When Beijing Pivots to Lagos

When Beijing Pivots to Lagos  Proposition: Africa should welcome China

Richard Rousseau (contre): Au-delĂ  de l’argumentaire des partisans et des dĂ©tracteurs de la prĂ©sence grandissante de la Chine en Afrique, l’impact Ă  long terme des investissements chinois est incertain. Les contrats de type «matiĂšres premiĂšres contre infrastructures» sont susceptibles de dĂ©velopper considĂ©rablement les Ă©conomies des pays africains et de transformer pour le mieux la vie de millions de gens sur tout le continent. Toutefois, dans de nombreux pays africains, la Chine est de plus en plus vue, et avec raison, comme une puissance nĂ©ocoloniale qui agit de connivence avec des gouvernements kleptocrates. Le problĂšme principal est qu’elle porte fort peu d’attention au «dĂ©veloppement durable» et social des nations.

En surface, les investissements «matiĂšres premiĂšres contre infrastructures» sont dĂ©crits par les Chinois en termes simples: en Ă©change de l’accĂšs aux ressources africaines, PĂ©kin garantit le financement de grands projets d’infrastructures jugĂ©s nĂ©cessaires au dĂ©veloppement Ă©conomique. Les accords d’État Ă  État sont fondĂ©s sur quatre principes fondamentaux dans la coopĂ©ration Chine-Afrique, Ă  savoir les principes de l’égalitĂ©, du bĂ©nĂ©fice mutuel, du pragmatisme et de l’ouverture. La coopĂ©ration Ă©conomique et commerciale entre la Chine et l’Afrique peut, dans certains cas, mener Ă  des situations de profitabilitĂ© mutuelle et de gagnant-gagnant, mais les investissements massifs de la Chine ont soulevĂ© des inquiĂ©tudes profondes sur les bĂ©nĂ©fices rĂ©els qu’en retireront les Africains. À moyen et Ă  long terme, les relations Chine-Afrique sont en effet vouĂ©es Ă  se dĂ©tĂ©riorer car le dĂ©veloppement des infrastructures est, en rĂ©alitĂ©, mis au service de la gĂ©ostratĂ©gie et de la gĂ©oĂ©conomie chinoises. La prĂ©sence chinoise sur le continent africain est avant tout motivĂ©e, comme ce fut le cas avec les puissances europĂ©ennes du 19e siĂšcle, par la Realpolitik.

La coopĂ©ration Chine-Afrique rencontre les trois problĂšmes suivants. PremiĂšrement, les infrastructures construites par les Chinois sont trĂšs souvent de piĂštre qualitĂ©. En juin 2006, le Premier ministre chinois Wen Jiabao procĂšde Ă  l’ouverture d’un nouvel hĂŽpital Ă  Luanda, Angola, et se fait photographier alors qu’il regarde dans un microscope, entourĂ© de mĂ©decins en blouses blanches. L’hĂŽpital gĂ©nĂ©ral, un vaste complexe de 80 mĂštres carrĂ©s, a Ă©tĂ© construit avec des fonds chinois et symbolise le partenariat croissant entre PĂ©kin et Luanda. Quatre ans plus tard, l’hĂŽpital prĂ©sentait dĂ©jĂ  de sĂ©rieux risques d’effondrement. MĂȘme chose avec le nouveau siĂšge de l’Union africaine Ă  Addis-Abeba, inaugurĂ© en janvier 2012 et saluĂ© comme un exemple du partenariat Chine-Afrique.

DeuxiĂšmement, les allĂ©gations faisant Ă©tat de violations des normes du travail abondent. Les investissements chinois dans l’exploitation miniĂšre sont importants en Afrique. En Zambie, l’exportation de cuivre a gĂ©nĂ©rĂ© des revenus de 2,2 milliards de dollars en 2010, mais non sans controverse. Human Rights Watch a signalĂ© que des gestionnaires de sociĂ©tĂ©s d’État chinoises forçaient des mineurs Ă  travailler entre 12 et 18 heures par jour, 365 jours par annĂ©e, et dans des conditions dignes du 19e siĂšcle colonialiste. Encore ici, les exemples pourraient ĂȘtre multipliĂ©s par cent.

TroisiĂšmement, l’aspect le plus troublant de la politique chinoise en Afrique est la volontĂ© de PĂ©kin de passer des ententes avec certains des dirigeants les plus autoritaires du continent et de la planĂšte, dont la Namibie, l’Angola, l’ÉrythrĂ©e, le Zimbabwe et la RĂ©publique dĂ©mocratique du Congo.

