solar cell production & more than 70% of the world’s production of solar panels.”

Chapter 5 focuses on China’s mission to export its green initiatives around the world, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  The BRI is shaping up to be the largest international infrastructure plan in history, investing trillions of dollars in 65 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  China thus has a golden chance to help much of the developing world to adopt clean energy goals and foster economic growth.  The Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to invest in renewable energy initiatives in the BRI countries by implementing a “green finance” system.  Through its pivotal role in the G20, China can also help to lead the developed world by spearheading reports and policies among the 20 member nations.

Barbara Finamore has written a highly readable and informative overview of China’s role in the global climate change battle.  She lists the Chinese government policies that have led the world’s largest nation to meet and exceed many of the green benchmarks that it set for itself.  It would have been helpful if Finamore had written more about China’s water instability and how that ties to the Tibetan occupation, as access to drinking water is one of the top environmental issues in the world today.  As a whole, Will China Save the Planet?is a good primer for environmental policy analysts and anyone else interested in studying feasible solutions to climate change, humanity’s greatest threat.

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