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Monday, June 04, 2007

Is China Good for Africa?: Propping Up Corrupt Regimes and Business Partners

[See part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4]

The economic and financial relationships between China and some of the more corrupt regimes in Africa (e.g., Zimbabwe, Sudan) have allowed those regimes to resist efforts from other countries and international institutions to use trade and economic aid to reform their governments to be less corrupt, less oppressive, and more transparent. For example, China’s support in Zimbabwe has propped up the failed regime of Robert Mugabe. This regime’s policies have turned Zimbabwe from a relatively prosperous African state to a dictatorship with an economy experiencing 3,700% inflation. Another example is China’s support of Sudan. The Chinese repeatedly forestalled United Nations intervention into the Sudanese government supported slaughter in Darfur – something for which even other African countries have criticized China.

The single most treacherous issue for China in Africa is Darfur. A notable international backlash has resulted from China’s almost unconditional support for the Sudanese government. Sudan is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism and the Sudanese government has armed and supported the Janjaweed militias that have terrorized the people of western Darfur. China has invested heavily in Sudan as part of its strategy to maintain energy security and diversity of supply. To maintain Sudan as an oil supplier, China has threatened to veto sanctions against Darfur at the United Nations under the guise of the "non-interference" policy. Furthermore, to keep US sanctions from affecting Sudan, China may start buying oil with euros rather than US dollars – the currency of choice for world oil markets. Trading oil in euros is something Iran, another major Chinese oil supplier who has faced international criticism, has previously done to sidestep sanctions.

Despite China's professed policy of "non-interference in the internal affairs" of other countries, China has pressured many African countries to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan ― a choice that would seem to be an internal diplomatic affair. This convenient violation of one of the "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence" has been so successful that only five African countries out of 53 — Burkina Faso, Malawi, Gambia, Swaziland, and Sao Tome and Principe — have formal relations with Taiwan. One could argue that if the PRC can violate the Five Principles in the case of Taiwan, they could certainly violate it to stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Africans in Darfur. Fortunately, the Chinese have recently made some small steps towards pressuring the Sudanese government on Darfur; however, such efforts have primarily been for show and may well be too little, too late.

Pressure on China from the West to push Sudan to resolve the Darfur issue has met with little success. However, more recently China has received pressure from a somewhat unexpected source – other African countries. This is in part due to the African nations' fears that China’s reticence to act in Darfur may backfire and allow the crisis to spread and destabilize neighboring countries. Ignoring Darfur could also backfire on China through the loss of support from one of Sudan’s neighbors, Chad, which is also a supplier of oil to China and could itself get caught up in the violence.

Unfortunately, for all the good they have the potential to do, China's relationships in Africa are often questionable and, at their worst, make the People's Republic of China complicit in genocide.

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