Thursday, February 28, 2008

International Relations: China's "scramble" for Africa

Portuguese MEP Ana Maria Gomes

China's growing influence in Africa is the source of a recent report by Parliament's Development Committee. Driven by an increasing need to secure energy supplies Beijing is extending its influence across the African continent. We spoke to Portuguese Socialist Ana Maria Gomes who drafted the report on China's latter day "scramble" for Africa and the consequences for the continent's development, including human rights and the situation in Darfur.

Ms Gomes, your report notes the growing influence of China in Africa. What is driving this involvement?

China has legitimate interests for its own development and in procuring raw materials, namely oil, for its energy consumption. It has found that there are great markets to be explored. Despite its "no strings attached" policy, China also has political interests in Africa.

There's growing awareness among Europeans of Africa's enormous potential. Africa is not just sad stories, as China proves. The main objective of my report is to have a better articulation between Europe and China to make a difference for Africa's development. This should not take place over the Africans' heads, but involve their institutions and governments.

Your report expresses concerns about China's possible negative influence on issues such as corruption, labour rights and environmental standards, in Africa. What can, and should the EU/EP do about it?

China's scramble for resources has negative consequences, not just in conflict areas such as Darfur, but also for attempts to build an industrial base for example in textiles, and by perpetuating corrupt and oppressive elites...China has problems of good governance, respect for human rights and core labour standards, and corruption – which it might be exporting to African countries.

We cannot neglect China, we cannot overrule China; we have to engage with China. The EP took the lead in highlighting the parameters of this engagement, namely the Millennium Development Goals. We have to press China to adopt criteria for development such as we have within the OECD. It is a major power, a permanent member of the Security Council and therefore has responsibilities in Africa and all over the world.

Whatever China does in Africa has huge consequences, good and bad. But Europeans cannot just afford to preach ex cathedra to China when we ourselves have tremendous shortcomings in living up to our commitments in Africa.

The EP awarded the 2007 Sakharov Prize to Salih Mahmoud Osman for his work defending human rights in Sudan. He stressed the influence of China in his country. Could the Prize help persuade China to rethink its "no strings" approach to investment in Sudan or Africa more widely?

Awarding that prize was important and had an impact. Mr Salih was in Lisbon for the EU-Africa Summit just before the EP awarded the prize. He made very important points not just regarding his home country Sudan and the role played by China and others in Darfur, but also in highlighting the fight for freedom and against oppression for many other peoples in Africa, and the role interaction with major players such as EU and China could have in that process.

Source: European Parliament