Africa, where the Worlds meet

Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank) president Li Ruogu (李若谷) told reporters on Sunday that China had built up a sustainable cooperation model with Africa, which had benefited the continent. The West had displayed a lot of misunderstanding about China’s push to invest outside its own borders: “Let them say what they want to say as we do what we want to do.” Asked about criticism that Chinese companies lacked transparency in their moves in Africa, Li replied that “Western countries should set an example in making public the resources they have grabbed in Africa in the past 400 years. Only after that can we come to the issue of China’s transparency”, writes the Wall Street Journal.

Exim Bank, set up in 1994, has a mandate to finance China’s imports and exports of machinery products, high-tech products, as well as its overseas projects and investment. Partly helped by the growing presence of Chinese state-owned banks including Exim Bank, China’s investment in Africa has kept growing in recent years in various areas from power stations to telecommunications projects.

Also on Sunday, during a press conference at the National People’s Congress, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪) called on the international community to respect Africa’s freedom to choose its partners, pointing out that China’s share as an importer of African oil was only 13 per cent, while Europe and the United States imported more than 30 per cent each, and that Chinese investment in African oil fields was one sixteenth of overall investment, while American and European investments were much higher. “We cooperate with African and other countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, said Yang. “I’d like to make it clear that Africa belongs to the African people, that the African people are the masters of the African continent [correction/update: and that others] aren’t there unless they are invited”, Chine-Informations quotes Yang.

Competition for African natural resources goes hand in hand with ideological issues, and image campaigns. Western countries have frequently called for African governments to account to their people. “The Nigeriens must know how much money is paid (…) where the money goes, how it is used. These are the methods of the twenty-first century,” French president Nicolas Sarkozy said during a visit to Niger in March last year.

Given China’s political system, it isn’t surprising that Beijing equates every African government with “the African people”. China’s embassy in Harare reportedly threw a birthday party for Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe last month, and a Zimbabwean journalist wrote an article for the Southern Africa Times in October, describing what he had learned during a stay in China, notably that

“in such a diverse country with a huge population, things would be unwork­able without a unified will along with individual crea­tivity.”

The Southern Africa Times is apparently co-owned by Zimbabwe Newspapers Limited and New Era Corporation of Namibia.

Yang Fan (杨帆), formally a representative for China’s Nuctech company in Namibia, reportedly used to co-manage a local Namibian company in his private capacity until last year. A corruption trial began last year, and apparently hasn’t come to a conclusion so far. The money, allegedly diverted by the local company’s managers from a US$12.8 million down payment on 13 scanners, was to be used for paying the supplier, Nuctech. The Exim Bank was the main financer of the deal, and CCP and state chairman Hu Jintao‘s son Hu Haifeng had been president of Nuctech until 2008, when he was promoted to a post with Tsinghua Holdings

Apparently unrelated to the final outcome of the trial, a US-$ 100 mn credit line was cancelled by Namibia’s government late in 2008. There seems to be some disillusionment among Namibian officials – Namibians should “shake off” their naivety in our dealings with our former benefactors during the liberation struggle, First National Bank of Namibia Group’s chief executive officer Vekuii Rukoro suggested last year.

China, Western countries and others interested will have to compete for business with Africa. In the long run, this may really benefit Africa for the first time in modern African history. If China’s cooperation with African and other countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefit continues to feature similar qualities as the way many local ganbus in China run their entailed estates, China’s share in Africa’s trade could remain comparatively modest – unless it manages to put or keep its buddies at some of the continent´s crucial political switchpoints.

JR stays tuned for a fascinating showcase of international relations.

____________

Related
India plans $1.5 Trillion investment, allafrica.com, January 15, 2010
Call for Indian Investment, VoA News, April 11, 2008

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