Thursday, June 28, 2007

Finally! Something We Agree On!

"One day the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away."

Why, oh why, can't it be today?

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Is China Good for Africa?: Conclusion, Part Two

[See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6]

The current relationship between China and Africa is extremely beneficial for the People's Republic of China (PRC), and the leaders of the worst regimes in Africa, but not for the long-term futures of the vast majority of Africans. The PRC benefits from the availability of African resources to support the continued rapid economic growth that is giving China more power and prestige internationally. China also benefits from the support received from multiple African countries in international forums like the United Nations. This ensures that neither China nor their corrupt African partners will face multilateral sanctions that would force changes in behavior and policy.

The complexities surrounding the current and future relations between China and Africa are more complex than just what has been covered here. For instance, one subject not addressed was the impact of the lack of economic strength of African countries on their government’s ability to control terrorist organizations that may operate within their borders, such as Al-Qaeda. Furthermore, an in-depth discussion is warranted as to whether the similar economic rise of India and its own ambitions in Africa will act as a counterbalance to Chinese dominance on the continent. Finally, it is also of importance to further consider how the Chinese-African relationship will impact the United States and how America should respond to this growing threat.

As former US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick so aptly put it, China must be a "responsible stakeholder" in regional and international security issues because they have benefited economically from these policies. China demonstrated that it is capable of being a "responsible stakeholder" by applying pressure to other countries when it coaxed North Korea back to the six-party talks in November 2006.

The challenge for China, Africa, and the greater international community is how to balance the benefits of increased trade and financial aid between China and Africa with the necessity to maintain pressure on the regimes involved (including the PRC) to become more transparent, more responsive to their citizenry, and less likely to ignore or commit human rights abuses. This is a difficult task but it can be accomplished if all the parties involved understand the benefits of moving in this direction and the hazards of choosing to not.

On an ominous note, Chinese state television recently produced a 12-part documentary called "The Rise of Great Powers" which details the ascendance of Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, England, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the United States to global prominence. The Chinese are students of history who are trying to learn what they can from the rise of other "great" nations and every nation on that list extensively colonized foreign lands – a fact that does not bode well for Africa.

Will China and Africa establish a mutually beneficial relationship that will lift hundreds of millions out of poverty or will China become Africa's new colonial ruler? Ultimately, the answer will lie somewhere between these two extremes but one can only hope it will result in better lives for the two billion people directly involved.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Evening Chuckle: More Cursing than the Usual 'Price Is Right'



Sunday, June 10, 2007

Is China Good for Africa?: Conclusion, Part One

[See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5]

The rapid and sustained growth of the Chinese economy has led to the need for the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) to scour the globe in search of natural resources to fuel continued economic expansion. Currently, one of the greatest untapped areas of the world in this regard is Africa which has scared away many investors with the seemingly endless instability on the continent. The Chinese have stepped in to fill this void and have invested heavily in the development of the African infrastructure, mostly in ways related to the energy sector. In currying favor, the PRC has entered into dealings with some of the more questionable and corrupt governments in the world. Financing these regimes has had the effect of insulating them against international pressure to reform their governments. Furthermore, the PRC has sold weapons to state sponsors of terror who use them to brutally oppress or kill their internal opposition.

The emerging relationship between China and Africa has the potential to be either a mutually beneficial relationship, in which potentially hundreds of millions of people are lifted out of poverty, or it could result in an age of neocolonialism in Africa―this time at the hands of an Eastern power instead of Western ones.

Economic reforms in China have moved some 400 million Chinese out of poverty over the last 25 years and by continuing these reforms at home, and bringing their benefits to Africa, it is possible that another 700 million people in both Africa and China could escape poverty as well. The China-Africa relationship represents an opportunity to improve the lives of an unprecedented number people, and by extension, the world as a whole. When fewer people die prematurely or do not need to spend every waking moment trying to subsist, they can attend school or work and the global economy is positively impacted by increased GDPs and decreased need for financial aid.

On the other hand, China's business practices towards Africa, most notably undercutting African goods with cheaper labor and keeping them out of Chinese markets using high tariffs, could relegate Africa to the role of an oil supplier for China and a market for its goods. An unbalanced relationship such as this will not help Africa advance economically and will not assist in the necessary diversification of the economies of its countries. This latter aspect is essential for the creation of jobs that are desperately needed to begin raising the living standards of the nearly 300 million people living in poverty in Africa.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Evening Chuckle: Suck It Trebek.



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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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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Is China Good for Africa?: Chinese Investment and Trade in Africa

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

While there is a diverse array of African industries that the Chinese have been investing in (such as tourism, power plants, and telecommunications), most of the capital that China is sending into Africa is confined to the building of natural resource extracting industries such as oil drilling and mining. The new Chinese desperation for resources is illustrated by the fact that China alone has accounted for 40% of the growth in global demand for oil since 2003. The importance of Africa in China's long-term energy security plan is underscored by the fact that in 2006 Angola became China’s largest source of foreign oil, surpassing Saudi Arabia.

Despite the economic benefit of China’s investment in Africa, the rise of Chinese companies that can out compete most of their international rivals (due mostly to their abundant, cheap labor) has also had a detrimental effect on African businesses, both in international markets as well as within Africa. Furthermore, China's tariff policies towards African imports seek to ensure that China will continue to out compete its African counterpart. Coffee, cocoa beans, cashews, and other agricultural products that African countries produce all have high tariffs. Crude oil and mineral ores, on the other hand, have no tariffs. Many of these tariffs discourage African exports of more highly processed products to China. South African President Thabo Mbeki warned his fellow African leaders about this in December of 2006, noting that Africa must be careful to avoid entering into a "colonial relationship" with the PRC where raw materials are shipped to China and then processed, manufactured goods are imported back to Africa at a net economic loss for the continent. China has stated that it plans to reduce its tariffs later this year; however, it remains to be seen if the changes will have any impact on restoring balanced competition.

One disconcerting segment of trade between China and Africa is arms sales. This is of great concern as the major recipients of these arms are oil-rich and human-rights lax countries like Angola, Sudan, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. This is a mutually beneficial relationship for the countries involved because China recoups some of the oil money spent in these countries and African regimes that would otherwise need to turn to the international black market for weaponry have a willing, open supplier of arms. This gives these corrupt regimes the means to continue the brutal oppression and, in the case of Sudan, the overt murder of their citizens.

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More Fun from Turkey and Northern Iraq

The Turks are coming!

The Turks are coming!

Seriously, the Turks may really be's a big problem.

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He's Still Alive

Very funny. You win again Satan!

For now. (Tick tick tick.)

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