- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

By now, Hu Jintao knows Africa well. The Chinese president wrapped up another visit in February, his third, and China’s footprint continues to expand, plied by soft loans and grants to buy Chinese firms access to oil and other natural resources. Despite, or perhaps because of, China’s success, potential resentment is brewing in some areas. South African President Thabo Mbeki, for one, cautioned against a “colonial relationship” with China.

The description is quite apt, and although it hasn’t really slowed China’s advances, it has apparently generated enough concern in Beijing for one Chinese official to offer a response. Beijing’s economic interest springs from “friendship from the bottom of our hearts,” asserted Bo Xilai, who, as commerce minister, controls one of the primary ministries that overseas China’s international assistance. “China did all this out of sincerity, as well as the friendly feelings and sentiments it has developed toward Africa over the past years.”

Seriously? Mr. Bo can’t expect critics and those watching China’s increasing involvement in Africa with skepticism to believe that Beijing’s interest is in anything more than the African continent’s natural resources. China’s continued arms sales to Africa, documented in an Amnesty International report, likewise emphasize the absurdity of this claim.

Chinese aid to Africa undermines the efficacy of other international humanitarian aid packages, which are usually conditioned on progress in developing good governance, rooting out corruption and reforms important for the recipient country’s long-term prospects. China doesn’t tie its generous aid to progress in such areas as human rights, for instance, which may sit well with countries uninterested in pursuing reforms, but it undercuts efforts from organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In no context is Mr. Bo’s remark more abominable than China’s relationship with Sudan, where Beijing’s economic interests have led it to provide diplomatic cover for a murderous government in Khartoum. Approximately two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports are bought by China, and in February Mr. Hu announced the cancellation of $70 million in debt owed by Sudan.

China’s policies in Africa are thoroughly mercantilist and amoral, and transparently so. That is not to call China’s influence inherently negative. Beijing places no tariffs on exports from more than 24 poor African countries, and its investments in infrastructure could benefit local economies. But the root motivations are economic and political — certainly not Mr. Bo’s “friendly feelings and sentiments.” Warnings like the one from Mr. Mbeki are prescient, and Chinese officials should not expect to assuage concerns, in either Africa or the West, with such laughable rebuttals.

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