L’Afrique, comme tous les autres continents, doit Ă©muler l’AmĂ©rique du Nord et l’Europe, c’est-Ă -dire de dĂ©velopper la dĂ©mocratie, d’établir la sĂ©paration des pouvoirs, de faire germer la mĂ©ritocratie et les institutions des droits humains, et de lutter contre la corruption.

Wenran Jiang (in favour): China’s relations with Africa are very complex and multifaceted, with a fast-evolving dynamic that requires careful study and analysis. These relations cannot be categorically described as either beneficial and win-win or neocolonial and exploitative, for they depend on the particular part of the African continent at play, the timing and length of relevant interactions, tertiary parties, and so on. In my extensive travels in both China and Africa, and in the case studies that I have conducted on Chinese investment in African countries in recent years, I have found generalizations and stereotypes commonly seen in the Western media (overwhelmingly negative) and in mainland Chinese media (mostly positive) to be not an inaccurate reflection of the reality on the ground.

Take your point about China’s overall presence in Africa as not promoting the continent’s sustainable development. What is the empirical evidence to support such a charge? What I have heard from many African leaders and ordinary people is that China’s engagement with Africa is quite different from that of the old colonial powers – precisely because the Chinese government has emphasized a mutually beneficial, sustainable development model that goes beyond simple resource extraction. We can debate whether Beijing has achieved its goals in this regard, and whether it has done enough to present a different model, but it is commonly acknowledged that Chinese demand for commodities and its willingness to make large investments have together fuelled economic growth in many African countries over the past decade.

Consider, also, your negative characterization of the quality of Chinese infrastructural building in Africa. Again, we can find many counterexamples of well-built hospitals, schools, roads, stadiums, airports, train stations, etc. I have personally observed many roads constructed by Chinese companies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and other countries. The Central Boulevard in Kinshasa and the road systems that I travelled in South Congo are of excellent quality. It is a well-told story that Chinese and Africans worked side by side to complete some of the roads and infrastructure projects in 2010 to mark the 50th anniversary of the DRC’s independence. Of course, there are some projects of low quality, as you note, but these are not the main trend. Most Chinese construction in Africa has enabled the local population for the first time to get access to some of the critical infrastructure that they have badly needed for decades – infrastructure that had never been built under the old colonial powers. Western countries poured into Africa hundreds of billions of dollars over the last 50 years to build infrastructure, but the results were evidently not exemplary.

Regarding Chinese treatment of African workers, there are some bad apples, which is inevitable given the fast pace of Chinese investment in many African countries. But these bad examples are neither the majority of cases, nor are they linked exclusively to Chinese investment. China is undergoing major transformations domestically, just as it is building in Africa, such that many of its practices – good and bad – are transplanted to Africa when Chinese companies carry out their work abroad.

Finally, China is not alone, nor is it worse than Western countries, when it comes to making bedfellows with some of the oppressive regimes around the world. Other than economic interests involved, Beijing truly believes that the best way to change a country’s development path is not through the export or the imposition of another country’s ideology and political system, but to let the country in question go through its own gradual reform process – much like China has over the past three decades.

We therefore need to be careful about excessive generalizations when it comes to Africa-China relations. There are many ‘Chinas’ operating in Africa. But in the net, the Chinese impact on Africa has been positive in recent years.

RR: Depuis que la Chine fait de gros investissements en Afrique, les indicateurs Ă©conomiques de plusieurs pays africains montrent des rĂ©sultats extraordinairement positifs. Cela est particuliĂšrement Ă©vident dans les pays qui possĂšdent des gisements de pĂ©trole et de gaz naturel importants. Le Nigeria est le cas le plus patent. Le pays enregistre des taux de croissance annuels avoisinant les six pour cent (sinon plus) par an depuis le milieu des annĂ©es 2000. Certains disent que les peuples d’Afrique ont besoin de partenaires pour faire des investissements qui auront un impact direct sur l’amĂ©lioration de leur vie, indĂ©pendamment des conditions politiques et sociales. La meilleure façon de rĂ©pondre aux besoins des Africains consiste Ă  tisser des liens plus Ă©troits avec la Chine car, contrairement Ă  l’aide Ă©conomique et financiĂšre fournie par les États-Unis et l’UE, celle-ci ne s’embarrasse point Ă  inclure dans ses contrats des conditions liĂ©es Ă  la bonne gouvernance ou Ă  l’impact des investissements sur l’environnement, ce qui rend les Ă©changes Ă©conomiques avec la Chine plus attractifs pour bon nombre de pays africains.

