Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Age of the Dragon: German press on China's Conquest of the 'schwarze Kontinent'

While the People’s Republic of China is still reeling from the latest slavery scandal in the country (Hat Tip: Global Voices) and the Beijing officials have ordered the Chinese press and TV networks to stop reporting on the issue, I couldn’t help but wonder what implications this has for workers at Chinese businesses that are expanding so rapidly across sub-Saharan Africa. Of course it would be ridiculous and xenophobic to even suggest that the type of behavior uncovered in Shanxi province is widespread and is practiced by Chinese businesses working abroad, but if you do a Google search on Chinese slavery you do come up with a lot of stuff. For example, I didn’t know that slavery has been a problem in China dating back to the Shang Dynasty (18th-12th Century B.C.).

My regular readers know all too well that I have serious doubts about the Beijing government’s ‘good intentions’ toward African people as the world looks on in awe at China’s massive investments in African oil, gas, and minerals, no-strings-attached government sponsored loans to cash-strapped African governments in return for huge no-bid public infrastructure contracts and door-wide-open policies for cheap Chinese imports and labor. But for a change I am not going to go down that path and instead will point readers to the objective, independent, and transparent reporting on the subject by respected international journalists and news editors. Let’s start with the Germans.

In the weeks preceding the 2007 G8 Summit at Heiligendamm, Germany the EU finance ministers and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel ‘voiced deep concern’ over some $20 billion dollars in loans promised by the Beijing regime to key African nations in the wake of the May 2007 African Development Bank meeting in Shanghai. In a statement made at the Potsdam meeting of G8 finance ministers Germany’s Peer Steinbruck said, “…China is willing to re-launch what we are trying to break, with our debt relief.”

How do the Germans feel about China’s aggressive push into the African continent? There has been some limited TV news and press coverage on the subject recently in light of the German Chancellor’s intense focus on helping to reduce poverty in Africa by forcing fellow G8 leaders to live up to their promises made at the 2005 G8 Summit, by increasing Germany’s direct foreign aid and development to African nations, and by encouraging German business leaders and entrepreneurs to invest more in Africa. During a pre-summit conference, the African Partnership Forum in Berlin, attended by some key African and European political and business figures, Merkel stated in a report by Germany’s Deutsche Welle news service:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen opened the Africa Partnership Forum in Berlin on Tuesday.

The two-day meeting is looking at how the G8 can help the world's poorest continent. It will "make recommendations for the preparations for the G8 and African Union summits," the German government said.

On Monday, the chancellor had met with German business leaders in Berlin and urged them to invest more in Africa.

"Whoever accepts Africa as an investment location today will reap the rewards tomorrow," Merkel told the group of high-ranking managers, including the chief executives of automaker Volkswagen and telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom. The meeting was also attended by representatives from medium-sized businesses, trade groups and international organizations.

"Africa is a continent with an unbelievable development potential," Merkel said.

The meeting at the chancellery discussed investment opportunities in Africa, as well as good governance and ways to integrate the continent in the global economy. Merkel said she and business leaders agreed that political efforts to improve government in Africa should be coordinated with economic activities.

In a parallel meeting, the German World Bank Forum opened in Berlin on Monday. German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said that Africa received only two percent of worldwide direct investment at present.

"That is not enough," Wieczorek-Zeul said. "Germany and the G8 are supporting reform-minded Africa countries through a partnership for development aimed at creating the basis for an increase in sustainable investment: good governance, an adequate infrastructure and combating corruption."

The two-day World Bank Forum is hosted by the German Development Ministry and the World Bank.

Read more at Deutsche Welle Germany’s Chancellor...Urges Investment in Africa 22.05.2007

Germany’s Der Speigel magazine, a highly respected news source in Germany and across Europe, published a pre-G8 Summit special report on China in Africa titlted ‘The Age of the Dragon: China’s Conquest of Africa’ by Andreas Lorenz and Thilo Thielke.

