Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Conference declaration

October 19, 2012

The fourth meeting of the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation(KOAFEC) Ministerial Conference  finished yesterday in Seoul, but its final declaration was circulated two days earlier — in a fashion reminiscent of Chinese conferences.

I don’t recall coming across news about the first, second and third KOAFEC conferences, which goes to show how little international interest there is in South Korea’s activities in Africa — or for that matter in Southeast Asia, despite the fact that in Cambodia, South Korea is a close rival of China in terms of investment volume. The visibility of Korean projects (mostly real estate) and restaurants, karaoke and massage parlours catering to Koreans in Phnom Penh probably surpasses that of their equivalents related to investment from China. The complaints about poor treatment of workers that one hears about Korean employers are close to that of Chinese, and sometimes worse.

The 4th KOAFEC declaration, in terms of its idea, structure, and contents, seems to copy FOCAC, but rather unimpressively and without the rhetoric of mutuality and equal partnership. Infrastructure development, ICT, human resource development, agriculture development, “green growth,” and knowledge sharing are identified as areas of cooperation, but without any specific targets. A short section entitled “The Way Forward” starts with the declaration that the “representatives from African countries expressed gratitute to the people and Government of Korea.”

The one seemingly specific commitment is that

Korea will contribute to the development of African countries by tailoring the Saemaul Movement, a rural development model of Korea, to suit country-specific circumstances and sharing the virtues of diligence, self-help and cooperation (point 25).

Just how this tailoring will happen is unclear, but “sharing the virtues of diligence” is certainly something that no Chinese government programme openly presumes to do (though, of course, many Chinese managers do). The New Community, or Saemaul, campaign (undong) for rural development, was a product of the Park Chung Hee dictatorship in the 1970s and seems like a highly problematic choice for international emulation — despite the Park renaissance taking place in South Korea at the moment.

Opposition to Chinese companies’ labour practices in Zimbabwe

October 9, 2012

The Brussels-based news and campaign website Equal Times, funded by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), reports that 2,000 Zimbabwean workers employed by Anhui Construction Company (AFECC) in the construction of the new National Defence College with a loan from China Export and Import Bank were fired.

Unions say that those companies can fire and hire without notice, that they can even beat those who try and report abuses.

“The Chinese seem to have immunity to prosecution and arrest” claims Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trade Union General Secretary, Nicholas Mazarura.

A few months ago a worker was badly attacked by an employer in Highfield, he was bleeding.

The unionists reported the fact to the local Police station but they were told to solve that issue on their own, since they had instructions not to arrest the Chinese who are “friends of the country”. But it is still unclear who gave these instructions.

The article claims that Chinese companies force workers to work overtime and without adequate safety equipment.

“The Chinese bosses accuse us of being lazy, that we do not want to work for our country. But we are forced to work 8 hours during the day plus 6 hours in the evening even if officially they are complying with the Zimbabwean law which contemplates a work day of 8 hours”,  Peter Dube, employed by a company owned by the Chinese Defence Forces and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, told Equal Times. (…)

“When we accuse them they always say that Zimbabweans must work even for nothing, simply because the Chinese are using their equipment and money to help rebuild Zimbabwe, so they are not supposed to spend on ‘luxuries’ like safety clothing,” a union leader said.

Similar, but more nuanced and much better documented reports have in the last year come out of Zambia (notably a recent Human Rights Watch report) and Angola, the latter focusing in part on the construction industry. Some scholars have attacked them as inaccurate and inherently biased as they focus only on Chinese employers.

This particular report does not seem particularly well researched, and unlike others it has a strident tone. The charge that the workers on the construction of the defence college were fired after the construction ended also seems somewhat surprising, since (a) until now the main charge against Chinese construction projects has tended to be that they do not employ local workers, and (b) how can the company maintain a local labour force if it has finished its activity in the country?

Nonetheless, while for Anhui Construction the need to be flexible with the size of its labour force may be completely obvious, as it cannot predict when and where it will gain another contract, from the perspective of a country in which socialist-style labour protection has a strong tradition and which, unlike elsewhere in Africa, has largely resisted World Bank-style restructuring, these charges are understandable.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this report is that in Zimbabwe, too, labour unions seem to be starting to organise against Chinese owners — despite what I think should be the tight links of organised labour to the ruling ZANU.


ZTE, Huawei executives sentenced in Algeria

July 4, 2012

According to a report on the CCTIME website that has since been removed but has been reposted on World-Story, two executives of ZTE and one of Huawei have been sentenced to ten years in prison for bribery that took place in 2003-06 and involved the Algerian telecom authority. The report says that an international arrest warrant has been issued against the three, indicating they were sentenced in absentia.

