Fair Trade?

China swaps a blind eye for African resources

| March 16, 2006


It's no secret that genocide is an ongoing reality for people of the Darfur region of Sudan. And it's no secret that the government in Khartoum condones and even supports this genocide. The international community -- led by the Bush administration -- has collectively shaken its head at the problem, but thus far proved unable to stop the killings. What could account for the prolonged international inertia? Increasingly, the answer can be found in China and its deepening roots in the African continent.

On the basis of shared Cold War ideology, China first began to court several African nations back in the 1960s. And while much of that ideology has melted away in the past 40 years, China's economic presence in Africa is more pronounced than ever. Writing in Pambazuka News, Stephen Marks points out that Chinese-African trade is, by some estimates, nearing the $40 billion a year mark. For an economically burgeoning China, Africa offers a virtually untapped wealth of natural resources and raw materials -- not to mention an expanded global supply chain and new foreign markets. Additionally, Marks notes, unlike Western powers, China has been less encumbered with the political fallout from trading with corrupt regimes and human rights violators.

As economic self-interest at any cost becomes the Chinese standard in African trade, some analysts, Marks included, warn that, far from its 'ideological' roots, China's relationship with many African countries now leans toward classical imperialism. But in a continent still reeling from the effects of Western imperialism, African governments are largely embracing China's trade overtures. The reason this trend occurs is as simple as the genocide in Darfur is obvious: In exchange for Africa's markets and resources, China provides infrastructure and, more enticingly, political influence.

Take Sudan. James Forsyth writes in The New Republic Online (free registration required) that for Sudan, China's 'most enthusiastic client' and a significant oil supplier, the eastern power not only manufactures the arms that find their way into the hands of government-backed militiamen, it also runs political interference whenever the United States or the UN Security Council probes into the Darfur genocide.



Forsyth, attempting to appeal to 'foreign-policy realists,' responds to this impasse with the contention that beyond the standing moral imperative posed by Darfur, the Bush administration should rally the world to intervene based on national interest. 'The United States must push harder ... for a meaningful military response to Darfur,' Forsyth argues, 'not just to save the lives of innocents, to atone for sitting on its hands during the Rwandan genocide, and to live up to its ideals, but also to thwart the rise of its strategic competitor in Africa -- an ascendance that could undermine US interests on the continent.'

Go there >>China in Africa: The New Imperialism?