China superimposes on Maldives
China is now Africa’s largest trading partner, and it offers loans, grants and development deals without the anticorruption strings favored by the United States and Europe. Yet in most of the countries French travels to, Africans complain about inferior Chinese goods and shoddy infrastructure, like the new roads the Chinese have built.
Africans — from government, civil society and ancestral communities — speak about how public officials, engaged in what French calls “gangster capitalism,” are failing to hold Chinese investors accountable. A pervasive lack of transparency ...
French concludes that Chinese migration to the continent falls within a wider tradition of foreign powers establishing spheres of economic influence in Africa, and he doesn’t doubt that China’s political demands on Africa will grow. This is probably true. But if Africa fails to capitalize on its wealth to the benefit of future generations, it won’t be entirely China’s fault.
Assessing the Chinese themselves, Barry adds, “The Chinese come and they want your iron, your bauxite, your petroleum. In return, they’ll deliver you turnkey projects, where they supply the materials, the technology and the labor, with salaries that are mostly not paid in the country and do not contribute to the economy.” China has long financed such projects in places like the Congo and Guinea without regard to their internal affairs, and this has earned the Chinese considerable criticism in much of the rest of the world.
While in Freetown, French met with Joseph Rahall, head of an NGO (non-governmental organization) called Green Scenery, that was engaged in building Sierra Leone’s civil society. Rahall observes, “The Chinese work in a very peculiar manner. They prefer to deal directly with the president and to make a spectacular gesture, and that is that. They don’t go for any public discussion, and they won’t give importance to many international norms, or to civil society, or to principles like democracy. That is the backdrop to some of their big deals in the country – not just iron, but also for oil and timber.” He continues that where the West wags its finger at you, calling your corrupt, the Chinese are there. This was the so-called “Chinese alternative”; in Rahall’s opinion, you are “stuck between the devil [the West] and the deep blue sea.” This, together with Sierra Leone’s weakness in dealing with domestic corruption, makes for particularly attractive economic opportunities, such as the Timis deal, for China.
“He said the Chinese are coming and they are very enterprising, so you must be careful. I [Boly] told him that the Chinese were predators in the same way that the French were. The only difference is that the Chinese theft is the theft of an office clerk. A long time will go by before you understand what has befallen you.”
And speaking to French, Boly reinforces that image of the Chinese: “China has a means of advancing which is different from that of the West. They are like a boa: it observes its prey quietly, taking its time. In the same way, the Chinese are waiting for a long-term return. They’re waiting for a maximal result.”