China has been investing heavily in Africa over the last few years but has not been telling the West much about the details — giving rise to all sorts of speculation about China’s motives, claims of unfair secrecy and Chinese ambitions to grab control of supplies of vital raw materials.
So United States researchers have been beavering away to build up a big public database of Chinese development in Africa, giving details of 1,700 projects in 50 countries since 2000. These researchers, from AidData at the College of William and Mary, have spent 18 months creating their database. They have been looking to discover any underhanded practices by the Chinese; they are certainly not pro-Chinese propagandists.
They found that China’s financial commitments in Africa are much larger than previously thought. China has committed $75 billion (£48 billion) on aid and development projects in Africa in the past decade, according to research which reveals the scale of what some have called Beijing’s escalating soft power “charm offensive to secure political and economic clout on the continent.”
This is still less than the $90 billion the US has spent in “aid” to Africa but is likely to be more useful to Africans because it does not include strings linked to privatisation of public utilities or the funding of mercenaries to destabilise governments it does not like.
They found that China is still keeping to the Eight Principles of Chinese aid that date from 1964:
1. Equality and mutual benefit form the basis of Chinese aid;
2. China respects sovereignty, never attaches conditions or asks for privileges;
3. China helps lighten the burden with interest-free or low-interest loans and by extending repayment terms when necessary;
4. The purpose of aid is to help countries become self-reliant;
5. Projects that require less investment but yield quicker results are favoured;
6. China provides quality equipment and materials manufactured in China at international market prices;
7. China will help recipient countries master the techniques of any technical assistance;
8. Chinese experts will have the same standard of living as those of the recipient country and are not allowed to make special demands.
The data obtained by this American research challenges western capitalist assumptions —Beijing’s unrelenting quest for natural resources.
There are few mining projects in the database and, while transport, storage and energy initiatives account for some of the largest sums, the data also reveals how China has put hundreds of millions of dollars towards health, education and cultural projects.
In Liberia, China has put millions towards the installation of solar traffic lights in Monrovia and financed a malaria prevention centre. In Mozambique, China’s projects include a National School for Visual Arts in Maputo. In Algeria, construction has begun on a multimillion dollar 1,400-seat opera house in the Ouled Fayet suburbs of western Algiers.
China has also sent thousands of doctors and teachers to work in Africa, welcomed many more students to learn in China or in Chinese language classes abroad and rolled out a continent-wide network of sports stadiums and concert halls.
Western analysts are going crazy trying to work out China’s motives and why it is doing so much that does not seem to bring in any direct profit. Western propagandists are forever cynically proclaiming human rights and humanitarianism while impoverishing and oppressing millions in the Third World.
They cannot grasp that these “sinister Orientals” have a better grasp of human rights — that, as Stalin said, “free speech” and “voting rights” are a poor joke to someone who has no job, no home and no idea where the next meal is coming from.
In other words, in spite of their successes in economic growth using capitalist methods, the Chinese state still retains working class, communist values and their humanitarianism is not a cynical pretence.