The Shanghai urban design journal Urban China, based at Tongji University, is devoting its upcoming 63rd issue to Chinese urban design in Africa. As is often the case, architects appear to be ahead of social scientists in exploring the scope and implications of Chinese companies exporting not just buildings but entire master plans. A sample of the issue, which is the result of a collaboration with the Netherlands-based Go West Project, is available for download from Douban. It includes a reportage from Lekki Special Economic Zone, an article by the billionaire developer Dai Zhikang, who has vowed to build a new city centre for Johannesburg, and several Chinese architects and urban planners engaged in Africa. The lush illustrations are part of the issue’s draw.
Hungarian radio reported that the government’s spokesman said it was “not a secret” that Hungary wanted to become the regional hub for Chinese railway construction. Negotiations were underway with the Chinese and Serbian governments to upgrade the Budapest-Belgrade railway at a cost of $3 million.
In the last year, regulatory challenges against Chinese companies in Africa have become increasingly commonplace, part of what seems to be a trend of greater African state assertiveness in dictating the terms of business with China as well as a more open competition between Chinese companies. In telecommunications alone, Chinese companies have faced investigations over corruption related to telecom tenders in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Algeria, with both ZTE and Huawei being banned from tenders for two years in Algeria as a result,.
Nonetheless, the fact a $218 million telecom tender awarded Huawei to supply equipment to Zimbabwe’s state-owned telecoms operator NetOne has been challenged in an administrative court with allegations of corruption is significant because it questions the assumption that large Chinese companies do well in undemocratic states politically allied with China by integrating into the patronage networks of the ruling elite.
Today, at the workshop “Fifty Years of China-Africa Cooperation,” held in Harare with FOCAC funding and organised by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre, Zeng Aiping of the China Institute of International Studies, the Foreign Ministry’s think tank, gave a talk on how Africa can learn from China’s development experience. In addition to the usual discussion of agriculture, industry, opening up to foreign investment etc., he foregrounded social stability and the leadership of the Communisty Party, and suggested that African parties, especially ruling parties, can learn from the CCP’s experience in party building, party-state-society relations, and party-military relations.
There has been much discussion of whether China actually wants to export its political model to poor countries in Africa and Southeast Asia; i.e. whether it is consciously strengthening authoritarian regimes or whether this is an unintended by-product to which the Chinese government is largely indifferent but is sometimes forced to become sensitive to, as in the case of Burma. Most people, including myself, hold the latter opinion, but this talk makes me wonder whether at least some parts of the Chinese political establishment are in fact in the former camp.
The symposium’s main organiser, Phyllis Johnson, a long-time Mugabe supporter who blames the country’s problems on Western interference, also pointed in her talk to China’s National People’s Congress as a model of decision making, and specifically suggested that Zimbabwe should learn from China’s approach to having the military under Party control but still allowing it to play a political role.
Just had an interesting conversation with a white Zimbabwean shipping manager in Harare. He told me some of the white farmers who were thrown off their farms by Mugabe in 2002 have come back and are planting tobacco under contract for Chinese companies, which provide seeds and technical support. Would be interesting to know if anyone has done any reserach on this.
As PKU African Tele-Info reports this week (issue 159), the new Ethiopian president, Mulatu Teshome, an Oromo, has a PhD in international relations from Peking University, a department best known for the assertive nationalist Yan Xuetong. This must be the first African head of state — though ceremonial — trained in China.
The 49-year-old general manager of Suzhou Orient Investment, based in Wujiang, a district of Suzhou, is investing $10 million (7.5 million euros) in a factory on the Eastern Industrial Zone in Addis Ababa, making headdresses for both Muslim men and women.
The company is taking advantage of a seven-year duty free period and will eventually employ 200 people on site. The investment came as a result of meeting Africa officials at a China-Africa forum in Suzhou last year.
“We will be closer to our key markets in the Middle East such as Dubai, Qatar, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Sudan,” he says.
Some 70 percent of Muslim headwear globally is now made in Wujiang, near where a number of chemical substances required in their manufacture are located. The company intends to use its new Addis Ababa base as springboard to operate in 20 other African countries over the coming few years.
“We were the first to introduce headdress making techniques here and the district has since become a major global production center for them,” he says.
So not only is Suzhou the global centre of “Muslim headdress” (kefiya?) manufacturing, but it will now outsource to Ethiopia! In some ways, Chinese globalisation progresses faster than I could think.