At least that’s what some in the West are accusing China of, so says People’s Daily, specifically regarding the country’s dealings with a handful of underdeveloped, but natural-resource-rich African nations. In an article vigorously defending China’s foreign policy initiatives in Africa, the paper flatly rejected China’s role as a colonialist, and instead cited historical ties and friendships and painted a picture of “respect for sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit”.
Before Shanghaiist gives our two cents, here are some background info.
- China’s trade with Africa increased fortyfold from 1990 to 2004, with Beijing now getting 15 percent of its oil from Angola and Sudan. Total trade between the two sides neared $40 billion in 2005.
- Three senior Chinese leaders have visited the continent in the last six months, most recently Premier Wen JiaoBao in a seven nation tour just last month.
China’s growing reliance on imported oil is obvious and folks in Beijing have apparently caught on. However, that doesn’t make China a neo-colonialist. Self serving? Yes (despite claims to the contrary). Colonialist? No. Nowadays, with a completely transparent global market and buyers abound, commodity sellers negotiate from a position of strength. In addition, we assume Premier Wen didn’t bring a fleet of PLA warships with him to the negotiation table, there’s no reason to think that the deals made weren’t at arm’s length and mutually beneficial. Talks of China as a “neo-colonialist plundering Africa’s precious resources” are baseless.
That said, China shouldn’t hide behind the pretense of “respect for sovereignty” either, and not exert its tremendous clout over its trading partners to better the lives of their citizens. For example, the global community would welcome China’s presence in pushing the Sudanese government to play a more constructive role in resolving the Darfur standoff and putting an end to ongoing atrocities.
The world doesn’t need China to be a schoolyard bully, nor a selfish bystander. As a permanent member of the UN’s security council and now sporting the fourth largest economy in the world, China needs to be responsible member of the global community — no more, no less.