Jonathan Holslag, the Brussels policy analyst who has so far written mostly on Africa, has published an opinion piece in the Financial Times on China’s investments in Eastern Europe (thanks to fellow members of Minjian International for forwarding it), in which he concludes that “if the European Union does not get its house in order, it risks losing political clout on its own doorstep.” He cites the following developments:
This month the Greek government announced a multibillion-dollar investment agreement through which the Chinese will construct new container terminals and airports and participate in shipbuilding. Several Chinese companies have signed up to a special economic zone in Sofia. … The China Development Bank pledged generous support for developing Romania’s wind power. A leading contractor promised to build a new thermoelectric power plant, a project that might cost as much as €1bn (£800m, $1.2bn). Other companies are exploring investment in the country’s agricultural and mining sector.
The special economic zone in Sofia is an interesting development, as — if it materializes — it would be the first instance of exporting China’s “special zone” model beyond Africa (unofficial Chinese-invested “special zones” exist also in Southeast Asia). Chinese companies are already involved in constructing hydropower plants in Albania. Eastern Europe is also interesting because it was the first region to encounter the new Chinese entrepreneurial migration — beginning in the late 1980s — that later spread to Africa, South America and other places. The entrepreneurial model, which was based on identifying an empty niche in low-price consumer goods and setting up networks of “Chinese markets” and “Chinese shops”, was first developed in Eastern Europe and then replicated in other regions.
Just when I was about to be convinced that the Baoding Villages were, after all, a hoax, The Independent revived the story, written up by Clifford Coonan (“China’s new export: farmers,” 19 February 2010). If Coonan’s interview with Liu Jianjun is recent, then it seems that, despite all the flak he got, he is unwilling to keep quiet. But the article contains obvious inaccuracies that make the rest of it suspect too: Liu is promoted to former head of Hebei province’s foreign trade bureau, whereas in previous interviews he had only held that job for Baoding City. Coonan also mentions the story now apparently referred to under the sinister code name “The Chongqing Experiment”: remarks made in Chongqing by the head of China’s Export-Import Bank, Li Ruogu, suggesting the bank would provide loans to Chinese who want to open agricultural enterprises in Africa. This story is a few years old, the remarks were later retracted and no evidence of such loans exists, but for Coonan, the bank is “helping finance emigration to Africa as part of a rapid urbanisation scheme in the western Chinese city of Chongqing, already reckoned the world’s biggest metropolitan area with 32 million people.” Well, that’s clearly just rubbish, but then Coonan sails over to the deployment of Chinese warships in Somalia. You get the idea.
Coonan, who did not go to Africa, also interviewed returned “Baoding villager” Zhang Xuedong, “who spent about a year in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast capital,” and Li Zhu, chairman of Dafei International Investment and a friend of Liu’s. Li “bought 2,000 acres in Mbale in Uganda and is running a Chinese club there … he hopes to set up a farm and a tractor factory, and is teaching Africans planting techniques using machinery.”
I visited Kenya and Uganda. I ultimately chose Uganda, because the country is steady. The local government is very eager to develop the country, but they don’t know how to do that. So they want to learn from us. We provide ideas such as development zones. I also heard that there are some good mines, gold mines and quarries, in Uganda. The downside is
that we don’t know the countries and their local customs; corruption is a problem.
My guess: Baoding villages remain a mystery, and in the form described by Liu probably do not exist. But buying 2000 acres in Uganda is probably real, as are the development zones and mines.
A call for papers has been announced for Africa for Sale: Analysing and Theorizing Foreign Land Claims and Acquisitions, a conference to be held at Groningen University, the Netherlands, on 28-29 October 2010.
While the nature and scope of large-scale, foreign land acquisitions has been taken up by the non-governmental arena (e.g. NGOs) very little academic scholarship has addressed these deals both analytically and theoretically, from [comparative] historical and contemporary perspectives.
In turn, several important questions remain unanswered: What are the implications of foreign land leases for local populations? How are these deals mediated, structured and legitimized? What is the role of multinational corporations in the economic, political, social, and environmental governance of developing countries in Africa?
Contributions addressing the following four fields are particularly welcome:
1.) Food security: Foreign (government or company) investments in “unused,” arable land for large-scale agricultural production.
2.) Large-Scale Mining: Multinational claims to land for mineral exploitation
3.) Conservation Projects: International environmental NGO acquisition or control of land for biodiversity conservation and/or protected area management.
4.)Tourism: Land acquisitions for purposes of tourism development.
Abstracts should be submitted by 15 May 2010 to NVASconference2010 (at) hotmail.com .
I received an email from Li Guangyi at UCLA with an update on the Baoding Villages. The email was sent in June last year but I only read it now. Since it was intended as a post, I am posting it here:
Liu’s old website is closed, but he has a new one:
The recent striking news is, thanks to Liu’s effort, the Lake Victoria Free Trade Zone is now in in partnership with China and the Uganda Government.
Paradise Investment Ltd. promised to invest 1.5 billon dollars on this free trade zone. The ceo of Paradise, Liu Jinlong, is an intimate friend of Liu Jianjun.
There are some astounding words in the report of Chinese media. After reading the news, many Chinese netizens are wondering if now China has an oversea colony or concession, like Hong Kong. But such words are not available in the speeches of Ugandan officials. I think the Chinese journalists are exaggerating. But I don’t know if Liu asked them to do so.