Economist debate on pros and cons of Chinese involvement

From 15 to 19 February, The Economist hosted a debate on Africa and China with the opening statement “This house believes that China’s growing involvement in Africa is to be welcomed.” Both the “defense” and the “opposition” was represented by African professors teaching at American universities. Their statements essentially reiterated the usual arguments, but there were a few new details.

Calestous Juma, indentified as Professor of the Practice of International Development, The Belfer Center, Harvard, defended the motion. Among other things, he mentions what seems to be a new initiative: that “China launched a postdoctoral programme for Africans. The candidates will understudy China’s science parks, but each will also return home with scientific equipment worth $22,000.” Juma adds that

In February 2010, China launched the China-Africa Economic and Technology Cooperation Committee of the China Economic and Social Council aimed at helping Africa to learn from China’s development experiences. Speaking at the launch ceremony in Beijing, Ghana’s ambassador to China, Helen Mamle Kofi, said the country’s economics provide Africa with an “example to follow in terms of economic, financial, social, technological and cultural integration”.

The last bit is interesting: did Kofi really mean that China’s “cultural integration” is a model for Africa as a continent? Or within individual African societies?

Representing the opposition, Professor George Ayitteyi, of American University, lists all the familiar arguments (including the Namibian bribery case of a company formerly associated with Hu Jintao’s son) but rather undermines his credibility by claiming that “China even has a secret plan, called the ChongqingExperiment, to resettle 12m of its farmers in Africa.”

Two guests were asked to comment on the debate, among them Yang Yao, director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University. The debate received over 300 comments, and the winner will be announced on 22 February.

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