The China Digital Times (Univ. of California - Berkeley) picked up on the May 30th feature at Spiegel International (Der Spiegel’s English language edition) right away. The CDT (China Digital Times) also has a great podcast interview with Der Spiegel’s former Beijing correspondent Andreas Lorenz that you won’t want to miss titled ‘Andreas Lorenz on Germany’s late China-phobia’.

Update June 20th:

Looks as if the PR of China is grabbing headlines over in the U.K. too! The Aegis Trust has just launched a Sudan Divestment Campaign focused on major U.K. retirement funds, Barclays bank, U.K. companies, and (get this) the Church of England's massive investments (100's of millions of British Pounds Sterling) in Sudanese oil projects and China's state-owned oil and chemical companies. More on the Guardian newspaper article and the Comment is Free blog post by Aegis Trust executive director John Smith can be found at the end of this post.

Plus, Eric Jon Magnuson of the Sudan: the Passion of the Present blog has published an article about the growing debate in the U.S.A. and Europe to boycott the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing (aka The Genocide Games). The Related Articles section at the end of this post includes links to press releases, news articles, and video about how German businesses are working in partnership with Chinese companies and the Government of Sudan (GoS) on oil and transport (railway) projects. The researchers at Der Spiegel and Spiegel International online failed to spot that little morsel for their article, and fellow blog authors here in Germany have ignored this little factoid in their posts about the G8 Summit 2007 and/or have chosen to remain selectively ignorant of these facts.

So let’s dig right in by examining a few choice excerpts from the Spiegel article on China in Africa and see if it holds up to heated debate in "the Sphere".

China's Conquest of Africa

by Andreas Lorenz and Thilo Thielke - translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

May 30, 2007

China is conquering Africa as it becomes the preferred trading partner of the continent's dictators. Beijing is buying up Africa's abundant natural resources and providing it with needed cash and cheaply produced consumer goods in return.

Thomas Mumba was a devout young man. He spent his free time studying the Holy Scriptures and directing the church choir at the United Church of Zambia in his hometown of Chambeshi. Mumba, a bachelor, was also committed to abstinence -- from beer and from sex before marriage. A larger-than-life depiction of Jesus Christ surrounded by a herd of sheep still hangs in his room. The poster is pure "Made in China" kitsch, like most things here in the Zambian copper belt, located more than a six hours' drive north of the capital Lusaka.

Mumba, a shy, slight young man, bought the Chinese-made religious image at a local market and hung it up at home. It was cheap, cheaper than goods from Europe, at any rate. Mumba's Chinese Jesus cost him 4,000 kwacha, or about 75 cents. "It was his first encounter with the evil empire," says Thomas's mother Justina Mulumba, two years after the accident that would change her entire life.

Thomas Mumba died on April 20, 2005 when an explosives depot blew up in the Chambeshi copper mine. He had just turned 23 and had been working in the mine for two years. To this day, no one knows how many people died that day, because the mine's Chinese owners attempted to cover up what they knew about the accident. Besides, they had kept no records of who was working near the explosion site on the day of the accident.

According to the memorial plaque, there were 46 victims, but it could just as easily have been 50 or 60. Only fragments of the remains of most of the dead were recovered. Mukuka Chilufya, the engineer who managed the rescue team, says that his men filled 49 sacks with body parts that day. The Chinese have deflected all inquiries about the explosion.

Justina Mulumba wears a mint-green dress as she kneels at her son's grave, whispering almost inaudibly: "Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do." The cemetery is by the side of the road, only a short distance from the plant gates. Chinese trucks drive by, churning up the dry African soil and briefly coating the entire cemetery in a cloud of red dust.

The drivers are in a hurry to get their trucks, filled with copper, to the port of Durban on the Indian Ocean, where the copper will be loaded onto ships bound for China. Mumba wasn't the only one whose fate was sealed by copper. All of Zambia depends on copper, which is by far this southern African country's most important export, well ahead of cobalt. Copper accounts for more than half of all its export revenues.

