The Chinese in Africa: Threat or Promise?

The Chinese in Africa: Threat or Promise?

(July 2008) In this month’s edition of the Journal of International Peace Operations (PDF), former U.S. Ambassador to Gambia and Senegal Herman Cohen writes that China’s ability for large investments and Africa’s abundant natural resources can contribute to significant economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa.

Cohen agrees with a recent briefing before the Subcommittee on African Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. has nothing to fear from Chinese activities in Africa.

American strategic interests in Africa are not threatened by China. There is absolutely no interference from China against American-African cooperation in counterterrorism, money laundering, narcotics trafficking and other perils.

But Cohen warns against complacency on the African side and calls for stronger domestic champions on African issues.

The Africans need to defend themselves against Chinese exploitation. African governments should place limits on the number of Chinese laborers who are brought in to execute Chinese projects or work in Chinese enterprises. African workers should be given priority. Africans with education should also be given opportunities to advance to management levels in Chinese enterprises. […]

The key aspect of China in Africa right now is the responsibility of African governments to understand and protect their own interests. More often than not, African governments are supinely accepting whatever China is throwing at them, with little thought to the welfare of the African person on the street or in the village.

Apart from serving as Ambassador, Cohen has also represented the governments of Angola and Zimbabwe through his own lobbying firm and is currently working as a consultant to an American aluminum company and a power plant company in the Republic of Congo.

Chinese Firm to Develop Iron Ore Project in Gabon

(July 9, 2008) China Daily reports that the China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation (CMEC) has signed an agreement on mineral rights of Belinga iron ore reserves with the Gabonese government. The deal has been in the making for over a year.

A joint venture company will run the Belinga mine and its supporting infrastructures for 25 years, and is expected to have access to 30 million tons annually.

The exploration and construction costs will be more than $790 million, including the construction of 500 km railways, dams and deepwater ports, according to a report by Shanghai Securities News.

So far, the Belinga iron ore project is China’s largest resource investment in Africa. (Ed: more likely in Gabon)

Last year, when the contract was already under discussion, it was reported that:

Local ecology groups say they fear the contract, whose detailed terms have not been made public, may not contain sufficient safeguards to protect against environmental damage, for example through parallel logging activities by the Chinese.

Gabon has part of the Congo Basin forest, the second largest forest in the world which conservationists fear is being damaged by uncontrolled, illegal logging as well as by a proliferation of mining projects.

In related news today:

China Discusses Darfur Oil-Hunt Aid

From the Wall Street Journal:

(July 9, 2008) Chinese oil-services companies are in talks to help Sudan search for oil in its troubled Darfur region, with the Sudanese army keeping the geologists safe […].

The two Chinese companies […] are Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau, owned by China’s state-run Sinopec, and BGP, the geophysical-services unit of state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. […]

Atrocities committed in southern Sudan and Darfur have led to criticism of the Sudanese government’s use of its oil revenue, as well as China’s role in supplying arms to Khartoum. […]

Given “the vulnerable condition of civilians in Darfur as the conflict there continues,” the beginning of seismic work on the block would warrant scrutiny, said Nina McMurry, an advocacy analyst at the Washington-based Sudan Divestment Task Force.

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