Tuesday, May 4, 2010


A fascinating article in the Atlantic Monthly by NYT reporter, photographer, and sometimes China-watcher Howard French.

There is plenty worth reading and considering, but one of the things that jumped out at me is how the PRC and the Chinese people are, in many ways, behaving just as we might expect imperialists to behave, complete with calls for settlers:
“Chongqing is well experienced in agricultural mass production, while in Africa there is plenty of land but food production is unsatisfactory…Chongqing’s labour exports have just started, but they will take off once we convince the farmers to become landlords abroad”--Li Ruogu, head of China’s Export-Import Bank in the South China Morning Post:

and condescension toward the natives:
“’If you gave this land to Chinese people to work it, this place would be rich overnight,’ said one Chinese woman immigrant, a middle-aged trader in southern Congo: ‘They’re too lazy, these Africans’”

Given the main argument of my recent book, I am not terribly surprised to find the Chinese acting like imperialists. I should hasten to make what should be the obvious point that China is far from unique or exceptional in this regard.

Of course, from the perspective of Africa, whether the imperialists are Chinese or Western doesn't really matter all that much. A Congolese lawyer sums it up nicely:
“’The problem is not who is the latest buyer of our commodities,’ he replied. ‘The problem is to determine what is Africa’s place in the future of the global economy, and up to now, we have seen very little that is new. China is taking the place of the West: they take our raw materials and they sell finished goods to the world…What Africans are getting in exchange, whether it is roads or schools or finished goods, doesn’t really matter. We remain under the same old schema: our cobalt goes off to China in the form of dusty ore and returns here in the form of expensive batteries”

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