Sunday, July 22, 2012

Africa is too cozy with China to Suit the West

On July 19, South African President Jacob Zuma opened the 5th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, held in Beijing, with a warm and effusive address about China's relationship with Africa.

Zuma even cited Admiral Zheng He's visits to the African continent as the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Even though he was off by a few hundred years, Zuma was undoubtedly expressing admiration for the Chinese that came to trade for a few giraffes to take back to Beijing--unlike the Europeans that later came to rape and pillage and kidnap natives for the slave trade.

By simply altering the sequence of Zuma's speech, the Financial Times adroitly changed the tone of his speech into one that "warns" China that all was not well, implying that China was as guilty of exploiting Africa as the European predecessors. The Washington Post shamefully reprinted the FT piece without any revision.

We have been led to believe that major publications in mainstream media have a public responsibility to be accurate and objective. They are supposed to inform their readers and not to pander to known biases nor reinforce preconceived but erroneous notions.

In other words, their job is not to merely tell the reader what they think the reader wants to hear.

Fortunately, in this case President Zuma's speech has been posted in its entirety by the South African government so that the reader can compare what he actually said to how his speech was reported.

There were certain passages in Zuma’s speech that failed to be included in the Financial Times piece.

“We are particularly pleased that in our relationship with China we are equals and that agreements entered into are for mutual gain.  This gathering (referring to the Forum) indicates commitment to mutual respect and benefit.”

Then Zuma went on to declare, “We certainly are convinced that China’s intention is different to that of Europe, which to date continue to attempt to influence African countries for their sole benefit.”

Zuma in the same speech then said, “Over the last decade, and partly because of China’s unrelenting support, the African continent has seen tremendous growth rates, making it one of the fastest growing continents and certainly the next growth pole. Furthermore, global growth estimates suggests that Africa’s growth will continue in an upward trend for years to come.

Does the above sound like Zuma was complaining about China’s treatment of Africa?

Certainly not, according to what Zuma went on to say, “In particular, we take note of the infrastructure development China has assisted Africa with in the past several years.

“ African continent is now being seen as a major player in global affairs, and is becoming more attractive to investors and development partners.  

“Indeed, this is proving to be Africa’s decade of change.

President Zuma basically concluded his speech by calling on China to continue to be Africa’s partner in meeting future challenges.

Along with helping Africa build its infrastructure, China has overtaken the US as Africa’s biggest trading partner.

Unlike the US, China does not give foreign aid with or without strings. True to its policy of non-interference, China does not tell the African nations what to do, nor make suggestions on rectifying human rights abuses.

Ironically, a recent op-ed in the New York Times by a Zambian economist argued that foreign aid tend to line the pockets of corrupt dictators while trade and infrastructure investments were more likely to benefit the general population and thus empowering the populace to hold their government accountable.

The same economist reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned Africa to be aware of new form of colonialism, an obvious but oblique reference to the presence of China in Africa.

It’s hard to know if Secretary Clinton truly believed that Africans would find her credible or if she were merely mouthing a party line that she knew her American constituents would want to hear.

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