This is the first case I have come across of Chinese executives being actually sentenced for corruption by a “developing-country” court.

Chinese contractors’ troubles in Africa

May 31, 2012

Articles reproduced on the TradeMark Southern Africa news aggregator — and forwarded to the China-in-Africa mailing list courtesy of Yoon Jung Park — report that Chinese road construction projects have been suspended in both Botswana and Tanzania because of delays in government payments. In Botswana, the suspension concerns a 115-km stretch being built by Sinohydro. In Tanzania, the Chinese Contractors Association asked the government to pay outstanding debt “so that they can complete the construction of 2,405.6 km trunk roads,” or about 66% of the total being built. “Johnson Chii, the vice chairman of the Chinese Contractors Association (CCA), said the money is owed since 2009, and has affected their ability to proceed with the work.”  I wonder if some of the contractors are private enterprises: road projects usually go to state enterprises as main contractors, but Chii’s Africanised name makes me curious about the situation in Tanzania.

China’s media investments in Africa stay in the news

May 21, 2012

Just a few months after the announcement about a new CCTV African service and the opening of Beijing Review‘s Johannesburg bureau, it is China Daily‘s turn to start an African edition, beginning with a Johannesburg office with one in Nairobi planned. CCTV has recently opened a new New York operation, while China Daily — China’s original officially-desoignated foreign-language paper that has recently undergone a big makeover to make it more readable and credible in the eyes of foreign readers, e.g. by printing critical articles and inviting well-known foreigners to publish op-ed pieces — is now distributed as a weekly advertising supplement of the International Herald Tribune in parts of Europe.

All this is perfectly in sync with the Chinese government’s recent “opinion” on expanding Chinese media abroad, which calls for a comprehensive global media network with  coverage that will “centre on developed and neighbouring countries”  but “use developing countries as a[n intial] base.” (It should also  “rely on the Chinese-language overseas market,” one in which investment from China started earlier but is off Western radar screens.

I am usually tired of the widespread view that takes every Chinese investment in Africa as part of a master plan by the Chinese government. But in this case, where the actors are all centrally controlled state enterprises, there is no doubt that their goal is to satisfy government officials (a nd beat each other to it).

The news have triggered a round of commentary by Mohamed Keita in the New York Times, Deborah Brautigam, Li Anshan on Pambazuka, and Bob Wekesa in China Daily itself, among others, andaddressing a variety of issues — is media freedom an absolute good (no, say Li and Wekesa); does it really existin the West or is it in fact just an ideolgical ploy (the latter, sayWekesa andLi); is  China’s goal to help African governments limit media freedom (no, says Brautigam); is that the net result of Chinese investment anyway? (It can be, say I, at least insofar as a Chinese model of a state-financed public television with an overt mission to support the government no longer necessarily looks outdated and embarrassing, and protestations to the contrary are no longer de rigeur. Considering Ethiopia is one of countries with the least free media, the Ethiopian news agency’s plans to launch a multilingual 24-hour news channel is probably inspired by Xinhua ‘s CNT or Russia Today rather than BBC or Al Jazeera.)

For me, the most intriguing question is whether the new cohort of young Chinese journalists around the world — and the young African and other journalists that Chinese money will train and employ — will, quite apart from their employers intentions, pursue their own investigative agendas and generate a more complex picture of the world, in China and elsewhere. The Party line in China is that the current effortis to generate a more balanced view (that is in English publications; Chinese-language  communiques usually frankly speak about a more favourable view of China). I don’t believe that this is really the intention of the Chinese government, but it may nonetheless be an unintended result as more young Chinese begin reporting on the globe.

World Bank and UNDP endorse Chinese special economic zones as model for African poverty alleviation

January 15, 2012

The International Poverty Reduction Centre of China (IPRCC) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) co-organised a seminar called “China’s SEZs and Poverty Reduction” in  Shenzhen on 9 January. In his speech at the seminar (link forwarded by Yoon Jung Park to the China-Africa mailing list), Christophe Bahuet, UNDP’s China Country Director, said that “China’s Special Economic Zones … offer many valuable experiences and lessons for other developing countries” and expressed his confidence that “this seminar will lead to a useful exchange on good practices, opportunities and challenges for Special Economic Zones in developing countries.”

This endorsement comes after one by Justin Lin, the World Bank’s senior vice president and chief economist, in the prestigious annual UNU-WIDER lecture to the United Nations University in May last year. Lin, who previously was a professor at Peking University, a member of the National People’s Congress and holder of other offices in China, includid setting up special economic zones among his six recommendations for “developing countries” that he called a “road map” to economic growth. (In the same speech, he likened China to a “leading dragon,” rather than a mere “leading goose” as in the expression “flying geese,” that will be the source of structural transformation in these countries.)

