Wednesday, May 03, 2006

U.S.-China Relations: An Apology of Sorts

Some of my regular readers may remember my earlier post on the subject of China in Africa: The CNOOC Nigerian Oil Deal that together with posts from some Global Voices community’s bloggers who write regularly about African affairs got a lot of attention back in January 2006. Now that the People’s Republic of China’s President Hu Jintao has completed his world tour to the United States, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Nigeria, and Kenya, I want to address the subject of China in Africa again here at Jewels in the Jungle. But before I start on that complex set of issues I want to make an apology of sorts.

I’ve been reflecting about how I have presented some of my views online about the People’s Republic of China and I am concerned that what I have written may appear to be xenophobic and racist toward the Chinese people. Nothing could be further from the truth and I would never want to encourage people to behave with fear and prejudice toward one another based on ethnicity or anything else.

Chippla, a Nigerian engineer (& outstanding blogger) based in The Netherlands, recently wrote about the
growing relationship between Angola and China where we both had the opportunity to express our concerns and ideas in a way that I felt was honest and open. I wrote in the comments section of his post words that I wish to share here with readers of my blog. Although to date I do not have many visitors who read Jewels in the Jungle from inside the People’s Republic of China (my blog is proudly forbidden by the Great Firewall of China) I do hope that some have found ways to outfox the Chinese Internet Police and may be reading this post. If you are on the wrong side of the Great Wall, read fast and remember the Tank Man of ‘89 (PBS). For those of you who would like to know more about Beijing’s censorship of the Internet please read the BusinessWeek article on the Great Firewall of China and also check Global Voices many posts on China and Rebecca MacKinnon’s Rconversation blog. Of course many blog authors and other support the global campaigns to release the Prisoners of the Great Wall.

Here are excerpts from my comments at
Chippla’s blog on April 10th:

“I realize that I must appear very Sino-phobic and alarmist in my comments about Chinese investment activities in Africa and elsewhere these days.”

“This aggressiveness is not meant to include the millions and millions of people in [the PRC] China who remain helpless to affect any type of real change in their government. My comments are primarily focused on the small cadre of business and political elites that control practically all facets of Chinese life today.”

“Fact is I DO NOT TRUST anything that the Communist regime in Beijing does both domestically and internationally.”

“Perhaps that is the unfortunate thing for me, that I will never have trust in that country’s foreign policies until I see a radical change in the way mainland China is governed and in the behavior of certain Chinese businesses working in at-risk developing countries.”

“Of course I shall be long dead before that China ever rises.”

Chippla has updated his series on China in Africa with the April 27th post titled “From China Town to Oil Deals” where he writes:

“With regard to China’s recent encroachment on the African continent, I have declared myself a Sino-skeptic a number of times on this weblog, i.e., someone who prefers to be cautious about such a relationship rather than opening his/her arms to warmly embrace the fast-changing giant. China’s presence on the African continent can no longer be taken for granted. And while some European and American media attempt to make sense of it, objective reporting is very difficult to come by.”

Chippla goes on to write:

“The official line from China with regard to how it is portrayed by Western media, when dealing with Africa, is one of disgust. For instance, preceding President Hu Jintao’s visit to Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya, there was significant coverage both in the Western media, and the English-speaking blogosphere about China’s increasing role in Africa. What astonishes one, with regard to the blogosphere coverage, is the diversity of the people who write about these things. They seem to be scattered all across the globe!”

Chippla then highlights a recent “news article” from the PRC government’s media mouthpiece The People’s Daily (English version). Here are some excerpts from that April 26th Chinese newspaper article:

“Western media hypes up China’s ‘economic colonialism’ in Africa, cooking up stories about China’s oil-and-nonferrous metal motivated investment increase in Africa and playing up the ‘threat’ on local business and labor economy by China’s imports of raw materials and exports of manufacturing products.”

“None of those assertions which sound mindful of the interest of the African people are based on facts or go with the tides. Behind them is the intention of sowing discord between China and Africa. As it is known to all, western powers, not China, colonized Africa and looted resources there in the history. There is no historical feuds or interest conflicts between China and African countries. The traditional friendship between China and Africa has a long history and is well-established.”