Je crois qu’il s’agit d’une grave erreur et qu’elle aura des rĂ©percussions Ă  moyen et Ă  long terme. Le discours sur les besoins criants en nouvelles infrastructures n’est pas nouveau, comme vous le notez. Dans les annĂ©es 1970 et 1980, les Occidentaux avaient aussi mis l’accent sur les investissements en infrastructures de nombreux pays africains. Quels furent les rĂ©sultats? Vingt ou 30 ans plus tard, presque tout est Ă  refaire parce que les rĂ©gimes politiques en place ne se sont pas souciĂ©s de l’entretien de ces infrastructures Ă  long terme. Ces rĂ©gimes, gangrenĂ©s par le clientĂ©lisme, le nĂ©potisme et le crime organisĂ©, pensent davantage Ă  leur survie et Ă  s’en mettre plein les poches qu’à soutenir le dĂ©veloppement durable de leurs pays. Ceci ne les a pas empĂȘchĂ©s, nĂ©anmoins, de dĂ©velopper une certaines expertise dans la gestion de grands projets; des mĂ©canismes de transparence ont Ă©tĂ© aussi mis en place. Mais ils restent inadĂ©quats, pour la plupart.

La «mĂ©thode» chinoise en Afrique fait en sorte que de plus en plus de pays, dont l’Inde, les membres de l’UE ou les États-Unis, laissent tomber l’exigence de la bonne gouvernance afin de s’assurer certaines parts de marchĂ© face Ă  la concurrence chinoise. Comme dans les annĂ©es 1970 et 1980, les consĂ©quences seront vraisemblablement catastrophiques Ă  moyen terme pour le continent africain, lequel risque encore une fois de sombrer dans le chaos et le dĂ©sordre, sans oublier le pillage de ses ressources.

Beaucoup de spĂ©cialistes de l’Afrique s’accordent pour dire qu’il y a un manque de transparence de la part de la Chine sur ses activitĂ©s en Afrique. Par exemple, les autoritĂ©s chinoises n’ont jusqu’à maintenant pas dĂ©voilĂ© les chiffres concernant l’aide versĂ©e et le nombre de citoyens chinois Ă©tablis en Afrique.

Le Sahel, oĂč la Chine investit de plus en plus, est une poudriĂšre, un territoire de trafic et de non-droit depuis de longues annĂ©es. La corruption endĂ©mique qui, malgrĂ© de longues annĂ©es de lutte, continue Ă  miner l’Afrique, doit ĂȘtre contenue. Ce n’est pas une mince affaire. Cependant, la stratĂ©gie chinoise n’amĂ©liorera pas les choses. Par exemple, la grande majoritĂ© des compagnies occidentales prĂ©sentes en Afrique respectent les normes internationales de l’environnement, ce qui a pour effet de rĂ©duire les externalitĂ©s environnementales. Pour leur part, les entreprises chinoises n’ont pas adoptĂ© Ă  ce jour les normes internationales de l’environnement; elles prĂ©fĂšrent plutĂŽt suivre les leurs. La logique est simple: plus les normes environnementales demeurent minimales, plus la compĂ©titivitĂ© des entreprises chinoises augmente sur le marchĂ© africain.

La Chine et la communautĂ© internationale, plus gĂ©nĂ©ralement, doivent adopter le concept de «conditionnalitĂ© positive», que l’UE a mis en Ɠuvre avec succĂšs vis-Ă -vis des pays candidats Ă  l’intĂ©gration (la Pologne, la Hongrie, les pays baltes, etc.). Cette «mĂ©thode de la carotte» consiste Ă  octroyer des moyens financiers supplĂ©mentaires Ă  un pays, dans le sens d’une rĂ©compense, seulement au vu d’amĂ©liorations significatives dans sa gouvernance interne, son systĂšme de justice et son respect de la rĂšgle du droit. Il faut amener les gouvernements africains Ă  se comporter de façon prĂ©visible pour les entreprises. C’est cette mĂȘme mĂ©thode qui fut utilisĂ©e par les pays vainqueurs de la DeuxiĂšme Guerre mondiale Ă  l’égard de l’Allemagne. Cette mĂ©thode peut donner une impulsion remarquable Ă  la modernisation et au dĂ©veloppement rĂ©el. S’ouvrir Ă  la deuxiĂšme puissance mondiale est certes trĂšs avantageux, mais les pays africains et l’Occident doivent sortir de leur aveuglement et absolument faire preuve de discernement et de vigilance.

