China-Africa Relations: Two Perspectives Chinese president Hu Jintao is in Sudan Friday, as part of his visit to eight African nations. China has come under fire internationally for its unwillingness to pressure African nations like Sudan to deal with human rights issues.
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China-Africa Relations: Two Perspectives

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China-Africa Relations: Two Perspectives

China-Africa Relations: Two Perspectives

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. What kind of role can the Western world ask China to play?

Many experts say this will be China's century. So what to expect? Here is the latest example. In Sudan today, site of genocide in the Darfur region, focus of human rights outrage, China mostly talked about trade and cooperation. Chinese President Hu Jintao is there as part of an eight-nation Africa tour.

BRAND: China has a no-strings-attached investment policy. It pretty much ignores criticism from human rights advocates and many Western nations, including the U.S. Chinese investment in Africa has exploded in recent years. It's spending tens of billions of dollars in the continent.

We'll have two perspectives on this. First, I spoke with Donald Straszheim; he's a China expert with the investment firm Roth Capital Partners. He says China needs Africa and Africa needs China.

Mr. DONALD STRASZHEIM (Roth Capital Partners): China has this massive economic growth record - 10 percent a year for the last 25 years - and that means they use an awful lot of stuff.

And they are looking for secure sources of fuel for their economy; fuel in a literal sense - oil, coal, natural gas - and fuel in the figurative sense, industrial fuel - iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, nickel (unintelligible) and so forth. Africa needs the money. They need to develop, and China is an obvious partner.

BRAND: So all of this raw material goes into making what?

Mr. STRASZHEIM: Well, this raw material goes into making the stuff that you and I buy when we go into our big box retailer here in this country. We turn the product over, it says made in China.

BRAND: They do have a policy, an investment policy called a no-strings attached policy, where they refused to meddle in the domestic affairs of the country they're investing in. And that runs counter to what the West has been doing, which is using economic leverage to pressure world nations like Sudan, like Zimbabwe, to act in a better way vis-à-vis human rights, vis-à-vis democracy.

Mr. STRASZHEIM: I simply find it a good thing to have them integrated and have us all interdependent, and I think that will make their behavior look more like ours.

BRAND: Human rights activists disagree with you, especially when it comes to a place like Sudan, where they point out - well, it was China that blocked the UN resolution condemning the atrocities in Darfur. It was China who is providing cover, in effect, for Sudan at the United Nations for its human rights abuses.

Mr. STRASZHEIM: Human rights is another issue. I understand that. But from an economic perspective, I think China is more likely to behave as a responsible global citizen if in fact they are integrated into the global economy. And part of that global responsibility I think will be an improvement over the long term in their human rights record, not a deterioration of it.

BRAND: Is this a good thing for Africa? African countries, are they better off with China investing and giving aid to them?

Mr. STRASZHEIM: I believe African countries are distinctly better off if China, America, Japan, whoever, comes and brings capital so that they can develop their natural resources, their agricultural base, their industrial base, its jobs in Africa. And that's what makes economies grow and prosper.

BRAND: How is this not, though, a form of neocolonialism in that it is once again the great economic power descending into Africa and taking what it needs and not maybe leaving a lot for the African countries themselves?

Mr. STRASZHEIM: Countries all around the world have resources that are valuable. Those countries can either sit on them or try to develop them, and they develop them with whoever it is that might be interested in being their development partner; in this case it's in Africa, as in Australia, as in Russia, Indonesia, much of Latin America.

These are natural resource economies. That's what their strong suit is. It's not human capital or technology like it is here in America or Europe. So let them develop with what they have. They get richer. Their behavior becomes, I think, more Western-like and less dangerous to all of us.

BRAND: Well, Donald Straszheim, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. STRASZHEIM: You're welcome.

BRAND: Donald Straszheim is a long-time China expert. He is currently the vice chairman for the investment banking company Roth Capital Partners here in California.

Adama Gaye feels quite differently about China's interest in Africa. He is African and he's written a book called "China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich." The cover of the book depicts in cartoon style a dragon blowing fire on an ostrich that represents Africa.

I asked Adama Gaye why he portrays Africa with its head in the sand?

Mr. ADAMA GAYE (Author, "China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich"): That's the posture Africa has taken over the past years. It has not faced its challenges, whereas the dragon, representing China, presents a country that has been able over the past 35 years to live up to its challenges and become one of the most powerful nations in the world.

BRAND: Do you see the dragon, China, as a malevolent force or a benevolent force?

Mr. GAYE: It can be both, but at this moment I see it as a malevolent force, because China is driving all the China-Africa relations. It is deciding everything and not allowing much room for Africa to contribute to what China presents as a win-win situation.

Ultimately, China needs Africa's natural resources, and it is putting all its efforts and its financial might in order to secure them. I think in this situation it's Africa that is ruling in the business.

BRAND: Do you see China as a neocolonialist force, basically doing what the European powers did in the 19th century, going into Africa, taking its resources and leaving little behind?

Mr. GAYE: I think China is doing it in a most clever way, because China is presenting its approach to Africa in a diplomatic way, saying that it has been always a friend of Africa, using the nice words, stating that it doesn't want to harm Africa.

But I think at the end of the day, what China is doing is almost the same as what Europe did. They are buying the natural resources. They are investing in strategic sectors, and controlling things from afar.

I think if we are not careful in Africa, we will wake up one day and see that China has purchased most of the strategic things in Africa and we have nothing to do about it because that would be accepted under even the international norms, the World Trade Organization agreements, for instance. That is really bad, what is happening.

BRAND: Yet China is also giving billions of dollars in aid to African countries.

Mr. GAYE: Listen. Those billions of dollars are done, given to Africa in order to secure markets for China. Before I (unintelligible) somebody will believe that China could be a real good partner with Africa. More and more I'm suspicious about their approach.

BRAND: Adama Gaye is the author of the book, "China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich." Mr. Gaye, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. GAYE: It's my pleasure.

BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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