Normally I would lash out with a snide remark or two about the People’s Daily description of western media news coverage of President Hu’s “historic trip” but out of respect for some dear Chinese friends and colleagues who have had a great influence on my life, I will remain silent for now, and press on.

No American (U.S.) citizen can comfortably give advice to an African citizen or government official about how to handle trade relationships with China. All you have to do is read some of the reports and news articles about U.S.-China relations today to realize that America itself doesn’t really know how to proceed with this bilateral relationship. Lot’s of big problems between the governments of these two countries and between the people of these two countries as well.

Tom Plate, a professor at UCLA (University of California – Los Angeles) and founder of the UCLA AsiaMedia news daily, thinks that Americans don’t really care or understand much about China. Professor Plate wrote in his April 13th article “China’s boss man comes to America”:

"The average American knows less about China than the average Chinese citizen knows about America. This is sad but true. The reason is basically threefold. For one thing, the U.S. news media in general does a poor job of informing the American public about the world in general, about Asia as a region and about China in particular. The second reason is that China is not open enough for the Western media in general to really understand the place, and China usually does a poor job telling its own side of the story. The third reason is that (America's university-age generation perhaps withstanding) the American people are mainly provincial-looking and entertainment-addicted and are far more interested in knowing about the latest with Brittany Spears than with Madam Wu Yi, the brilliant vice-premier of China who was in Washington earlier this month to smooth boss Hu's way.

The average Congressman knows little about China, has never been there, and faces a re-election in November. He/she will do almost anything for votes. An easy target is China's $200-billion-plus trade advantage over the U.S. Of course, if Americans would buy less, use their credit cards less, and spend less time at predominantly Chinese-import emporia like Toys' R Us, that imbalance would reduce quickly. But economic subtleties are not major players in U.S. election campaigns.

The U.S. Pentagon has been complaining about China's military buildup, especially of its submarine fleet. Worrying about and preparing to combat the strength of potential foes is the Defense Department's basic job, of course. So let's be realistic, not conspiratorial. Even so, the Pentagon ought to also point out that China's spends much less money on its military than does the U.S. China does not have bases in the Americas as we do in Asia, and has not invaded any countries recently, as we did Iraq. Are we naïve to want a somewhat more balanced picture from the Pentagon?"

Professor Plate makes some very good points here, but I am not so sure that all of what he is writing can be taken as a matter of fact. Maybe a key point here is the use of the word “average” in describing what U.S. citizens and politicians know about the People’s Republic of China and vice-versa.

My own personal experiences with people of Chinese ancestry in my home country (the U.S.A.) and abroad has been overwhelmingly positive. I have a great deal of respect for my Chinese friends, acquaintances, and colleagues as their lives have certainly touched and shaped my own. I remember many of my Chinese American and Chinese national friends and classmates, neighbors and work colleagues as being exceptionally bright, hardworking, friendly, and an innovative people who were often eager to help with problems of every kind as well as share in the fun and traditions of everyday American life. They worked hard to become accepted as equals in the U.S. against great odds and blatant racism from several other “American” ethnic groups and individuals. The Chinese American people’s struggle for full acceptance and equality in America continues right up to this very day in some places, unfortunately.

The Chinese have been and will always be an invaluable asset to the very fabric of American culture and life, helping to build our great nation from their arrival on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in large numbers in the early 1800’s. They have toiled right beside us in slavery times and in freedom, fought and died for the United States of America in foreign wars right alongside other Americans, and they have suffered indignities that few other ethnic groups have had to bear i.e. the discrimination against Chinese immigrants from 1882 to 1943 that refused naturalized citizenship to legal Chinese residents in a country where their ancestors had lived and died for generations (ref:
The Chinese Exclusion Act). Here is an full excerpt from one of the documents that can be found at the excellent University of Houston Digital History website:

Digital History – Asian American VoicesRacism and the Law

Year: 1854

The California Supreme Court rules that a Chinese witness could not testify against a white man accused of murder. After George Hall was convicted of the murder of Ling Sing, based on the testimony of three Chinese witnesses, Hall’s lawyer argued that a California statute barring testimony by African Americans, mulattoes, and Indians applied to all non-whites. The court concurred.