In the past, the United Nations Industrial Development Programme (UNIDO) has endorsed special economic zones in Laos and Cambodia and in Nepal (the latter was specifically related to a Chinese project and later retracted by higher-ups in the organisation). But UNDP has tended to be more “pro-poor” and less sanguine about the growth model these zones represent.

Xinhua and CCTV launch satellite TV in Africa

November 26, 2011

China Central Television (CCTV) plans to launch an English and Swahili service for Africa, competing with CNC TV, a worldwide network launched by the Xinhua news agency (which does not have a domestic television channel in China).

According to a source quoted by a Kenyan news portal, Jackal News, “CNC TV became the most watched TV station in the Asia continent mostly [for] the Africa stories.” A source that spouts such nonsense is hardly worth much (it is in fact impossible to ascertain from CNC’s website when they have launched their services and where they are available), but Jackal News confidently asserts that “CNC TV is planning to start poaching employees from both local and international stations.”

A South African news site, meanwhile, reported that CCTV “has launched the biggest raid on personnel across Kenyan TV newsrooms … as the station prepares for its launch in December. “Top editors of what will be the Kenyan office and continental satellite studio for the Chinese have already been trained in Beijing and are preparing for what is being described as a ‘transformation of international TV experience.'”

Al-Jazeera is also launching a Swahili service and “poaching” journalists from Kenyan stations.

Semi-official Chinese commentators have long been saying that Western influence on media in Africa (and more recently Burma) is a key obstacle to a better image of China. The expansion of Chinese media overseas has been set by the government as a goal to serve the growth of China’s “soft power.” Li Qiangmin, the current Chinese envoy to the Southeast African Common Market and a senior diplomat, recently said in an interview that Africa’s “misunderstanding” of China is largely because of the “demonisation” in Western media and the absence of Chinese media from the continent. Since the failure of the Southern Media Group, which has a liberal reputation and has recently been attacked by nationalists in China, to buy Newsweek in 2010, however, this expansion has mostly been proceeding in Chinese-language media.

According to a Tanzanian news site, the Chinese government has also “expressed interest to establish an FM radio that will use Chinese and Kiswahili languages as a symbol of friendship with Tanzania.” Li Wei, the Vice-Minister of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), who made this announcement, said that “the first step we took is to translate a Chinese play into Kiswahili which is called Doudou.”

Henan Province encourages farmers to go abroad

November 22, 2011

According to a local newspaper, Henan Province has issued a new set of “Guiding opinion on implementing opening and ‘going out'” 《关于对外开放“走出去”的指导意见》, which encourages agribusiness enterprises to buy or rent farmland abroad.

The article profiles 49-year-old Tong Guoqiang 仝国强 from Baiying 白营Township, Tangyang 汤阳 County, who started a vegetable farm in Sudan in 2003. He was later joined by 14 fellow villagers. The article also claims that there already are 500 thousand entrepreneurs from Zhejiang Province engaging in various agricultural, forestry, and fishery activities around the world. For instance, Party Secretary Zhang Jin 张金 of Huafeng 华丰 (meaning “Chinese Prosperity”) Village, Xieqiao 斜桥 (meaning “Tilted Bridge” but homophonous with “evil overseas Chinese”) Township, Haining 海宁 Prefecture has bought 200 thousand mu (133 square km) of land in Rio Grande do Sul state in Brazil, on which he is raising 3,700 heads of cattle.

Meanwhile, Shandong Province has approved a joint venture between Gaomi Cotton Technology 高密市锦棉业科技有限公司, a prefectural-level state enterprise, and a Zimbabwean company to invest $100 million in a joint-venture cotton plantation and factory.

Gary Locke, Jin Liqun, the Chambishi mine and the Myitsone dam

November 12, 2011

Today’s International Herald Tribune writes about the popularity of Gary Locke, the American ambassador to China, who queues up at the Great Wall like an ordinary citizen and flies economy class. But the article also notes that Locke likes to talk about how his father, an immigrant from China, “worked every day of the year and taught him respect for family, education and hard work.”

This is a refrain that resonates with the Chinese government and many Chinese people, including those building dams and investing in factories. So it does with many Americans: in the same issue of the newspaper, economist Tyler Cowen advocates a “pro-discipline and pro-wealth cultural revolution,” bringing to mind Aihwa Ong’s observation years ago that “Asians” (i.e., increasingly, Chinese) had become the ideal enterprising American subjects.

