Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong: Trade, Investment, Power and the China-in-Africa Discourse
An international discourse of China-in-Africa has emerged, particularly in Western countries with dense links to Africa: the US, UK and France. While China’s presence in Africa should be critically examined, interest in it in the West is skewed by elite perceptions of China as a rival for resources and influence in Africa and as a rising power, with the tone of the discourse far more negative than that accorded the Western presence in Africa.
The discourse is partly about how China’s presence is a “bad influence” on governance in Africa.1 A concomitant idea is that China’s activities obstruct Africa’s development, a contention that fits in a right to development framework.2 A New York Times editorial exemplifies how the discourse plays out in Western media; its title, “Patron of African Misgovernment,” refers to China.3 It states that if African countries put natural resources in hock to the PRC, China will write them big checks, without questions about corruption or authoritarianism. China is said to engage in “callous yuan diplomacy,” enjoy “an ugly partnership” with the “genocidal” Sudan government, and have Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe as its “favorite,” contributing to Zimbabweans’ lack of free elections and “sane economic policies.” The Times avers that China is pushing the poorest African workers deeper into poverty by flooding Africa with cheap goods and lending to African states without insisting on standards that Western states purportedly promote through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The Times also expressed outrage at a PRC company’s exploitation of Zambian miners.