Friday, November 3, 2006

China and the "land of myth and miracles"

Apparently that's what propaganda posters advertising the current China-Africa Summit in Beijing are calling Africa, according to this article by Joseph Kahn in the New York Times.

I'm not even going to try to figure out what makes Africa a land of myth and miracles. Apparently the CCP's propaganda department hasn't benefited from China's rapid growth.

But this article is still important, because it points out something that has been obvious to observers for some time now: China, desperate for natural resources, is cultivating whatever markets it can find, regardless of the quality of governance in said markets. Therefore, I am skeptical when I read quotes such as this one, by Wang Hongyi of the China Institute of International Studies: "The Western approach of imposing its values and political system on other countries is not acceptable to China...We focus on mutual development, not promoting one country at the expense of another." I suspect that in China's economic relations with primary commodity-producing African countries, there is definitely one country gaining at the expense of the other -- at least at the expense of the other's people.

This should be a wake-up call to Western democracies and to Africa's regional powers that they cannot allow China to promote its top-down development model unchallenged in Africa -- but it should also warn Western leaders that they cannot expect African leaders to liberalize their economies and move toward democracy without offering some tangible benefit. For starters, it is imperative for the developed countries to reach a trade agreement that reduces their agricultural subsides and price supports, thereby opening their markets to agricultural products from Africa.

The deep pockets of developed consumers should be a major weapon in the advance of liberal democracy and capitalism, but Western governments must make the decision to use their markets to encourage African governments to move in the direction of greater liberty. Developed countries cannot stop China from doing business with unsavory African governments, but they can outmaneuver China by opening their sophisticated, extraordinarily wealthy markets to African producers.

The China-Africa summit should signal only the beginning of the ideological "battle for Africa," not its denouement.

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