Europeans are clearly the laggards here: Jin Liqun, the head of China’s overseas investment agency, recently admonished Europe’s “worn-out welfare societies” to change labour laws that “induce sloth, indolence rather than hard working.” As a friend from Benin commented, “For the very first time since I don’t know when a non-Westerner is dictating a code of conduct to Westerners! Are Chinese going to devise conditionalities for loans to the West similar to the ones of Structural Adjustment Programme to the Third World?”

Maybe. For now, Hungary, whose government has recently come out with the vision of a “work-based society,” announced the opening of two more Confucius Institutes. Do so many Hungarians really want to learn Chinese? Probably not, but the mayor of Szeged, where one of the new institutes is planned, says Chinese investors have “more trust in cities that have them.” (The mayor, by the way, is from the opposition Socialist Party.)

These reports make interesting reading against the background of the two biggest news about China’s overseas investments in the past month: the suspension of the Myitsone Dam project in Burma and the strike at the Chambishi mine in Zambia that led to the — albeit temporary — collective dismissal of all workers over demands for higher wages. A new report by Human Rights Watch criticizes Chinese-owned mines in Zambia for maintaining poor wages, long shifts and low standards of health protection compared to other foreign investors. Perhaps the most interesting finding of the report is that Chinese companies tolerate the presence of one union but not the other, more combative one.
The Myitsone halt triggered a range of diverse responses, but aside from political implications, the reaction of a frustrated Chinese worker on the construction site was this: “It’s tragic that a country like this doesn’t hurry up to develop! And it has the nerve to talk about democratically elected president this, bowing to popular opinion that! … What’s even sadder is the ignorance of ordinary people stupefied by politicians!” In contrast, a promotional film by Sinohydro’s 11th Office, the project’s contractor, describes the progress of the construction as a heroic and victorious battle against the jungle, malaria and Dengue fever, in terms reminiscent of the labour competitions of the Maoist era, such as “battleground” 战场 and “front” 战线. (The film has been removed from the company’s website, but a description is available here.)
What gives such talk weight is that, state and corporate propaganda aside, managers of Chinese companies abroad — not only state-run ones but also the private telecommunications giant Huawei — genuinely take hard work seriously, often take pride in their dedication, and are nonplussed by the lack of ambition they see in their local colleagues. A thirty-year-old manager at Huawei Hungary echoed Jin Liqun avant la lettre when I talked to him in October. If Europeans did not change their work habits they would lose out definitively to Asia in ten years, he said. Yet he phrased his concerns in corporate rather than national terms, as befits a multinational company: “The Hungarians have difficulties adapting to the culture of the company,” he said. “We don’t want people to just hang around (混). We want people who can perform.” The ideal managerial subjects, indeed.

The Michael Sata presidency: “Will China Lose Zambia?”

October 4, 2011

The inauguration of Michael Sata as the new president of Zambia on 23 September attracted little media attention. This is somewhat surprising, considering that Sata, in opposition, has been quoted in most China/Africa articles as the spokesman of discontent with the practices of Chinese investors. Zambia has been both an important and early destination of Chinese invesment and a country where problems with it have been particularly well-publicized. Sata has been talking about expelling Chinese, but also Indian and Lebanese traders from the country; expropriating and redistributing to the poor part of the shares of foreign-invested companies: and recognising Taiwan as an independent nation. So will his election be a turning point for China’s African engagement?

Illustrating that the battle lines regarding Chinese investment are far more complex than the usual picture of human rights versus authoritarianism, Sata regards Robert Mugabe as his role model. This rarely comes up in Western media — although Sata’s hubris has been pointed out in Sarah Hardus’s research — yet it suggests that China has been the butt of Sata’s anger simply because it has been the most active investor. Showing that the battle lines are also complex in Chinese media, the largely liberal Southern Weekend,  for which the comparison to Mugabe is a negative one, published a feature on Sata’s election, entitled “Will China Lose Zambia?”

The article says that during the campaign, the Chinese embassy advised its citizens to stay inside, stock up on necessities and be prepared for an emergency. But, apart from the pelting of a Xinhua News Agency van with stones (nobody was hurt and the agency, apparently, didn’t report it) there was no anti-Chinese violence. (A farm ran by a state-owned Chinese company, Nongken, even provided its Zambian workers a van to transport them to the polling station.)

After his inauguration, Sata’s first diplomatic act was to meet with the Chinese ambassador. He declared that Zambia still welcomed Chinese investors, although they “must also benefit Zambian people.” The article concludes firmly that business will pretty much continue as usual, despite Sata’s capacity for the unpredictable.