028_G17_InSight_BrandChina

Global_17

Global Insight Brand China included. Between 2000 and 2010, China is estimated to have pumped around US$260 billion into Africa. A very large chunk of this has gone into developing and upgrading Africa’s outdated and dilapidated infrastructure. The number of roads, bridges, ports, airports, schools, stadiums, government buildings, hospitals, power stations and fuel pipelines that have been constructed or upgraded by Chinese firms runs into the tens of thousands. In 2012 alone, Chinese firms invested around $40 billion in construction projects. Chinese companies are now deeply involved in constructing the infrastructure needed for power generation and transporting African oil and gas to transhipment centres. Incidentally, while China sources a third of its oil from Africa, it is actually a small player in exploration and production compared to the likes of Shell, Exxon- Mobil and Total-ELF. There is no doubt that China’s activities in Africa have greatly contributed to the continent’s sustained growth over the last decade and a half and opened up hitherto undiscovered opportunities for Africa’s businessmen to prosper. While there are criticisms that the proliferation of cheap and often shoddy Chinese-manufactured goods may be strangling local industries, it is also true that Chinese products are affordable for the majority and are contributing to improving standards of living. China’s policy of non-interference in its host nation’s politics has also attracted considerable ire, especially in relation to the alleged genocide in Darfur in Sudan. China has countered by saying that it was neither the cause nor the sponsor of the crisis and as such it did not believe in making grand gestures for the sake of appearances. When South Sudan became independent in 2012, China promptly sent a high-level mission to the capital Juba without, it seems, antagonising its long-term partner, the North. Nevertheless, China showed that it could be stung by accusations of ignoring human rights abuses when it stopped supplying Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe with arms, limited its support to humanitarian aid and asked him, as politely as is possible in these circumstances, to ‘behave’. However laudable Beijing’s ‘win-win’ policy may be, there is a substantial gulf between the official rhetoric and the reality on the ground. Perhaps it is inevitable that cultural clashes will occur between peoples who, while similar in their circumstances, are vastly different in so many other ways. There is no getting away from the fact that despite all their achievements in Africa, the Chinese, as a people, are disliked by the majority of Africans who come in daily contact with them. Chinese companies tend to bring in their own workers rather than hire locally, except for the most menial and dangerous jobs. Their management style is seen as crude, insensitive and even cruel and there is a lingering suspicion that a deep strain of racism runs through the average Chinese national in relation to Africans. There have been violent stand-offs and deaths. Africans are also becoming increasingly alarmed at the rapidly increasing population of ordinary Chinese people within their midst. There are approximately a million Chinese people in Africa today but many believe that to be a gross underestimate. An assistant minister in Botswana’s government told me recently: “You see one Chinese standing there trying to sell videos or shoes or whatever, then you turn to say ‘hi’ to someone you know and when you turn around again, 15 Chinese have miraculously appeared!” These immigrants are perceived as deceitful, greedy, corrupt and out to exploit Africans. They tend to keep themselves to themselves and often form impenetrable ‘gangs’ that quickly take over and oust the smaller African market traders by undercutting their prices and even sabotaging their products. Many African cities now have large malls run almost exclusively by the Chinese and restaurants, Hong Kong’s Zendai plans New York-style development in South Africa Hong Kong-based Zendai Property has bought an undeveloped parcel of land in Johannesburg, promising to build an ambitious development on the site that will become the ‘New York of Africa’, in the words of chairman Dai Zhikang. The 1,600-hectare site, which formerly contained an explosives factory, will be used to house a mixture of residential and commercial buildings, with provision for retail units and industrial areas for light engineering works. Zendai paid US$108 million for the land. Zhikang said: “Aside from focusing on the mainland market, we have also been following the trend of channelling investments overseas as practised by other Chinese enterprises, looking for property development projects of suitable scale that allow for international expansion.” The project will be located in Modderfontein, 8 km from the city’s airport. Johannesburg’s existing skyline whatever else China may be accused of, the charge of leaving nothing behind for the people – as the Belgians and the Portuguese did when they left their African colonies – just does not hold water. Analyst Aya Imai adds: “It is useful to remind ourselves that since the start of the slave trade and for much of the 20th century, an overwhelming number of outside imports of goods and services Chinese finance, and the country’s giant engineering and construction firms, are behind the greatest building boom Africa has ever experienced into Africa have originated mainly from both Europe and North America. It was only in 2009 that the established status of these two giants as Africa’s biggest trading partners was casually swept away by China.” Chinese finance and the country’s giant engineering and construction firms are the main forces behind the greatest building boom the continent of Africa has ever experienced – the pyramids 28 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2014 global 


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