ARE CHINA’S RELATIONS WITH AFRICA NEOCOLONIAL?
The emergence of China as a new economic power and the deep relations it has with Africa drew and received global attention. For Africa which was formerly controlled economically by its development partners, now enjoys relations with a new and emerging power on a seemingly equal footing. The economic control of Africa and its natural resources have become the major issues for opposing interests by the big powers (Van Dijk 2009). As expected, China’s advancement into Africa is no exception; its relation with Africa has received condemnations from Africa’s traditional donors. In fact, the term neo-colonialism is usually used to describe the relations between China and Africa (Rotberg 2008). Some argued that the China-Africa relation was not different from the relation Africa had with the West (Gaye and Brautigam 2002). Yet still, others are worried about the fact that Beijing was cooperating with regimes denounced by the international community (Sudan and Zimbabwe) (Van Dijk 2009).
On the issue of colonization, Beuret and Michel estimated the number of Chinese in Africa to be around 750,000 while Zequan Huang, a reporter for the People's Daily (Renmin Ribao) put the figure to be around 500,000 and stressed that this could not be described as colonizing Africa. Similarly, Martyn Davies, director of the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa argued that Chinese presence in Africa could not be described as colonization in fairness. To buttress his point, he pointed out that ‘there are 2,000 Chinese companies in Singapore and no one speaks of colonization, there are only 900 in Africa, the second continent in the world and everybody speak of colonization’ (Financial Times 2008).
CHINA’S LACK OF RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Meanwhile, Western scholars have also criticized the relations. They cite in particular, the perceived lack of China's respect for human rights and reluctance to fight corruption (Alessi and Hanson 2012). Alden (Alden 2007) is one of the few to have recorded these negative sentiments. In ‘China in Africa’ at page 104, he discussed the official U.S rhetoric focusing on issues of democracy and natural resources. He emphasized that the U.S perceives China’s presence in Africa an obstacle to (what they consider as) the fragile process of democratization and of course U.S grip on African resources (Alden 2007).
In this modern time, information management is essential and critical especially with respect to the terms and conditions of loans, investment and aid provided by developing partners to developing nations. For example, Brautigam in ‘The Dragon's Gift: the real story of China in Africa’ at page 2, used the term ‘gifts’ and ‘mysterious donations’ to describe loans, investment and aid projects offered by China to Africa because of the lack (according to her) of transparency in the funds paid to African countries. She indicated that aid provided by China raised very sensitive questions bothering on transparency, corruption and human rights issues (Brautigam 2009). Note that these issues have been raised severally by various people in the Western media. In 2006 for instance, Wieczorek Zeul, the then German development minister, stated in an interview that China perceived development in Europe as an alarm that just sounded. She openly criticized China’s aid policy to Africa and insisted that loans to Africa ‘should be linked with conditions’ (ECDPM 2007).
THE PROBLEM OF LOANS WITHOUT CONDITIONS
Similarly in 2007, Philippe Maystdt, past President of the European Bank, renewed this propaganda. He claimed that loans could drive the debt of Africa to dangerous levels if China continued to lend too easily; in other words, lend to Africa without conditions. He then, asked the European Union (EU) to open dialogue with China to discuss the problems of loans without conditions (ECDPM 2007). In the same year, Hilary James Benn, former British secretary for international development, cautioned the European Community during a visit to Malawi and boldly declared that ‘Chinese aid do more harm than good’ in Africa (ECDPM 2007). According to him, the unconditional aid could lead to setbacks in terms of democracy and human rights developments. Furthermore, Louis Michel, European commissioner for development, during an annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in 2006, advised the European Union to cease attacks on China on the issue of interest-free loans granted to the poorest countries. In fact, he strongly recommended inclusion of China as a partner for promotion of effective development of Africa (ECDPM 2007); in other words, to politically or strategically muzzle China. In a newspaper published by the China Youth Daily and the China Review in February 2007, Solana Javie, a former Representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union, supported the proposal of Louis Michel (Solana 2007). Perhaps, with these comments in mind, the then Director General of the European Commission launched a conference on the 28th of June 2007 dubbed ‘Partners in competition, EU, Africa and China’. This brought together 180 think-tanks and experts such as policy makers, academicians and representatives of civil society and business from China, Africa and the EU to deliberate on the way forward (ECDPM 2007).