Posted by: sean | April 23, 2007

China in Africa

Al Jazeera gives us a good example of how China may be doing more harm than good in Africa with its value-neutral investment in the continent:

China has agreed to give Zimbabwe $25m worth of farm equipment to help revive the country’s ailing tobacco industry.

But Beijing wants something in return – large quantities of Zimbabwe’s tobacco.

Jia Qinglin, a senior Chinese Communist party official, presented the equipment, including 424 tractors and 50 trucks, to Robert Mugabe, the country’s president, on Saturday in a deal to replace equipment damaged when Mugabe’s government seized white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks.

But China wants all the tractors to go to tobacco farmers and expects Zimbabwe to deliver 30 million kilograms by the end of the year, Haru Mutasa, Al Jazeera’s correspondent, said in Harare.

While the West is trying to pressure Mugabe into lessening his brutal crackdown on the government’s opposition parties, China is offering aid. And the only strings attached are financial ones: the equipment given by China has to be used for cash crops. This in a country experiencing widespread hunger and poverty.

So at the end of the day, Beijing is showing Mugabe that even if he flagrantly violates human rights and the pitiful charade that passes for democracy in Zimbabwe, the Chinese will be there to offer assistance. So long as the price is right, of course.

So are we really surprised that Beijing is financially and diplomatically underwriting Khartoum’s genocide in Darfur?



  1. Yes, China has *always* been the hidden variable during this awful crisis tantamount to genocide. Sudan represents China’s largest oil-exporter. We’re talking about tens of billions of dollars and more to come for a country speculated to become the largest oil-guzzler -after the US- in less than a decade. Yet, during this entire time, I believe the West has concentrated on its own interests at the expense of other silent, albeit powerful voices. It’s time to open up the debate further in order to stop relations between Beijing and Genocide.

    One crucial difference between China and the Western Powers in sub-saharan Africa is that China does not have a history of outsourcing aid to favorable factions. In the cold war, the US and Soviet Union exported the means of violence much larger than what the warring regimes were capable of producing themselves. Now, the west is professing “human rights violations” as reason enough to intervene. China, on the other hand, has remained quite silent the entire time. Instead of directly *exporting violence*, China has been indirectly *funding violence* without giving the reasons for doing so. Interestingly, China has been wise to *not* export arms in sub-Saharan Africa, although they have been known to aggressively sell in places like Nepal, Malaysia, and Thailand. In a situation in which Sub-Saharan African elites are sick of reasons outside of their own national borders, China has just the position to remain silent. So on China’s terms, we’re talking about a strictly economic and non-political affair here.

    China has been aggressively seeking economic and cultural *ties* with African states. One major event, for example, (which went largely unnoticed in the west, btw) was the first Chinese-African summit held last November ( This summit established multi-billion state-corporate partnerships with the principal intention that *China* and not the *West* shall be more responsible for developing the capacity for primary resource exports. In lieu of these partnerships, great emphasis was placed on Sino-African solidarity. Unlike Western Powers and various IOs dominated by the West, China has not demanded certain pre-conditions from regimes in order to distribute such assistance in the first place.

    Thus China has the positional advantage. They have clout and incentives with the Khartoum government. They can also help moderate relations between and among sub-saharan African states. China, unlike the west, has more or less a cleaner record. Cleaner because the record is not as long. They have been thus professing that they are the main catalycsts for Africa’s development.

    Yet they are funding the genocide and claim that they are really helping out with the overall situation.

    For all of these reasons, China *will* remain silent *unless* forced to open up about the situation. One key to an actual intervention, then, is to find the mechanism in which China will be forced to *be political* in the Sudan affair, or else China will continue to engage in a dirty rotten market. If this means protests from the top or bottom, we won’t get anywhere unless China no longer becomes silent. Overall, China gets away because the international community allows it to happen. Until China is forced to speak up, the ethnic massacre will continue to be funded. Until then, we can’t acknowledge China’s silence. We must at least force the country to speak up, otherwise, they will remain the hidden crucial variable to this whole conundrum which fosters inaction and passivity.


