News blog: 20/04/2010

Another week of many stories with FOCAC again churning out a huge number of articles about various meetings of Chinese and African dignitaries, and the nice things they have to say about the mutual relationship. You may detect a hint of cynicism. Since the last FOCAC meeting in Sharm-el-Sheik last year, FOCAC’s communications seems to have been intensified, but unfortunately the news very rarely offers anything new. Over the past few years I’ve noticed a change in Chinese government communication on Africa. For a long time they seemed to want as little information as possible to surface, but they’ve gradually accepted the need for a proactive public relations campaign.

Unfortunately this has been rather bland as the information they publish tends to be of choreographed meetings, and announcements of various MoUs and back slapping sessions. This is all the more surprising when there are plenty of victories that they could publicise. Why is there no analysis of China’s role defending their actions? Deborah Brautigam and recently Peter Bosshard provide fascinating new understandings of China’s role in Africa. It seems odd that this sort of analysis does not seem to come from Chinese sources who have access to privy information.

This week the environment is again a theme that gains some attention. As China’s own environment has suffered under the weight of its industrial development, its private sector has shot to the forefront of environmental technology. This week a Tanzanian company announced that it would be buying solar panels from a Chinese firm to sell on domestically. Meanwhile in Rwanda the Gasabo district government have had to warn China about its use of explosives which have destroyed locals homes.
It seems extraordinarily careless for a mining firm to allow this to happen, but this highlights the dual nature of Chinese involvement. Often the Chinese role is cast as rather monolithic, but in actuality Beijing is often wrestling with its state governments, and private companies which cause issue. While on the one hand Beijing carefully stage manages its environmental role in Africa, on the other, a private company inadvertently destroys peoples homes with high explosives.

This has particular relevance concerning the movement of Chinese industry to Africa. China has partnered with the World Bank to help bring manufacturing to Africa, and through its Special Economic Zones it hopes to transfer polluting and low paid value added production such as leather tanneries to Africa. This fits with China’s concerns to reduce its pollution and to move up the value chain, while establishing value added jobs in Africa. Now this has been criticised as these jobs do not provide the best working conditions, and the pollution would be shifted to Africa. However it also provides an opportunity. With World Bank involvement, developed countries could retro fit clean technologies into these factories which would allow them to offset their own carbon production under the carbon trading scheme.

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