The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024
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On turning a blind eye

“No strings attached” is a fantastic phrase for those in need. It’s not often that you can get something for nothing, especially in the international arena. But that’s exactly what China offers Africa: billions of dollars in aid and no uncomfortable demands to mind silly things like human rights. That is, until recently. Since coming to power, Chinese President Hu Jintao has taken unprecedented steps in Chinese-African relations. In Sudan as part of a 12-day tour of Africa last year, Mr. Hu urged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to work harder to incorporate more rebel groups into the peace agreement over Darfur.

This marks a definite break from China’s previous African policy of turning a blind eye to rampant human rights violations in exchange for favorable trade agreements. China has been courting African nations for years now, seeking to satisfy its demands for raw materials as cheaply as possible. Unlike Western nations and institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, who demand marked improvement in human rights, economic policy, political cleanliness and the like before they dole out aid, China needed only the assurances that the raw materials would be cheap and in constant supply. In return, China would invest billions of dollars in African economies, mostly in improving infrastructure. This created jobs for those in dire need of a paycheck, boosted the “investabililty” of the African recipient and, handily, increased the speed and ease with which the resources were shipped to China.

This represented a sort of deal with the devil that various nations notorious for abusing human rights, such as Sudan, Zimbabwe and Zambia, were only too happy to make, and China, basking in its new-found economic glory and influence, didn’t seem to mind the various transgressions occurring in the recipient countries. And China isn’t the first Communist country to come to Africa’s aid after Western donors proved too squeamish. In 1958 the USSR paid for a third of the cost of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, two years after the U.S. and Britain cancelled their offers of help due to suspicions of Egyptian arms smuggling and its recognition of the People’s Republic of China.

So, have friendless and poor African nations found an ideal friend in the People’s Republic? Not entirely. It is true that China has blocked international action on various violations, most notably by vetoing or abstaining from any efforts to force Sudan to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur. But this protection comes at a price. Chinese firms use as many Chinese resources as possible when improving the infrastructure of Africa; this includes using Chinese labor, Chinese equipment, Chinese overseers and Chinese money. Although the infrastructure improves, there is little to no value added to the labor force (in terms of experience) or native African industries (in terms of investing). Already there have been riots at a Chinese-controlled copper mine in Zambia and kidnappings of Chinese petroleum engineers in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, signs of discontent with the Chinese way of running things.

But this matters little to various African leaders, as long as Mr. Hu continues to arrive bearing gifts. Before leaving, he announced over $3 billion in soft loans and a doubling of aid to Africa over the next three years. This political non-intervention was what African leaders enjoyed the most, as it allowed them to accept gifts with one hand while repressing Africans with the other. Mr. Hu’s change in policy, then, is worrisome for them.

Ultimately, though, they have little choice in the matter. Some countries are already dependent on Chinese currency; China buys a little over two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports. There is no one else in the world willing to give out the kind of money the Chinese are giving without the attached caveats of improving this or that aspect of liberty. And China’s mild request is just that: mild. Other governments and various human rights groups have been pressuring China to say something about human rights. This is most likely a token move to soothe international tension about realpolitik taken to the extreme.

This is a shame, given that as China continues to emerge as a global power, it should act as a responsible one. The Chinese have hardly dedicated themselves to improving their own human rights record, and allowing them to overlook the same faults in other nations would be criminally negligent on the part of the international community. Other countries and human rights groups should continue to pressure the Chinese on holding violators accountable and forcing questionable nations to show improvement before they can gain the benefits of international aid.

John Jose is a sophomore finance and economics major. He can be reached at [email protected].

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