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model of a state-financed public television with an overt mission to support the government no longer necessarily looks outdated and embarrassing, and protestations to the contrary are no longer de rigeur.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.

Debate on Chinese investment package in Guinea

March 10, 2010

On “China in Africa: The Real Story,” Deborah Brautigam takes issue with a new Chatham House report entitled “Guinea: Bought by Beijing.” The report says that

to the surprise of many, after taking control in a coup and then violently suppressing civil society demonstrators in a stadium massacre, Guinea’s military junta formed a transitional government.

But considering a $7 billion resources-for-infrastructure deal with the Hong Kong-based China International Fund, the report “worries that China’s engagement in Guinea might yet spoil the transition to democracy.”

Brautigam observes that a number of other investors are present in the country; that Chinalco backed out of taking over a share of a Rio Tinto mine in Guinea (possibly because it was then trying to take over Rio Tinto itself, or possibly because of fears of negative Western reactions); and that the China International Fund cannot be seen as a proxy for the Chinese state, and it would not make sense for the Guinean government to give the whole deal to the CIF when Chinese state companies are also in the competition.

She promises to devote a future post to CIF. I am looking forward to that, but no matter what the nature of the ties between the CIF and the government in Peking is and where its capital comes from, I am certain that an investment of this magnitude does not proceed without approval by the government. It is very likely that the CIF combines the private interests of Chinese investors with the functions of a proxy 民间 organisation in cases where state companies or China’s sovereign wealth fund prefer not to be exposed, which would make sense in Guinea.