The appellant, a free white citizen of this State, was convicted of murder upon the testimony of Chinese witnesses.

The point involved in this case is the admissibility of such evidence.

The 394th section of the Act Concerning Civil Cases provides that no Indian or Negro shall be allowed to testify as a witness in any action or proceeding in which a white person is a party.

The 14th section of the Act of April 16th, 1850, regulating Criminal Proceedings, provides that "No black or mulatto person, or Indian, shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a white man."

The true point at which we are anxious to arrive is, the legal signification of the words, "black, mulatto, Indian, and white person, " and whether the Legislature adopted them as generic terms, or intended to limit their application to specific types of the human species. . . .

The Act of Congress, in defining that description of aliens may become naturalized citizens, provides that every "free white citizen," etc. . .

If the term "white," as used in the Constitution, was not understood in its generic sense as including the Caucasian race, and necessarily excluding all others, where was the necessary of providing for the admission of Indians to the privilege of voting, by special legislation?

We are of the opinion that the words "white," "Negro," "mulatto," "Indian," and "black person," wherever they occur in our Constitution and laws, must be taken in their generic sense, and that, even admitting the Indian of this continent is not of the Mongolian type, that the words "black person," in the 14th section, must be taken as contradistinguished from white, and necessary excludes all races other than the Caucasian.

We have carefully considered all the consequences resulting from a different rule of construction, and are satisfied that even in a doubtful case, we would be impelled to this decision on ground of public policy.

The same rule which would admit them to testify, would admit them to all the equal rights of citizenship, and we might soon see them at the polls, in the jury box, upon the bench, and in our legislative halls.

This is not a speculation which exists in the excited and overheated imagination of the patriot and statesman, but it is an actual and present danger.

The anomalous spectacle of a distinct people, living in our community, recognizing no laws of this State, except through necessity, bringing with them their prejudices and national feuds, in which they indulge in open violation of law; whose medacity is proverbial; a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior, and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point, as their history has shown; differing in language, opinions, color, and physical conformation; between whom and ourselves nature has placed an impassable difference, is now presented, and for them is claims, not only the right to swear away the life of a citizen, but the further privilege of participating with us in administering the affairs of our Government.

These facts were before the Legislature that framed this Act, and have been known as matters of public history to every subsequent Legislature.

There can be no doubt as to the intention of Legislature, and that if it had ever been anticipated that this class of people were not embraced in the prohibition, then such specific words would have been employed as would have put the matter beyond any possible controversy.

For these reasons, we are of opinion that the testimony was inadmissible.

The judgment is reversed and the cause remanded.

End of text… DAMN!! That’s Hard. No Justice.

Our entire nation owes a great debt to the Chinese and other Asian peoples who emigrated to the United States of America, for God knows that they did NOT have an easy time and faced unbelievable abuse and xenophobia in the U.S. from all kinds of ethnic groups and people of other races, political leaders and exploitive businessmen___ including lots of exploitation and severe abuse from criminals amongst their very own people.

More can be learned about Chinese American history in the United States at the resources provided below. I place it here up front ‘cause I want you to read and bookmark this valuable information before I continue with my posts about China, the Chinese, and The People’s Republic of China.

Digital HistoryAsian-American Voices
Note: Digital History is an interactive mega textbook project on American History sponsored by the University of Houston, Chicago Historical Society, The National Park Service, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and others.

PBS and The Center for Educational Telecommunications
Ancestors in the Americas produced by Loni Ding
Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
History of Angel Island Immigration Station
AIIS Resource page (a goldmine of documents, videos, the works)

Chinese Historical Society of America and the CHSA blog
Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles (California)

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Chronology of Asian American History
Stanford University
Text of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

Asian-American Immigration History

To be continued…

Next post on China: The Eagle vs. The Dragon - Round 3

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sokari said...

