The Fight for Economic Supremacy in Africa: On a Visit to Zambia in June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Criticised China's Investment in Africa. but before Her Footprints Had Faded in the Zambian Capital, a Delegation from the Chinese Communist Party Came Calling, as If to Make a Massive Rejoinder. Reginald Ntomba Reports from Lusaka
Ntomba, Reginald, African Business
Chinas presence in Africa continues to grow at a phenomenal rate and this is worrying the West. Although most of the time the worrying tends to be expressed in terms of good governance and human rights or their absence, it seems the real anxiety is about economic supremacy.
For the West, China's bold foothold in Africa is evocative of colonialism; but to Africa, trading with the world's second-largest economy only makes perfect sense.
Hillary Clinton has an interesting record on China. As America's First Lady in 1994, she visited China and gave a speech criticising its human rights record. The Chinese authorities would not allow that slap to land in their face, more so in their own backyard. They cut short the broadcast of her speech.
But when she returned there in February 2009, this time on her first visit as Washington's topmost diplomat, her speech was measured, concentrating on security, climate change, and the global economic crisis, while steering clear of the human rights issue, Tibet and the Dalai Lama. On a three-nation tour of Africa in June, Clinton spent just 24 hours in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, but her plate was full. She talked about trade, investment, corruption, elections, and met opposition leaders. The US embassy staff and their families handed over a US-funded health facility, held official talks with the host president, and gave a joint press conference. She was asked if the US approach to trade with Africa was enough to counter Chinese influence.
She said: "The United States does not see the Chinese interest as inherently incompatible with our own interest. I told President Obama, and I have made clear on numerous occasions, we do not see China's rise as a zero-sum game. We hope that it will become successful in its own economic efforts on behalf of the Chinese people, and that it will assume a greater and more responsible role in addressing global challenges."
Then came the punch line: "Now, we are, however, concerned that China's foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance, and that it has not always utilised the talents of the African people in pursuing its business interests."
In a television interview still in Zambia, Mrs Clinton said, in reference to China's increasing presence on the continent, that "We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa."
In what seemed to be an attempt to water down her attack on China at the press conference, she added: "We want to work more closely with China and other countries to make sure that, when we are engaged with Africa, we are doing it in a sustainable manner that will benefit the nations and people of Africa. And therefore, we have begun a dialogue with China about its activities in Africa.
Zambia's President Rupiah Banda is a veteran diplomat and former foreign minister. His response was: "We are very sensitive here in Zambia about employment for our people, how they are treated when they are working in your various institutions. So I agree with Secretary Clinton, those who come here to do business must respect our laws and must look out for our people in a different manner. And China is managing a very strong economy, and we know that they have done business with everybody ..."
The Chinese responded to the irony of being lectured on colonialism by a Western official. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "Both China and Africa suffered from colonial invasion and oppression in history, so they know best what colonialism is and the importance of respect and equality. China fully respects African countries' right to choose their development path. China never imposes its will on African countries, nor adds political conditions to its aid for Africa."
But Mrs Clinton's criticism of Chinese investment may not entirely be misplaced. …