  2. First of all, economic affairs are political affairs. I think what you mean by non-political is non-ideological. China is driven by money and resources rather than the ideological concerns that drove the Soviets and the Americans.

    As for China not dealing arms in Africa, that’s just not true:

    Between 1955 and 1977, Le Monde reports, China sold $142 million worth of military equipment to Africa, and the pace of sales has picked up significantly since then. The Congressional Research Service reports China’s arms sales to Africa made up 10 percent of all conventional arms transfers to the continent between 1996 and 2003. They include:

    * Sudan. China has sold the Islamic government in Khartoum weapons and $100 million worth of Shenyang fighter planes, including twelve supersonic F-7 jets, according to the aerospace industry journal Aviation Week and Space Technology. Experts say any military air presence exercised by the government—including the helicopter gunships reportedly used to terrorize civilians in Darfur—comes from China.

    * Equatorial Guinea. China has provided military training and Chinese specialists in heavy military equipment to the leaders of the tiny West African nation, whose oil reserves per capita approach and may exceed those of Saudi Arabia.

    * Ethiopia and Eritrea. China sold Ethiopia and its neighbor, Eritrea, an estimated $1 billion worth of weapons before and during their border war from 1998 and 2000.

    * Burundi. In 1995, a Chinese ship carrying 152 tons of ammunition and light weapons meant for the army of Burundi was refused permission to dock in Tanzania.

    * Tanzania. According to the Overseas Development Institute, China has delivered at least thirteen covert shipments of weapons labeled as agricultural equipment to Dar-es-Salaam.

    * Zimbabwe. The autocratic government of Robert Mugabe ordered twelve FC-1 fighter jets and 100 military vehicles from China in late 2004 in a deal worth $200 million, experts say. In May 2000, China reportedly swapped a shipment of small arms for eight tons of Zimbabwean elephant ivory, Taylor writes in his report. In addition, the U.S.-backed International Broadcast Bureau says China provided a radio jamming device to Zimbabwe that allows Mugabe’s regime to block broadcasts of independent news sources like Radio Africa from a military base outside Harare. China also donated the blue tiles that decorate the roof of Mugabe’s house.

    And while we’re at it, let’s not forget that the machetes used in the Rwandan genocide were sold by China.

    You’re right, though, that China needs to have these dealings put into the spotlight. Normally, they couldn’t care less what the rest of the world thinks, but the Olympic games offer a unique venue for public shame at a moment when China wants international acceptance and credibility.

    The pressure being applied to Spielberg (who is an artistic director for the games in Beijing) is a good start…

  3. Two things, however. First, I made the distinction between “non-political” and “economic” affairs on “China’s terms”, not on general terms. Generally speaking, economic terms *are* political terms, but almost all interest-based positions separate the rhetoric from the record; that’s the nature of deceptive power-talk. I emphasized *how* China is framing the debate. This is in lieu with their claim that “human rights” is a relativistic term, despite what is explicity defined in the UN charter. In sum, China wants to convince African leaders that they should work more closely with each other than the US, EU, or any international institution. It’s not a far stretch to say, then, that China contains more soft power in Darfur (and therefore more leverage) than any other state power. That’s why China is key.

    Second, I’ll concede to an extent and say that you’re partially right in terms of China’s arms exports in Sub-Saharan Africa. I tend to just write away on the internet, especially during a frantic 4 AM night. Yes, according to that linked report, China accounts for 10% of arms sales between 1996-2003. One point re-emphasized and another on the way.

    First, if we just look at these years between 1996-2003, I’d imagine that Russia, France, and Saudi Arabia shared a larger pie in the arms market to Sudan. Those very weapons delivered by those countries are *still* found today in Sudan. China’s arms transfers are all secretive in nature, so if you can find *direct* evidence that China is *still* exporting arms to Khartoum, then please find it, especially after the August 2006 UN resolution. My suspicions tell me that France and Saudi Arabia obliged, but China and Russia have either been 1.) more secretive in their arms sales, or 2.) stopped selling altogether.

