Sunday, April 16, 2006

China's African Policy: Proxy Wars over Good Governance

Is China derailing the West's African development policies? Will the East-West proxy wars of yesteryear be repeated in the economic realm -- with negative consequences for the largely Western sponsored intention to diminish the reach of kleptocratic dictatorships? Peter Brookes of the Heritage Foundation has an interesting piece, "Back to the Maoist Future", on these questions in the Weekly Standard:

Across the planet, China is aggressively seeking new friends and allies, and proving to be a less-demanding alternative to the more scrupulous United States and European nations. Africa's traditional European colonial and American partners now find their vision of a continent governed by free-market democracies and the rule of law challenged by Beijing's scramble for influence and resources. Nothing is driving China into Africa more than its insatiable appetite for oil and gas. For the past decade, the Chinese economy has expanded annually at near double-digit rates, requiring an enormous influx of resources. China is already the world's second largest energy consumer, leading Beijing to Africa's door in an effort to reduce its reliance on volatile Middle Eastern sources. Today, Africa provides China with 30 percent of its energy imports. (...)

China is rapidly expanding its influence in Africa to secure natural resources, expand Beijing's influence, and even isolate Taiwan through generous but self-serving diplomatic, financial, and military assistance. Chinese policies are endangering U.S. goals by supporting African dictatorships, hindering economic development, and exacerbating conflicts and human rights abuses in troubled countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. What is needed is a comprehensive U.S. strategy that encourages democratic principles, human rights, free markets, and cooperation in regional security and energy development in concert with like-minded partners, looking beyond traditional European friends to democratic Asian and Latin American nations for support. Otherwise, China's broad energy, trade, political, diplomatic, and, yes, military interests threaten to undermine long-standing efforts to promote peace, prosperity, and democracy in Africa.

Brookes, of course, makes his analysis from the slightly broing perspective of the instinctual (Pentagon) China basher. Strategist Thomas P. M. Barnett's positive vision of a future with China provides a far more interesting and proactive framework for analysis. Nevertheless, in the case of Africa, it is interesting to see how the Chinese intend to behave and how that clashes with the immediate expression of our political goals (the latter foggy expression just to make a distinction between present policies and later, different policies which may well both be results of the same political aspirations).

China's recent African Policy document outlines an extensive interest in engaging in African development. The most notable difference from Western development policies is the abs
ence of good governance as a leitmotiv -- and its logical counterpart, the adherence to the "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence". The Principles support non-interference: as such they are at odds with the essence of Western development policy which posits that there can be universally applicable most-effective ways of undertaking government, i.e. "good governance".

China's African Policy identifies the African Union NEPAD-strategy as "[drawing] up an encouraging picture of African rejuvenation and development." The most interesting mechanism
in the NEPAD is probably the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which intends to create an African driven initiative to strengthen and encourage good governance in a cooperative way.

The problem is of course here, that reforms are seldom, if ever, implemented wholeheartedly without incentives, whether positive or negative. And since "Africa Works" already in the sense that the leading power structures do benefit from the present situations such incentives will most likely have to be external to the given country. If external incentives are to be continued with the help or at least non-obstruction of China, it will be necessary to find a way to work around the Chinese adherence to the Five Principles and thus non-interference.

The APRM could represent one model for doing so. A primary objective of any kind of externally supported wish for policy and institutional changes must always be to coopt the local leadership, which is what the APRM would be doing given that it comes to function. Furthermore, because the ARPM is African driven, it has a potential legitimacy with the Chinese given that it is not perceived to be what the West hopes it to be: a trojan horse. Yet, evidently, the most likely outcome is that a) the cooperative nature of the APRM will itself make it ineffective for any but maybe a few medium-crisis-beset countries, and b) China itself will attempt to coopt or obstruct the APRM. But still there might be an opportunity here. As Brookes notes, the Chinese engagement has a number of drawbacks:

While some Africans see the Chinese as kindred spirits who understand Africa's development plight and welcome the Chinese infrastructure projects, the PRC presence is also a source of consternation. Chinese firms underbid local companies, and PRC contractors often use cheap, imported Chinese labor, adding little to local employment or skill development. Moreover, cheap Chinese goods flood African markets, especially textiles, shuttering factories across the continent. And concessionary PRC loans have put International Monetary Fund and other bank projects on hold because of concerns about economic mismanagement and corruption.

Basically, what is needed is fact based examination of the broader economic effects of the Chinese African engament. This should be joined with an effort to make clear the cost of the trade off of preferring to deal with the Chinese over the Western policies. The latter will surely be more demanding up front and more beneficial in the long run.

Unfortunately the setup allows a Tito-like playing on both sides. As such it has the potential to create even more of the kind of double tongued lipservice, which corrupt leaders on the continent have for a long time mastered with regard to development aid. Moreover, the most crucial countries are the natural ressource rich kleptocracies that from the outset will be least inclined to ever participate in good governance initiatives. Here, the intention of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative already suffers from combination of the Chinese need for oil and the willfully blind perspective of the Five Principles.

In short, the good governance agenda looks set to really suffer from China's African engagement. And unfortunately, that effect will be the same elsewhere too.

Later UPDATE: Robert Kagan's monthly piece in the Washington Post -- "League of Dictators?" -- touches on the same subject as this post and the one above. Interesting as always.


Curzon said...

I had a very similar post (albeit briefer) on the topic of China's presence in Africa just a few days after yours:

Draconian Observations said...

Hi Curzon,

Thanks! I just (late September '06) linked this old post up on Coming Anarchy [Think Victorian, Speak Kagan :-)] before seing this today -- my comment feature was troubled.