Via BoingBoing, a short Christian Science Monitor story about the increasing presence and influence of China in Africa. No, not through investment, but through humanitarian work, often through the U.N.
This passage caught my eye:
“The Chinese interest in Africa … their coming into our markets is the best thing that could have happened to us,” says small-business contractor Amare Kifle, during a recent meeting with a Chinese investor in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. “We are tired of the condescending American style. True, the American government and American companies have done and do a lot here, but I always feel like they think they are doing us a favor … telling us how to do things and punishing us when we do it our own way.
“These Chinese are different,” he says. “They are about the bottom line and allow us to sort out our side of the business as we see fit. I want to have a business partner and do business. I don’t want to have a philosophical debate about Africa’s future.”
Paying attention, USAID? State Department? A little humility goes a long way. I’m guessing that China’s humility has appeared for several reasons: 1) It’s politically expedient, and an easy way to gain influence in Africa vis-a-vis the U.S. 2) For some, it’s part and parcel of Chinese culture, and perhaps part of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. 3) China has long been considered several steps below the major ‘superpowers’ of the world, and there may be feelings that the oppressed are helping their own on the global stage. In fact, this last point is supported by another bit from the story:
“China is the most self-conscious rising power in history and is desperate to be seen as a benign force as well as to learn from the mistakes of the existing major powers and previous rising powers,” says Andrew Small, a Brussels-based China expert at the German Marshall Fund, a public policy think tank. “It sees its modern national story as anticolonial – about surpassing the “century of humiliation” at the hands of the colonial powers – and still thinks of itself, in many ways, as a part of the developing world.”
I have to admit, though, that as a philosopher I find the end of the first bit disturbing. I think what Amare Kifle was getting at when he said “I don’t want to have a philosophical debate about Africa’s future” was that the U.S. is trying very hard to get Africans to model their economic systems on global capitalism, and that Africans – or at least Kifle – don’t like being told how they should develop. That said, I’m sure the government of China has some ideas about how they’d like to see Africa develop as well, but they aren’t pushing them as hard or as explicitly.
This story makes me wonder a bit, though: What is the future of China? It’s working hard to become a superpower, and lots of folks have predicted a rather large and messy collision in the future with the U.S. I think that’s a possibility, though if China keeps working at its current rate (and the U.S. keeps fucking up so royally), it’ll pass the U.S. as a global power before the U.S. even notices.
So, what kind of global power will China be? There’s plenty of evidence it’s still an authoritarian country, but how will it act on the world stage? I am hopeful that China – as evidenced by the CSM article – will be able to with humility and dignity, and for good. I am also hopeful that despite the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts against religion, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and others will have a role to play in the actions of China and Chinese citizens. We could learn a lot from the so-called ‘East’ if we listened.