As Chinese and African leaders gather in Beijing to discuss increased trade and economic cooperation, China’s commerce minister is praising his country’s growing influence across the African continent.
Chen Deming’s editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper said China-Africa trade grew to a record $166 billion in 2011. Chinese investment in Africa reached $14.7 billion by the end of last year, up 60 percent from two years ago.
In recent years, China has pour billions of investment dollars into Africa and rapidly expanded trade ties and influence across the resource-rich continent.
In recent years, resource-starved China has poured billions of dollars into resource-rich African countries in an attempt to expand its trade ties and influence across the continent.
Some in Africa are concerned that China’s willingness to provide economic investments with no strings attached to countries with poor civil rights records is jeopardizing the realization of free and open societies.
Charges of “neo-colonialism”
China’s growing economic involvement in Africa includes oil drilling and road projects in insecure areas often considered too dangerous to operate in by Western companies.
Talk to Zambians on the street, and they tend to paint the Chinese as opportunists who exploit Zambian resources and workers, while considering themselves above the law.
The disaffection is easy to understand. Traditional, family-run businesses like textiles and chicken farming, have been decimated by the influx of Chinese.
By importing cheap labor and goods from China, the migrants undercut local entrepreneurs causing thousands of job losses.
Bernard Lusale is financial services coordinator with Zambian Micro-bankers Trust, a government-funded agency that supports small local businesses and traders. “In nearly every town we are able to find Chinese – anywhere they can find business. Their prices [are] minimal as compared to this poor Zambian who has accessed a loan at a great cost and as a result [has] to struggle to raise the re-payment,” he said.
The employment practices in Chinese businesses are also feeding local opposition.
An incident last November at a Chinese-owned coal mine in Collum, in the south of the country, represents a low point in Sino-Zambian relations.
Upset by roof collapses and the withholding of salaries, the miners staged a spontaneous but non-violent protest. Instead of negotiating with their staff, Chinese managers fired on them with shotguns.