    Second, China lacks a history in supporting despotic regimes through arms transfers in a different way than the west. China does not have a history in freely “giving” arms (as international aid) to allied regimes. Rather, they have *sold* arms, and not necessarily for political ends in Sub-saharan Africa. Now, it’s safe to say that it’s rather taboo to export arms to shaky authoritarian regimes in Sub-Saharan Africa where “states” are on shaky grounds. But there is a distinction between giving and selling. China, on her terms, claims that they are a neutral economically-motivated and not a politcally-driven actor. As of now, China won’t fundamentally change its position.


  4. From the Sunday Times via the Sudan Tribune:

    The widespread killings by government forces and their Janjaweed militias have been denounced by Britain, and America has called it genocide. The UN has imposed an arms embargo.

    Despite this, the government has continued to obtain arms, often from China. Significant quantities of guns and ammunition have been shipped to Darfur rebels after being imported into southern Sudan through private air charter companies.

    And from Amnesty International:

    Human rights violations arising from China’s arms trade to Sudan

    Arms deliveries from China to Sudan since the 1990s have included ammunition, tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft. The Sudanese government and militias it has supported have used such types of weapons to commit massive violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in armed conflicts in southern Sudan and Darfur. Such violations have included direct and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian settlements, which have caused deaths and mass forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Planes and helicopters have been used to launch aerial bombings on villages; for reconnaissance before attacks; and to support ground troops in the armed conflict in southern Sudan until 2002 and in the war in Darfur from 2003 up to now. Planes and helicopters have also been used to transfer troops and arms to areas of conflict.

    In the 1990s, China reportedly sold aircraft including helicopters to Sudan. In 1996, China was said to have supplied Z-6 helicopters, manufactured by Changhe Aircraft Industries and designed to carry troops. In 2001, the Harbin Dongan Engine Manufacturing Company (Harbin) performed repairs on Mi-8 helicopter engines for various governments including those of Pakistan and Sudan. Mi-8 helicopters are commonly used for transporting troops, but variants also carry a range of weapon systems. Although transport helicopters may not carry rockets and missiles, they have been used to ferry troops to areas in which fighting is taking place or where atrocities have been carried out against civilians.

    China has also sold military trucks produced by the Chinese company Dong Feng to the Sudanese government. Dong Feng produces a range of military vehicles. It exports under the name Dongfeng Aeolus. Its EQ2081/2100 series of military trucks have reportedly been a popular carrier vehicle of the Chinese armed forces.

    In Sudan in August 2005, the UN Panel of Experts on the Sudan established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1591 (2005), which was investigating violations of the international arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in Darfur, documented a shipment of green DongFeng military trucks in the Port of Sudan. “New green trucks of a similar type were also seen on the Sudanese air force premises in Darfur in October.”

    … Amnesty International asks that China implement the arms ban on all parties to the conflict in Darfur instituted by Security Council Resolution 1591 of 2005 and not authorise international transfers of arms where they will be used or are likely to be used for violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.

  5. The googled evidence you’ve provided is google-y and anecdotal.

    Listen, Beijing’s relations with Khartoum is rather wishy-washy. Yes, you are correct that China couldn’t give a damn when it comes to international law. Why would China give a damn about funding a genocidal regime when China itself is a site of a plethora of human rights accusations?

    At the moment, China views the Darfur crisis as a symptomatic matter of extreme poverty instead of an ethno-religious conflict. China’s twisted rationale, then, is that fostering economic relations should help alleviate and ultimately stabilize the situation. But we both know that exported foreign capital disproportionately distributes towards the top during a state of war, so much so that society hardly ever receives a share of the pie on either side. In principal, China’s taking on a developmental-position without the politics. An untenable position.


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