For once it seems we are in total agreement "Fact is I DO NOT TRUST anything that the Communist regime in Beijing does both domestically and internationally.” With regards the comment quoted by Chippla by the TPD - well they would say that wouldnt they. Its not what they say but what they do that we need to be concerned about eg their appalling human rights record, repressive authoritarian leadership, corruption is rife - this is the baggage which they take to Africa and so they have been sold the Niger Delta by Obasanjo. Based on the above can we honestly be optimistic about what they will bring to the ND? I dont think so. In my mind people are just looking at this from a narrow very narrow economic perspective - this is aid money not investment! see my post on ND a couple of days back

Jennifer said...

I may not have read this post carefully (I was a bit rushed, I must admit) but I am at a loss as to what was racist or xenophobic about your comments...

On the topic of China and Africa. I am a sinophile and so have a hard time being objective. I haven't made up my mind about China's role in Africa and if it is "good" or "bad," but as an American citizen with a decent knowledge of my own's country diplomatic history, I have a hard time demonizing China's role in Africa as the U.S. and other Western media often can. China, like any other state, is neither good or bad. It is simply seeking to maximize whatever it perceives as its national interest.

That might sound a little too textbook, but I think that's essentially true. If China sees its own image as in its national interest, then it will behave in a very different way than if its primary concern is feeding its ravenous appetite for raw materials. Which is more important to China right now? Well, you do the math :-)

In a word, I am tired of the is China "good" or "bad" or "better" or "worse" than the U.S. debates. World powers do what they have always done. I don't trust what any major power does internationally, communist or not.

jennifer said...

PS: On the subject of image, I don't know if you have seen this yet, but it seems that China's image is faring about the same or better than the U.S. in many African countries.

Competing With China for Africa's Hearts and Minds (Sorry about the plug for my own site. Not intentional :-)

Black River Eagle said...

First thanks to Sokari of "Black Looks" blog and Jennifer of "Africabeat" blog & for expressing your views about this post on China.

Sokari, we probably agree on many issues but our "methods" of dealing with certain types of severe problems and crisis around the world would be markedly different. For example, I'm much more prone to support the use of overwhelming military force to get people's attention in certain crisis (i.e. the Sudan et. Al) than you would be. I did read your latest posts about China in Nigeria and I left a comment.

Jennifer, I also read your latest article at "Competing with China for Africa's Hearts and Minds" and thanks for the Heads Up. Null problemo with your "shameless self-promotion" as your input is always welcome here.

As I attempted to clarify (sort of) in this post on U.S.-China relations I am not demonizing the Chinese people but I do strongly condemn the foreign policies of the Beijing government and the ominous activities of Beijing's various international business tentacles in places like the Sudan and the DRC and and and...

I'll expand on my views further in my follow-up posts on China; this one was just a brief footnote on behalf of the great Chinese people who helped to build our own country and millions more like them all around the world.

Jen, perhaps you can show readers something where the PRC government and/or one or two from the millions of Chinese bloggers and online authors have addressed the Sudan issue in an objective and honest way? Or is Sudan an example of where China's national interests come before the lives of millions of innocent women, children, and yes men who are dying from the continued rapes and other forms of violence, thirst, disease and starvation on a barren desert while they await the world community to come to their aid.

I feel just as strongly toward any other government and/or business entity that supports or has supported the murderous regime in Khartoum and Janjaweed militias... including those who choose to just "look away" and do nothing.

ChinaLawBlog said...

I think you help to open yourself up to accusations of racism by fighting them so hard by emphasizing that you know many Chinese whom you like. I think you would be better off just stating your political/economic/military views and letting the chips fall where they may.

Black River Eagle said...

Good point Dan (or Steve?), I'll remember that in my next post about China in Africa (there will be more, you can count on that).

I would advise my readers to stop by the China Law Blog for some interesting insights on how business law in the PRC really works... and presumably some other good stuff about the PR China. Here is the link:

Thanks for stopping by and please do check back for follow-ups.

Jennifer Brea said...

Hi Bill. I've finally replied to your questions about Sudan, go here: here.

I finally read Chippla's post and realize now why you were a bit concerned about your tone. I agree with China Law Blog. Saying you have Chinese friends is a bit like the cliche about white Americans having black friends. But no need to act contrite...we bloggers (myself include) are passionate people and I'm definitely guilty of occasionally stepping out on a rhetorical limb to make a point (or because I get a bit carried away by the moment :-)