Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chinese Takeaway?

It is easy to forget that China is still a Developing Country. We’re becoming increasingly used to hearing stories about the most rapid and dynamic economic and cultural transformation currently being experienced anywhere in the world - by a fifth of humanity, in fact. As a result, many of us perhaps assume that China has already made it and is a fully paid up member of the First World club. Whatever its current World Bank/IMF enshrined status, China and its growth affect us all and, as we are beginning to realise, its continued growth to world hyper-power status is likely to have an indelible effect on the world’s political structure, natural resources and environment.

Its thirst for Oil, Iron Ore, Soya and Timber has affected countries as diverse as Canada, Brazil and Sudan. Vast swathes of the Amazon (the equivalent to the size of Israel each year) are being exploited by non-indigenous farmers to grow Soya that’s then exported and fed to Chinese livestock. Canada has opened up old coal and copper mines in Alberta and British Columbia to meet Chinese demand and China has struck deals with non-democratic regimes in several African states. Most predominant amongst these is Sudan, where, because of international embargos and the unwillingness of many western companies and governments to invest, the Sudanese have found themselves isolated and are grateful for Chinese investment and assistance.

Thousands of Chinese labourers today live and work in Sudan and Khartoum now echoes to the sound of Karaoke bars each night. Since 1993 China has been a Net importer of Oil, and Sudan now provides 12% of that demand. 80% of all oil currently drilled in Sudan is exported to China through Chinese built and partially-owned pipes, refineries and ports. The West’s surprise at the speed of the Chinese involvement in the Horn of Africa is matched only by its unease at the level of engagement the Chinese have with a regime widely blamed for the genocide currently being perpetrated in the Darfur region of Sudan. China acknowledges that it is engaged in oil related projects in Darfur but is mute when quizzed on the ethnic conflict currently occurring there and the Sudanese governments’ complicity in it.

China has longstanding links with many African states, as during the Cold War it participated heavily on the continent with its Foreign Policy of aid without political intervention. As a result it made long term friends, connections it is able to make the most of today. It is this week hosting a large scale conference where representatives of virtually every state in Africa are in attendance. To mark the occasion the smoky skyline of Beijing is punctuated by brightly coloured pictures depicting classic scenes of African wild animals. The Chinese are hoping to secure not only their growing trade links with the continent but also political support essential for manoeuvrings at such international bodies as the Untied Nations. It knows that this voting power will be crucial in future trade talks and in possible political ranglings with the US, Russia and Japan.

Meanwhile, to meet its surging demand for power, China completes the construction of a new coal fired power station each week. In ten years its total annual Carbon emissions will surpass that of even the World’s current worst polluter, the United States, and continue to rise to national output levels the world is yet to experience. China’s own environment is already paying an extremely high price for the cost of its rapid development. The Yangtze River is polluted and dying and the new Chinese love affair with the car is causing 19th Century style ‘Pea-Souper’ pollution to occur in most of its major cities.

It seems that the rise of China is triggering a myriad of emotions in those concerned for the world’s wellbeing. Its involvement and large scale investment in Africa is positive if it leads, as many hope it will, to the reduction in poverty and an increase in development on the continent. However, China’s no ‘questions asked’ foreign policy causes many to fear that its investment will instead lead to the propping up of corrupt and undemocratic regimes and missappropriation of funds on a massive scale. Critics of China’s involvement point to the trade deals it has signed with many African countries and argue that the opening up of their economies to Chinese goods will undermine domestic industries such as textiles and agriculture, exposing them to Chinese competition.

China’s remarkable growth has not occurred by magic: it is the result of 30 years of growing foreign direct investment from mainly Japan, Europe and the US. Its huge low paid and organised workforce has for years provided the west with ever cheaper goods delivered in large numbers, and in turn China has been changing rapidly. That China’s growth and expansion should carry such a potentially heavy economic price tag for the world’s poorest people, and carry an unbearable environmental expense to the world itself should cause widespread concern.

The answer may come from the Chinese themselves, yet with little sign that the growing Chinese middle classes are interested in democratic accountability and governance for their country, the world may well be left holding its breath.

[Blogging by Dan]


Anonymous said...

to the writer, if the world use china like a toilet and refused to clean up after the dirty business, how on earth the toilet can be kept clean. " user of toilet must always keep the toilet clean after used." As for the African crooks they were once upon a time good friend of the west.

Dan said...

I am not sure of your analogy of a toilet in relation to China. In what way does the world use China as a toilet as you put it? China, in its rush to develop seems to be fully able to destroy its own environemt. Whilst it is true that a high demand for goods in the west is contributing to this destruction, it is surely the responsibilty of the Chinese governement to ensure that planning regulations and the costs to the environemt are taken into account so that the price paid by the Chinese people and environment for this rapid industrialiasation is not too high.

In many instances throuhgout China, whether due to a lack of democratic accountability or localised corruption by Communist Party officials controls and checks on industrial development simply don’t occur. This it seems leads to the enrichment of the few to the detriment of millions of ordinary Chinese.

As for your refernece to ‘African crooks’ and the West, there certainly is a history during the Cold War period especially of both the then USSR and the USA backing unsavory regiemes in Africa to halt the influence of either side spreading on the continent. However that really should be taken in the context of that period in time. China today is fully backing regeimes in Sudan to whom it is not only selling arms, but is also building them in country. In Zimbabwe, to which it has sold fighter jets and in a gesture of goodwill has even supplied orietal style roof tiles to President Mugabe for his huge Mansion currently under construction in the Harare suburbs. All whilst his people suffer with inflation of over 1000% and little food due to his governments threats towards any oppostition, appaling economic record and corruption. Then to Angola where China has been accused of turning a blind eye towards the governements corruption and human rights abuses in order to sign trade deals.

Whilst Chinese involvement with Africa is seen as being generally positive the lack of Chinese democratic accountability at home means that its government can invest large sums of money in questionable regimes in Africa without having to be answerable to anyone for it. Western democracies on the whole however would face overwhealming internal pressure if they for example decided to invest in a country such as Sudan.

Anonymous said...

UK - Chinese trade is worth (quick internet search) £17billion. Doesn`t that count as backing of the Chinese government and its policies? I mean if our governments really cared they would find somewhere else to conduct their business.

Anonymous said...

did Borat make first post?

Natalia Ulla said...

Chinese Takeaway: King prawns with mushrooms and egg fried rice. yum yum

David C Miller B.A.W.A said...

Where's 'China?

Anonymous said...

Tis a tiny country attached to the bottom of Texas. Population: 3