WJ: Chinese aid to African countries – now equivalent to, or more than, World Bank aid to the continent – emphasizes economic development, infrastructure building, and improvement of livelihood. This is in contrast with aid from Western countries that puts a greater stress on governance and policy transparency. This difference is a reflection of two philosophically different ways of looking at managing state-to-state relations in international affairs. Beijing believes that economic development will lead to a better life, and that the political systems of a given country must go through eternal evolution, instead of being imposed from the outside.

A more important question regarding Africa-China relations is whether the two approaches – the Sinophilic and Western approaches – should be seen as mutually confronting or contradictory. Rather than dismissing the other’s approach, as it is often the case today, perhaps we can think outside of the box by combining the two approaches: for instance, noting that while Western aid expertise can bring to African countries good governance and transparency, Chinese aid can bring them much-needed economic development assistance. The two types of aid, on this logic, can complement each other. This was something that I personally discussed with Chinese and Canadian diplomats in Kinshasa two years ago. The initial responses to exploring such a positive-sum game were positive.

Even going back to Chinese infrastructure building projects in Africa in general, I have found, through my field research in Africa, that the Chinese approach is different from that of traditional Western countries. Studies have firmly established that old colonial powers focussed on resource extraction in Africa for the sake of extracting resources, with little else that could benefit local communities. Chinese infrastructure building efforts go well beyond resource extraction. They include building hospitals, schools, road and rail systems, as well as ports and airports that are not directly linked to particular Chinese energy or mining projects. These new types of infrastructure projects, despite some isolated quality problems, are largely beneficial to local communities.

It is not quite accurate to so generalize about Chinese operations in Africa as being non-transparent. For there are so many, and so many varieties of, Chinese projects on the continent. I have observed some operations by (mostly) Chinese small and medium enterprises on the continent that are lacking transparency, but these operations are no less transparent than those of other international operators in the same locations or in similar circumstances. I have also found that most large-scale Chinese companies – especially state-owned enterprises – are doing quite well in terms of transparency, local engagement and long-term sustainability. These companies have strong incentives to get local support for their projects. Many of them have followed the standard that local workers should comprise at least 80 percent of the labour force in Chinese-operated projects – or at least in projects that are past the initial stages (stages at which higher-skilled labour, often Chinese, might be preferred or necessary).

Where Chinese operations do face some criticisms, such as those you level here, broader and more positive praise of China’s role in Africa by African leaders, local communities, and NGOs alike can be cited. As such, when it comes to China’s role in Africa, we need to be more nuanced and far less absolute about a complex, still young, and still evolving relationship.

RR: Wenran soutient que, officiellement, la motivation premiĂšre de PĂ©kin est le «dĂ©veloppement Ă©conomique» de l’Afrique, et qu’une amĂ©lioration de la gouvernance va suivre dans son sillage. C’est une illusion. La Chine, selon l’énoncĂ© officiel de sa politique à l’égard de l’Afrique, considĂšre son aide financiĂšre au dĂ©veloppement en Afrique comme une collaboration Ă©conomique Sud-Sud, reposant sur le principe de l’utilitĂ© et de l’avantage mutuel. C’est de la frime, comme tous les «énoncĂ©s officiels» de presque tous les gouvernements de ce monde.

Pour PĂ©kin, la nĂ©cessitĂ© d’assurer des approvisionnements en ressources naturelles prend presque invariablement le pas sur les questions relatives Ă  la transparence, l’état de la dĂ©mocratie et les droits de l’homme. Les rĂ©gimes politiques autoritaires ou semi-autoritaires sont passĂ©s maĂźtre dans l’art de tromper les superpuissances en promettant des rĂ©formes institutionnelles qui ne changent aucunement la nature et le fonctionnement de leurs rĂ©gimes. L’AzerbaĂŻdjan, oĂč je travaille, est un exemple Ă©loquent de ce type de comportement. Ce pays est riche en Ă©nergie fossile, comme la plupart des pays africains ayant dĂ©veloppĂ© des relations Ă©troites avec la Chine. Ce qui attire les Chinois en Afrique – c’est les ressources naturelles et presque rien d’autre.

