Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Africa: China as a Role Model for Development?

China is playing a rare host to this year's annual meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB), hoping to assert its mode of growth as role model for the impoverished African continent and benefit from its rich resources and economic potential.--The US is an empire so evil, it makes the hobbledehoy empires like dictatorial China look benevolent. This is the truth Americans refuse to face.

Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
17 May 2007
Antoaneta Bezlova

The summit, convened in Shanghai this week, marks the first time the regional bank meeting has been held in Asia and only the second time outside Africa. It highlights China's ambitions regarding Africa's development and its increasingly high economic and diplomatic profile there.

"It is not fortuitous that we are meeting on this continent, in China, and at this juncture," Donald Kaberuka, president of AfDB, said at the opening of the summit Wednesday. "This annual meeting is an opportunity to exchange experiences and enhance opportunities".

"You are an example of transformation," Madagascan president Marc Ravalomanana told his Chinese hosts. "We in Africa must learn from your success".

China -- with an economy that has been growing at 10 percent annually in the past decade -- has been praised for lifting millions out of poverty. Its leaders are often quoted stressing the importance of robust economic growth for keeping the lid on social tensions.

Since it joined the bank in 1985, China has grown into one of the most important non-African shareholders in the organisation. Driven by its growing needs for energy and raw materials to power its booming economy, over the last five years Beijing has poured millions of dollars of investment in various African countries.

At the end of 2006, Chinese investments in Africa reached 11.7 billion US dollars and spanned the range of manufacturing, trade, transportation and agriculture, according to AfDB. Two-way trade soared to 55 billion dollars last year, four times the 2000 level. Chinese leaders say they want to increase trade volumes to 100 billion dollars by 2020.

China is soon to become one of the continent's largest foreign-direct investment (FDI) sources, says a new report on Asian FDI in Africa jointly released by two United Nations organisations. The paper from the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Untied Nations Development program (UNDP) documents Chinese companies' growing presence in Africa.

Some like Huawei, China's top telecommunication services provider, feature very prominently on the African map. The company is now one of Africa's leading CDMA product vendors, with business operations stretching from Egypt to South Africa. Other companies, like household consumer goods maker the Chunnan Group, are taking growing stakes in African markets, selling anything from air-conditioners to electrical bicycles.

China's investment push in the continent has been facilitated by generous aid and loan packages. Beijing has cancelled 10.9 billion yuan (1.4 billion dollars) of African debt and announced additional debt relief of more than 10 billion yuan (1.3 billion dollars).

At a summit of African leaders in Beijing last fall, China said it would also double its level of assistance to Africa by 2009.

"We will fully deliver on our commitments and are working with African countries to implement these measures," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said at the opening ceremony of the Shanghai AfDB meeting.

Chinese leaders are using the forum to defend their increasingly scrutinised largesse to Africa as the only viable way for resolving the humanitarian and political conflicts plaguing the continent. Beijing has been criticised for its indifference to political conditions in African countries and its single-minded pursuit of the continent's riches.

"I'm convinced that stronger Sino-African co-operation not only benefits the people of China and Africa but also contributes toward peace and development," Wen told the participants.

Human rights activists and even international lenders like the World Bank, have warned that China's self-described "no political strings attached" lending ignores human rights and risks increasing corruption and the financial burden of poor African countries.

"Plans by the AfDB and China to intensify investment in the extractive industries and infrastructure in Africa could pose significant risks to people and the environment," said Niki Reisch, the meaner of the Bank Information Centre's Africa programme. "Civil society organisations in China, Africa and abroad should work together to hold their governments accountable".

China, which has built a vast network of huge dams across the country without soliciting the opinions of civil groups and local populations, is now involved in various hydrological projects in Africa.

International Rivers Network, a US-based group that opposes dams, says the Merowe Dam built by Chinese companies in Sudan would displace 70,000 local people from the fertile Nile valley into the Nubian desert. Another project, the Mpanda Nkuwa Dam, to be built with Chinese financing in Mozambique, will have major environmental impacts on the Zambezi delta, a protected Ramsar site.

"Projects that do not address the needs of affected people will fuel conflicts and social disintegration," warned Ali Askouri, a leader of the communities affected by the Merowe Dam in Sudan. He said peaceful protests against the project have been violently suppressed by the Sudanese authorities.

Sudan crystallises the conundrums China faces in Africa. Beijing, which has deep economic and military ties with the government in Khartoum, has been assailed for not having done enough to support peace efforts in this civil war-torn country.

As a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, China has blocked efforts to send UN peacekeeping forces to Darfur without Sudanese consent. At least 250,000 people are said to have died from violence and disease in Darfur, and about 2.5 million have fled their homes since the conflict broke in 2003.

Chinese officials however, reject criticisms that Beijing's support for Khartoum is prolonging the humanitarian crisis. They insist that strong economic growth through trade and investment would reduce social conflicts by raising incomes and improving quality of life.

"Chinese aid and investment will, in the long run, help in the resolution of the Darfur problem," Li Ruogu, chairman of the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China, which deals with the country's overseas aid loans, was quoted as saying in Shanghai.

Last Updated May 17, 2007 7:30 PM

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