Feeding China's Hunger for Raw Materials

In the early 1990s, Zambia abandoned its socialist planned economy, Kaunda withdrew from politics and the ongoing slump in copper prices precipitated an economic crisis. In the late 1990s, when then-president Frederick Chiluba felt compelled to give in to pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to privatize the unproductive, unprofitable state-owned mines, the price of a ton of copper was barely $900.

At the time, no one in Africa -- or, for that matter, in New York, London or Geneva -- foresaw India's and China's rise as economic powers, or the attendant thirst for resources. When rising demand suddenly drove up copper prices to previously unanticipated levels, it was yet another stroke of bad luck for poor Zambia that the country had already sold off much of its copper-mining rights to the Australians, Canadians, Indians and Chinese.

A ton of copper costs $8,000 today. Zambian mines are currently producing 500,000 tons a year, a number that could soon increase to 700,000. This is good for the foreign mine owners, but the Zambians see next to nothing of the profits.

Sata captured more than 29 percent of the vote in the September 2006 presidential election, while the winner in that race, current President Levy Mwanawasa, claimed 43 percent. But Sata believes that the election was rigged. According to opinion polls, he was initially clearly in the lead in the capital and in the copper belt. But when the tide turned in favor of the incumbent, Sata cried election fraud and violence erupted in the streets of Lusaka for several days.

If there is one issue which Sata uses to mobilize the masses, it is the Chinese. He has warned voters that they plan to export their dictatorship to Africa, colonize the continent and introduce large-scale exploitation. Unlike Western investors, says Sata, the Chinese have little interest in the Africans' well-being.

The politician quickly talks himself into a rage. Chinese have little interest in human rights, he says. They are only interested in exploiting Africa's natural resources, which they have carted off using their own workers and equipment, and without having paid a single kwacha in taxes. Sata sums up his position as follows: "We want the Chinese to leave and the old colonial rulers to return. They exploited our natural resources too, but at least they took care of us. They built schools, taught us their language and brought us the British civilization."

A majority of Zambians likely agree with Sata. On his recent and third trip to Africa, Chinese President Hu Jintao canceled his planned visit to the Zambian copper belt at the last minute, fearing demonstrations by disgruntled workers and the resulting embarrassing TV images. Only last year, protestors in Chambeshi were injured when police fired into their midst.

Thousands of workers felt they had been conned out of their wages and had staged a protest march in front of the local mine. These demonstrations have become almost a ritual in Chinese-owned mines. The Chinese pay wages of only $30 a month, less than the Indians and substantially less than the salaries paid by the Canadians and Australians.

While Zambians may have long considered Western capitalism barbaric, it now seems practically idyllic compared to the supercharged Chinese version. "At least Western capitalism has a human face," says Sata, "the Chinese are only out to exploit us." Indeed, the Chinese are currently toying with the idea of establishing two Special Economic Zones within Zambian borders. "Then they will have their state within a state," Sata believes, "and will truly be able to do as they please."

'The Silent Invasion'

It is especially irksome to many Zambians that the Chinese have created relatively few jobs in the country. According to Sata, there are already 80,000 Chinese in Zambia, "former prisoners who are housed in labor camps and mine the copper." The metal is shipped to China in the form of copper ore and processed there. Even the machinery comes from China. The Zambian government allows it to be brought in without imposing any duties. The Chinese workers don't even leave their camps for lunch or to drink beer, says Sata, who calls them "a strange people."

Resentment over the behavior of the Chinese is also smoldering elsewhere in Africa. China's involvement in the continent creates few jobs, says political scientist Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari. Instead, he says, "we solve China's problems by giving Chinese workers jobs in our backyard."