L’arrivĂ©e des entreprises chinoises sur les marchĂ©s africains exerce une pression Ă  la hausse sur la valeur des actifs africains, parfois en gonflant le prix des actions lors de leurs achats. Certains experts pensent que cela est une bonne chose, car davantage de ressources financiĂšres sont disponibles pour le dĂ©veloppement local. C’est une belle dĂ©monstration de naĂŻvetĂ©. Les profits gĂ©nĂ©rĂ©s par le gonflement des prix des actifs se retrouvent presque invariablement dans les comptes de banque offshore de bureaucrates ou de politiciens vĂ©naux; une part infime est investie dans les communautĂ©s locales. Ainsi va la transparence ou la non-transparence. Cette conclusion est tirĂ©e de mes observations de rĂ©gimes politiques autoritaires ou semi-dĂ©mocratiques, et confirmĂ©e par de nombreux entretiens avec des reprĂ©sentants officiels de ces types de rĂ©gime politique.

Dans Why Nations Fail – The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, ouvrage publiĂ© en mars 2012, Daron Acemoglu et James Robinson dĂ©montrent de façon convaincante que ce sont de solides institutions politiques et Ă©conomiques (bref, la gouvernance) qui conditionnent la rĂ©ussite Ă©conomique et le dĂ©veloppement à long terme. Dans la majoritĂ© des pays avec lesquels la Chine entretient des liens Ă©conomiques, les Ă©lites locales ont recours Ă  toutes sortes de manƓuvres illĂ©gales, truquages financiers et politiques afin de s’approprier des richesses du pays au dĂ©triment du peuple. Les investissements directs et indirects chinois produiront ainsi des rĂ©sultats ambivalents en l’absence de changements politiques fondamentaux.

WJ: For most of the past two centuries, the African continent was largely controlled by Western countries – absolutely controlled in the colonial era, and indirectly controlled in the post-colonial period. However, Western countries failed to bring democracy, transparency and good governance to African states. What they did, instead, was to ruthlessly extract resources – leaving behind a right mess on much of the continent. Talk of democracy and good governance by Western analysts and political actors, then and now, is therefore more rhetoric than empirical reality.

On this score, it should not come as a surprise that many people in Africa feel that the West has had its time, and that it is high time that China was given a chance to suggest a new, 21st century model of cooperation. Despite the aforementioned problems and challenges, the Chinese presence on the continent has thus far been largely good for African economic growth, and beneficial for Africans’ living standards.

Of course, we ought to make no mistake about the structural need for China to extract energy and resources from Africa. China has been running the most robust economic development engine in human history, and its appetite for resources will endure for the foreseeable future. You are quite right to point this out.

Still, you fail to address three related considerations. First, China is not historically responsible for propping up corruption, dictatorship or non-democratic regimes in Africa or elsewhere. That shame belongs principally to the Western powers.

Second, China’s resource needs have helped economic development in many African countries – thereby contributing to social stability, progress and human rights on a broad range of political and economic indicators. To claim that Chinese resource extraction comes entirely at the expense of good governance is, as such, both analytically simplistic and empirically inaccurate. China gives aid generously to Africa, contributes very significantly to peacekeeping operations on the continent, and is the largest trading partner for that part of the world – a region still shut out of Western-dominated trading regimes.

Third, local African elites were enriched by resource and energy extraction processes long before China became a major economic presence in Africa. To be sure, Western countries operating in Africa are far from pure in their championship of good governance practices. Nor are Chinese companies working in Africa as de facto neo-slave masters, as some Western reports describe. On the contrary, Sinopec Gabon and other large Chinese firms have happily joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) – one of the major emerging global investment governance standards regimes aimed at promoting transparency and rule-based good governance.

We should keep in mind, again, that contemporary China is a complex entity, and that there are many ‘Chinas’ operating in Africa today. A monolithic view of China’s role in Africa cannot possibly capture the dynamism and complexity of Africa-China relations in this early new century. Clearly, Chinese enterprises, like all others, are capable of doing both good and evil in the African theatre. What is needed is more nuanced studies and analyses, less categorical or ideological characterizations, and the basic acknowledgement that China’s role in Africa could be more constructive if local communities are, on the whole, better informed about their engagement with the Chinese.

Having said all of this, Beijing can evidently do far more to truly develop a new model of interaction with Africa – a model that it is actively claiming to be developing. For to be different in comportment from the old colonial powers will require the Chinese to adduce continuous evidence of mutual net benefit for Africa and China.

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Richard Rousseau est professeur adjoint Ă  l’Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy Ă  Bakou. Il enseigne la gĂ©opolitique de l’Eurasie, l’économie politique internationale, ainsi que la mondialisation.

Wenran Jiang is Associate Professor of Political Science, Mactaggart Research Chair, and former director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.

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