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.


Rising Powers workshop

July 16, 2010

The first workshop of the “China as the new ‘shaper’ of global development” research network has just finished at Tsinghua University in Peking. I was impressed with the contributions — everyone talked ex tempore! — including by Master of International Development students from Tsinghua. This is an English-language programme for foreign students, and while one of them told me the programme does promote the “Chinese model,” this does not seem to prevent the students from having a good analytic edge.

I feared that the “Chinese views on development” panel would only give the official view, but in addition to that — represented by official Africa expert He Wenping from CASS — there was a “new left” contribution by Gu Xiuling (“I agree 40% that China is a neocolonial power in Africa” and the problem is global neoliberalism) and a liberal one by Tao Ran, director of the Public Policy Centre at People’s University (“China’s growth model is unsustainable unless fundamental [read: political] reforms happen within a few years”). So in the end the panel gave quite a nice cross-section of opinions.

Considering Tao Ran’s contribution — which could easily be seen as subversive — it was a reflection of the oddities of Chinese censorship that people from Oxfam, a co-funder of the workshop, had difficulties attending it because of some negative comments made about them by a Ministry of Education official earlier in the year. Although the Ministry officially denied having any problems with it, the Tsinghua organisers apparently decided that it was too risky for them to have Oxfam officially involved.  

Many participants of the workshop remarked that while the contributions by the British organisers focused on aid, those by the Chinese talked about economic growth. The former was surprising; the latter was not, considering the dominant view in China is that — as Zhang Yanbing put it — development is about “wealth and power.”

NGOs in China and Chinese investments overseas

July 14, 2010

One of the international NGOs active in China organised a get-together of other organisations that have been monitoring Chinese investments abroad from an environmental or social perspective. It is a sign of the rapid changes in the past two years that some six organisations came to the meeting and gave brief presentations of what they do. There are some interesting points in common.

  • The organisations (I hesitate to call them NGOs because their degrees of government affiliation vary, but they are all to some extent non-governmental) have all developed contacts with governments, civil organisations, and/or Chinese state corporations in the countries affected, transmit information to them about the way Chinese policy making operates, and in some cases offer them direct recommendations or environmental plans. One organisation has funded several research projects by Chinese scholars in Africa.
  • There seem to be two common ways of lobbying the Chinese government or corporations. One is taking officials or researchers on study trips to the affected sites; this is expensive and, according to one participant, counts too much on the emotional impact of what they witness. What if they don’t change their minds? The other is working with Chinese academics who are positioned near official ears.
  • The organisations continue to operate under the shadow of the “anaconda in the chandelier,” as Perry Link called the system of Chinese censorship. It is impossible to predict what activities might attract the displeasure of officials; in addition, the organisations have to navigate the complicated rivalries of Chinese academia. This means that a lot of information the organisations collect is never publicly released. The fact that I am not mentioning their names here means that I am being affected by the anaconda as well.

International Crisis Group’s new report on China-Burma relations

September 19, 2009

Following the conquest of Kokang by Burmese government troops and the reported flight of tens of thousands of refugees to China (described as Chinese businessmen in Chinese media; see earlier entry), the International Crisis Group has published a new report entitled China’s Myanmar Dilemma. The report suggests that there is a conflict of interest between Peking, which supports the Burmese government, and the Yunnan provincial government, whose primary interests lie in maximizing profits from border trade and which hence prefers to deal with the so-called “ceasefire armies” and keep the Burmese government at arm’s length. Many Burmese border towns rely on China for electricity, water, and telecommunications, which of course also provides China a powerful weapon: thus, after a series of abductions of gamblers in early 2009, the Yunnan government cut off utilities to the casino town of Maijayang to pressure the local authorities to shut down the casino. The closest relations are maintained with the 20,000-strong United Wa State Army: in March, a Yunnan Province official participated in the 20th century celebrations of the UWSA’s victory over the Communist Party of Burma (!), and its political leader, Bao You-Xiang, epxressed its thanks to China for its support. At the end of last year, both Kachin and Wa leaders wrote a letter to Hu Jintao appealing for investment and aid.

The report also details Chinese involvement in hydropower projects (at least 63, including the Tasang Dam on the Salween, which is to be the largest dam in Southeast Asia) and mining (the latest and largest project, the Tagaung Taung nickel mine, was approved in 2008 with an investment of $800 million). Official Burmese figures say that 99% of the foreign investment in 2008, or about $900 million, came from China.

While the authors of the report seem to have had privileged access to officials in China, parts of it — particularly those describing on-the-ground sentiments — appear to be based on flimsy evidence. Thus, in reporting on anti-Chinese sentiments in northern Burma, statements like “Burmese feel that they are being pushed out” and “It has been estimated that 60 per cent of Myanmar’s economy is in Chinese hands” are based on a single interview.

It is tempting to see the “special zones” in Northern Burma as a return to the “overlapping sovereignty” of precolonial times when many of the principalities in the region paid tribute to China but were under the loose military control of Burma. What continues to interest me is the role and conceptualisation of Chinese ethnicity in these borderlands today. Do people like Bao You-Xiang see themselves as Chinese, Wa, or both? And how are they seen by others?

New China-in-Zambia masters theses in Amsterdam

September 17, 2009

Sarah Hardus and Roos Apotheker have recently completed masters theses respectively on perceptions of Chinese aid in Zambia and on practices corporate social responsibility in the new Zambian mining landscape. Hardus’ thesis will soon be available as a MqVU working paper, while Apotheker’s can be downloaded here.

Both theses have an ethnographic component, and Hardus was able to speak to a wide range of actors, from ex-presidential candidate Michael Sata to officials at the Chinese embassy, resulting in some fascinating quotes that paint a picture quite different from previous research on Zambia.

International Crisis Group report on Chinese peacekeeping

April 19, 2009

The International Crisis Group has released a report called China’s Growing Role in UN Peacekeeping. The report is largely positive and recommends that China develop a peacekeeping policy and that other countries actively encourage China to contribute more troops to peacekeeping. It also notes that

China’s relationships with problem regimes in the developing world have fed suspicions that its peacekeeping is motivated by economic interests. In fact, China’s economic and peacekeeping decision-making tracks operate separately, and tensions between the foreign affairs ministry, military and economic actors mean there is no overall strategic approach to peacekeeping.