Libya and Sudan provide interesting testing grounds at the moment for US and Chinese policy in Africa

Libya and Sudan provide interesting testing grounds at the moment for US and Chinese policy in Africa. In last week’s blog I mentioned US tacit approval for Al-Bashir’s visit to Beijing. A US state department official denied that the US had supported the visit this week.

The official said in the Sudan Tribune,

“We urge China to join the international community in its call for Sudan to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court, as required by UN Security Council resolution 1593. United States policy is to oppose invitations, facilitation or support for travel by ICC indictees. We have a longstanding policy of strongly urging other nations to do the same”

Meanwhile a Chinese official stressed that Beijing has no obligation to apprehend Bashir.
“China is not one of the parties of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. China has reserved its opinion towards the International Criminal Court lawsuit against President Omer al-Bashir.”

While the ICC indictments prove useful in undermining the legitimacy of the targeted government, they certainly do not do a job on their own. Alongside indictment, negotiation is a vital component of these agreements. It seems likely that the US is happy for China to engage with al-Bashir providing alternative means for diffusing issues there.

It is a great shame that the ICC has thus far only made indictments against African leaders. The tool would be a lot more powerful if it could gain traction with regional organisations such as the African Union. While it remains focused on Africa its legitimacy- and therefore effectiveness- will remain limited.

Elsewhere in North Africa the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council Chairman Mahmoud Jibril has also been courted by Beijing. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing:

“We believe that the Libyan National Transitional Council is an important domestic political force and China is willing to continue maintaining contact with the National Transitional Council and its relevant parties, to seek a political solution to the problems in Libya”. He had been asked whether Jibril’s visit marked a policy adjustment for China, which generally avoids wading into other nations’ domestic conflicts. Unsurprisingly Hong did not elaborate further.

There was a particularly interesting story in the Namibian Press which summed up the competing pressures of Chinese involvement in small African countries. At the annual summit of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), chief executive officer Tarah Shaanika said,

“If China wants minerals like zinc, then they must also import our beef. They must also make use of our agriculture and fisheries sectors”.

At the same occasion, previous NCCI president Leake Hangala said the Chinese are hardworking and very productive but suggested the onus was on Namibians to regulate their influence.

“No country can ignore the Chinese. We cannot blame the Chinese. We must blame Namibians. We must have a strategy”.

As middle income economies in Asia grow the investor focus will increasingly shift to Africa. The South African branch of China Motor Corporation announced this week that it would create about 2500 jobs at a $1bn manufacturing plant outside Harrismith in the Free State.

Local CMC director Imran Moola said the plant would eventually build 50000 vehicles a year. This type and level of investment is only really coming from China at the moment, and African countries must make the most of that. However they must also leverage their in demand assets (natural resources and consumer potential) to make sure investments are on African terms.

Finally have a look at Damien Ma’s interesting piece from The Atlantic last week looking into mixed race Chinese and African relationships and how they are understood in China. Its fascinating in its demonstration of the fast changes that are going on in a traditionally inward looking Chinese society, but also of the very great distance that still needs to be covered in order for Africans and Chinese to truly understand each other.

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