According to Hengari, who teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris, Africa is the only continent on which Chinese companies "apply for government contracts, get them and then import Chinese workers." Kenyan monthly magazine New People calls it a "silent invasion." Even South African President Thabo Mbeki, whose country maintains close ties to China, has warned that Africa threatens to become an "economic colony" of China.

Read more of China's Conquest of Africa at Spiegel International Online.

Related articles and online resources (last updated July 5, 2007):

BBC News ( the BBC expands on the China in Zambia mining ripoff)
Zambia's miners see 'little reward', 07/04/07
China's hunger for African minerals, 07/03/07

Finance & Development - a quarterly magazine of the IMF, June 2007 Vol. 44 Nr. 2
(HT re: these new articles goes to Pablo of the World Bank's PSD Blog)
Getting Together: the new partnership between China and Africa for aid and trade by Ulrich Jacoby
Connecting Africa and Asia by Harry G. Broadman
Making Remittances Work for Africa by Sanjeev Gupta, Catherine Patillo, Smita Wagh

AfricaBeat by Jennifer Brea
Can China offer Africa an alternative path for development?, 05/28/07

Danwei (media, advertising, and life in China)
China and Africa: the hypocrisy of the West by Jeremy Goldkorn, 05/28/07

Comment is Free (The Guardian newspaper blog)

Funding Genocide by James Smith (AEGIS Trust U.K.), 06/19/07
China’s lessons for the World Bank by Dr. Jeremy Sachs, 05/24/07

The Guardian Online (UK)
British Investors Urged to Quit Sudan, 06/19/07
(Aegis Trust publishes first dossier detailing U.K. investments linked to the Khartoum regime and launches the U.K. Sudan-China Divestment Campaign)

Sudan - Passion of the Present
Darfur Crisis Sparks Louder Cries for 2008 Olympics Boycott, 06/19/07

China Digital Times (University of California – Berkeley)
Andreas Lorenz on Germany’s late China-phobia, 05/20/06
China’s Conquest of Africa, 05/30/07
Children Slaves, Shanxi, China Video, 06/18/07

The Peking Duck (Taipei, Taiwan)
China’s approach to developing countries way better than the World Bank’s, 05/25/07

DW-World, Deutsche Welle
Germany’s Chancellor Merkel urges investment in Africa, 05/22/07

(Note: see the DW-World video 'German Oil Pumps and Pipelines in Sudan' which features a 10 million Euro export of heavy equipment by Bornemann Pumps from Hanover, Germany. Also see Dornier Consulting and the Sudan Railway Project)

Hitting Sudan in the Pocketbook, 05/02/07

International Herald Tribune
Siemens sets timetable to pullout of Sudan, 01/27/07
Some U.S. states move to bar investments linked to Sudan, 02/21/06

Business & Human Rights Resource Center
Siemens to pull business out of Sudan, 01/22/07
Archive on Siemens, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, Fidelity Investments

Buffet can follow Harvard, ABB lead on Sudan, 01/29/07

Siemens and the moral high ground, 01/22/07

Sudan Tribune
Siemens, Mobitel Sudan sign Euro 20 million deal, 08/09/06

Atlantic Review

Oympics 2008: Only Americans remind China of its resonsibility for Darfur, 06/20/07
Sudan Divestment Campaign against Siemens and others gets stronger, 07/21/06

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Y-Love said...

I'm all over this China slavery thing. First of all, the fact that they're getting the Summer Olympics, at this point, is just inconscienable.

Plus, it just keeps getting worse. The video of the slave kids working is just heart-wrenching.

E-Nyce said...

B.R.E. you are truly amazing. It seems every time I coment about an issue on some blog, then the same/next day you have a comprehensive piece published on it. Bravo.

"My regular readers know all too well that I have serious doubts about the Beijing government’s ‘good intentions’ toward African people as the world looks on in awe at China’s massive investments in African oil, gas, and minerals, no-strings-attached government sponsored loans to cash-strapped African governments in return for huge no-bid public infrastructure contracts and door-wide-open policies for cheap Chinese imports and labor."
Brother/Sister, I'm also a member of the club. Card carrying, dues-paying, proud member.

