China’s African Union HQ a Trojan Horse? (Updated)

China’s gift of a new $200 million African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa has generated a great deal of warmth among high-ranking officials, but many in both China and Africa feel decidedly chillier about the project. From The Globe and Mail:

Col. Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator who was overthrown and killed last year, had been the biggest donor to Africa’s political alliance for years. But at its latest summit this weekend, the AU made it clear that Beijing is its new Libya.

The 54-nation African organization is holding its summit in its gleaming new $200-million marble-and-glass headquarters, financed and built by the Chinese government on the site of a former maximum-security prison in Addis Ababa.

It’s the tallest building in the country, and all of it – even the furniture in its spectacular 2500-seat Grand Hall – was supplied by China as a gift to the world’s poorest continent ….

“The people of China and Africa are good friends, good partners and good brothers,” Mr. Jia told the summit. “Our friendship is as solid as the towering Mount Kilimanjaro and as vibrant as the Yangtze River and the Yellow River.”

The continent, said Jia, “boasts a time-honoured history, rich natural resources, talented and courageous people and significant contribution to the advancement of human civilization and world development.” The Financial Times’ William Wallis contrasted this praise with Nicholas Sarkozy’s dismissive 2007 statement that “the tragedy of Africa is that the African has never really entered history”, citing this as an illustration of the displacement from Africa of European by Chinese influence. But at Pambazuka News, Chika Ezeanya argued that the gift in fact represented continuity with the past, and warned of security risks as well as symbolism:

It is to the discredit of the African Union – and therefore to every individual and country within that regional body – that in 2012 a building as symbolic as the African Union headquarters is designed, built and maintained by a foreign country, it does not matter which.

The ancient and modern history of donation of buildings and structures from one nation to another is filled with intrigues and subterfuges, conquests, diplomatic scheming, espionage and counter-espionage, economic manipulations, political statements and dominations. The construction of the Trojan horse by Odysseus and its ‘donation’ resulted in the Greek conquest of the ancient city of Troy after 10 years of unending skirmish ….

While the African Union thinks it has gained from China by moving into its new ultra-modern facility, the reality is that the continent has lost tremendously in all matters worthy of reasonable consideration. The move to reverse the derogatory perception of Africa and Africans by all non-Africans has suffered another major setback. The effect will be the continued political and economic manipulation and domination of the region by the West, and now China, and soon the rest of the non-African world.

Deborah Brautigam investigated Ezeanya’s claim that 90% of the project’s workforce came from China, and found figures ranging from 50% to 100% from a range of Chinese and international sources. In any case, she wrote, this appeared much higher than usual.

Why are there more Chinese working here than the norm I’ve seen, of about 20 Chinese to 80 Africans, on average? I imagine it has something to do with the political importance of the project, and the fact that it was financed as a grant, not a loan. The Chinese wanted to be sure it was done on time, and that it reflected a high standard of quality. And as it was financed by the Chinese as a donation, the Ethiopians probably waived their normally strict work permit requirements. Finally, as an aid project, it has to reflect “mutual benefit”. Using Chinese materials and labor (half) provides some benefit to China … not to mention the longer benefit of having the AU members meet in a stunning modern building donated by Beijing.

CHINAsmack compiled and translated comments posted on a NetEase photo gallery which showed off the impressive new headquarters. Many noted that the project’s RMB 1.3 billion cost neatly amounted to one yuan from every Chinese citizen, while others heatedly discussed the gift’s global and domestic political significance:

tx7250: First I BS those people complaining, typical ignorance. China providing aid to Africa was a national policy that was established when Chariman Mao was still around, because without Africa’s support, it would not have been possible for China to become a permanent member state of the United Nations Security Council. What more, providing aid to Africa is even more invaluable to China whether it is in political influence, strategic interests, or collection of resources, and it has a powerful role in suppressing China’s largest potential enemy — Japan ….

Compatriots, Japan is currently competing with China for Africa, and some people are still ignorantly complaining about our country’s policies. Yes, the country domestically needs development, but what point is there to develop the country domestically if it is in a situation where there is no guarantee of even national security? Only when China’s strategic interests and security in the world is safeguarded can it build the country even better.

First I BS this Beijing netizen [referring to tx7250 above]: Know why everyone is complaining? It’s because this kind of thing, whether its called aid/assistance or political investment, is not the actual will of the people, just like being forced to donate. Do you understand? You using those political things to distort the people’s complaints, aren’t you being a little too ignorant? Moreover, has the world only changed a little bit since Chairman Mao’s time? The rules of communication between countries have changed a lot. Don’t try to defend the government’s incompetence, okay? Also, “but what point is there to develop the country domestically if it is in a situation where there is no guarantee of even national security?”—-May I ask if you don’t develop yourself, how can you going to fundamentally safeguard your safety?

Update: Ministry of Tofu has translated a similar range of opinions from comments on another NetEase slideshow of stadiums, government buildings and other major buildings donated by China to developing countries:

网易湖北省荆州市网友 [qw02416] 的原贴:5 Why the hell does support for China in the international community concern you! Will you then be able to afford housing and medical expenses if the support is strong? Will children have school buses to ride and be away from poisonous food every day then? Enough with your pathetic pride!

网易辽宁省大连市网友(113.227.*.*)的原贴:6 When some day, we are isolated as a result of the Yankees’ courtship (of other countries), and any small potato can come over to beat you, when you have no gut to live in your big house and need to hide in an underground air-raid shelter, when you don’t have the nerve to drive your luxury car during the day, you then will know how badly China needs support in the international community!

网易黑龙江省哈尔滨市网友(122.159.*.*)的原贴:7 Why I have never heard about U.S. providing aid to any country? Is the so-called support as a result of diplomatic bribery really reliable?



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