In Europe there is a widespread suspicion that China must be up to no good, but I do think there are two sides to that picture. But like in any other Western coverage of China nowadays the media prefers to show us the ugly side.
Hong Kong-based researchers Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong argues about China:
“The Western characterisation of China as engaging in an amoral, neo-colonial scramble in Africa has developed out of the larger ‘China Threat’ discourse. The discrediting of China in Africa serves to contain a perceived strategic competitor and to negate the notion of a pluralism of paths of development. This new discourse also retroactively vindicates European colonialism in Africa and constructs the Western self-image as ‘promoters of democracy and good governance’ on the continent—despite US, UK and French continuing support for most of Africa’s authoritarian regimes.”
I believe in trade, business and infrastructure (physically and mentally) as the means to development in Africa. If Europe did not subsidize the farming we could buy cheaper agricultural products from Africa who in turn would have money to buy knowledge-based products from Europe. Instead African markets are flooded with excess EU produce at prices below that the African farmer can compete with.
United Nations acknowledges the steps taken between China and Africa for a liberalised trading partnership:
"More Ethiopian agricultural products would be allowed into China duty-free, he revealed, and China had pledged some $500 mn for various development projects in Ethiopia. “China is an inspiration for all of us,” he added. “What China shows to Africa is that it is indeed possible to turn the corner on economic development.”
I know that China, like USA and EU, are also supporting some terrible regimes in Africa. And this harms all the good development China is bringing to Africa. But I do believe that Beijing these days are choosing the right way. In the end the trading strategy that China is promoting in Africa would benefit more from stable economies than war and corruption. Because the economic relationship matters to China, its government has a vested interest in long-term stability, and China's current rhetoric suggests an understanding that this is best procured by “harmony” and the careful balancing of interests, not by force.
Now I hope that EU will learn from China's policies in Africa making it easier for the citizens of Europe to do business with Africa. Cut the toll barriers and scrap the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). Let us through social entrepreneurship or just common import-export make money while we make up for our colonial debt to Africa. I got a lot of entrepreneurial friends in Tanzania who are impatiently waiting for the wall to fall.
But like the president of Senegal said at the EU-Africa summit December 2007: "Europe is close to losing the battle of competition in Africa." It was the first EU-Africa summit since 2000 because of Europe's worries about human rights abuses, so it actually seems the EU is waking up. So Europe and Africa are talking again, but it has given no trade results yet, partly because Europe does not have one voice (some countries are still reluctant to engage in free-trade and to remove agricultural subsidies) and Africa now has greater negotiating power.
China Development Brief knows a lot more about this case than me, so I will let them say the last words here. A bit provocative, but it is still the bitter truth:
"Westerners typically believe that although China has the largest society in the world it has no civil society worth mentioning. But this is at least to some extent because China is not easily visible or comprehensible to Westerners, who have a long tradition of finding the Chinese “inscrutable”—a quality that, of course, depends on the cognitive powers of the observer, not the observed. Africans should not be so short sighted."