Keep on doubting.

Black River Eagle said...

Thanks for the visit and the comments e-nyce and y-love. There is a healthy discussion about this topic over at my Berlin friend Jörg Wolf's blog The Atlantic Review. See the link to his article "Olympics 2008: Only Americans Remind China of Its Responsibility for Darfur" in the Related Articles section at the end of my post above. Note that the comments dialogue was joined by a staffer from the Olympic Dream for Darfur Campaign, an organization that gave testimony June 7th before the U.S. House of Representatives - Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. The Atlantic Review post also has a video clip of that testimony.

Howard French, author of "A Continent for the Taking" and a senior foreign correspondent and Shanghai bureau chief for the New York Times, has re-published Der Spiegel's article "Age of the Dragon" at his blog. Howard has recently written a series of good articles about China in Africa for the NY Times and the International Herald Tribune. You can find Howard's work at his personal blog 'A Glimpse of the World'.

A big thanks to Leonard at the Global Voices Lingua Project for translating my post above into Mandarin Chinese so that more Chinese-language readers have access to my stuff and Der Spiegel's feature article on China in Africa. If you prefer reading in Mandarin, vist the Global Voices Online post at:

This Just In (Breaking News):

The prominent U.S. business news magazine, BusinessWeek, has just published an article about the potential public relations disaster facing some multinational corporate sponsors of the Beijing Oylmpics 2008 as a result of the PRC government's support of the Khartoum regime and its complicity in the genocide taking place in Darfur, propping up the brutal regime of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, and a long list of other dirty laundry.

The BusinessWeek piece is worth a read just for laughs at how the PR executives for Olympic Games 2008 sponsors Coca-Cola, MacDonalds, Kodak, Samsung, Adidas, GE, Johnson & Johnson, and others are "sweating bullets" over the mounting pressure from Darfur activists, global celebrities, and U.S. and European consumers over China's behavior in Africa and the Genocide Games of 2008. You can find that article at:

BusinessWeek Online - July 2, 2007 issue - Global Business section

"An Olympic PR Challenge"

That's all folks!...Bugs B.

Pablo said...

You might also be interested in two articles in the most recent issues of finance and development where the relaionship between Africa and China are discussed:



Black River Eagle said...

Thanks for the links Pablo to the recent International Monetary Fund quarterly magazine "Finance and Development" articles about China and Africa trade and aid. This information is very much appreciated despite my continuing deep mistrust of China's long term strategies for African resources and markets.

Pablo Halkyard Ladies and Gentlemen! One of the original founders of the excellent PSD Blog (PSD= Private Sector Development) sponsored by the World Bank Group and the International Finance Corporation. Below is more information about Pablo Halkyard and his new media brainchild and former haunt:

PSD Blog

Here is a short bio on Pablo:

Pablo Halkyard was a private sector development associate in the joint World Bank-IFC Private Sector Development Vice-Presidency and for the IFC Chief-Economist. Along with Tim Harford he was the original founder of the PSD Blog. Prior to joining the World Bank, he worked at an international strategy consultancy specializing on country and project risk analysis. In July 2006 he left the World Bank and is currently at New York University.

Good move Pablo. The NYU campus and lower Manhattan is much more exciting than Washington, D.C. How did I know that it was you? I've got friends in Washington too!

Caoimhin said...

Would you consider joining our campaign to highlight China's human rights issues in this Olympic year? Thank you!

BRE said...

Dear Caoimhin.

Send me some details about this campaign and I will consider supporting it at Jewels in the Jungle. I visited your blog today, nice work. Particularly liked that piece about the blogger in Venezuela, La Gringa, but I am afraid I cannot agree with her views and support for Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia. Let's see how long she lasts down there, if she lasts...