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    Greater China
     Sep 14, 2011


The myth of the 'China model' in Africa
By Jian Junbo

LONDON - China's growing influence in Africa following its increasingly active economic activity on the continent has been a target of criticism from the West, particularly the United States. Recently, such criticism seems to focus on whether the so-called "China model" is applicable to Africa.

This happens at a time as more and more Chinese are arguing that there is no such thing as a "China model" - a mix of authoritarianism and socialist market economy that contrasts with the Washington Consensus. From this perspective, the latest Western criticism may be off target.

During a visit to Zambia in June, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indirectly referred to China's presence in Africa as "new colonialism": "We saw that during colonial times, it was easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and

 
leave. And when you leave, you don't leave much behind for the people who are there. We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa."

Asked whether China was a role model for Africa, Clinton answered: "In the long-run, medium-run, even short-run, no I don't [think so]." [1]

The Wall Street Journal on September 2 reported:
... Some US officials say the number of governments in Africa finding favor with China's path of development gives Chinese firms an edge over US competitors and reflects Beijing's strategic ambitions for the continent.

"It's quite clear that the model of state-led capitalism is being used as an instrument of China's soft power," said Robert D Hormats, the US State Department's Under Secretary for Economic Affairs. "It's part of a broad notion that China's economic model is successful and can be used elsewhere." [2]
All this shows Washington's increasing concern with China's growing competitiveness with the US in Africa. Accusing China of neo-colonialism in Africa now is nothing new - as early as 2006, the British Foreign Office compared China's activities in Africa to what the West had done some 150 years before. But the criticism that China is trying to promote its own political-economic "model" is something new.

Beijing has categorically refuted charges that a "China model" is planned for Africa, but it will still likely become a label for China's engagement in the continent and its would-be threat to the West.

Some African leaders have expressed a preference for Chinese-style development. "China's model is telling us you can be successful without following the Western example," said Arthur Mutambara, the deputy prime minister, a member of an opposition party of Zimbabwe. "China is my favorite country," he added. [3]

The whole debate revolves around a model that researchers and officials, including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, feel is itself a misconception.

At a press conference after the conclusion of the annual session of the National People's Congress in mid-March, Wen said: "We are still probing in our reforms and construction, and never regard our development as a model."

A recent symposium hosted by the Central Party School - the top training center of the Chinese Communist Party for senior cadres, officials and researchers from various institutions of China discussed the so-called China model. Their comments were published on a Beijing-based financial journal, China's Reform, on September 1. [4]

A few participants did agree that there was a China model. Sun Liping, a professor from Tsinghua University, said, "I think there is a China model. It not only exists but also is in the final process of improvement." Wu Si, vice president and executive editor of Yanhuang Chunqiu (China Through the Ages) - a monthly magazine run by some reform-minded retired party elders, argued the same line.

However, the majority of participants rejected the concept.

Zhu Lijia, a professor from the National Administrative Institution, argued that the China model was a misconception, as China's modern social institutions and values were still being developed or even at a primitive stage. Cai Xia, a professor from the Central Party School, said that if a China model meant a market economy dominated and pushed by the government, then China had simply repeated what developed countries had done.

From this perspective, "We really have nothing new," Cai concluded. Xia Yeliang, a professor from Peking University, argued that the so-called China model in fact didn't go beyond the "East Asian Model" of the so-called Four Asian Tigers - South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. "The definition of China model used by either Chinese or foreigners is vague," Xia said.

Li Junru, former vice president of the Central Party School, had written in 2009 for Xuexi Shibao (Study Times) - a weekly newspaper run by the school, that it was dangerous to define Chinese development as a China model. This could lead to over-confidence and blind optimism in the country's development, jeopardizing future reforms.

The ongoing debate underlines that the China model is a concept not accepted by the Chinese government and many Chinese scholars.

Closer inspection of the concept reveals its similarities to the idea of a "Beijing Consensus" created by American scholar Joshua Cooper Ramo, in 2004, which has become widely used by Westerners to contrast with the Washington Consensus. According to Ramo, the Beijing Consensus means fast economic development in a state-controlled system, while the Washington Consensus means liberal market and political democracy. From this perspective, the China model is just another name for "Beijing Consensus", a label which is also rejected by China.

Since Beijing doesn't recognize the China model internally, it certainly denies the existence of a China model internationally. Liu Guijin, China's special representative on African affairs, had said in a May interview that China isn't promoting a particular development model to counter a Western alternative, "What we are doing is sharing our experiences," he said. "Believe me, China doesn't want to export our ideology, our governance, our model. We don't regard it as a mature model." [5]

It is difficult, if not impossible, for other countries to copy China's experience in development, especially when taking into consideration the country's unique culture, which without doubt influences its modernization. A very important aspect of Chinese culture that has played a significant role in supporting and maintaining today's Chinese political and economic system is the "Great Unification".

This idea originated from the unification of the Middle Kingdom by the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC. From then on, unification became ingrained in Chinese culture. Throughout history, China was always reunified after a period of division.

In such a big country, this "Great Unification" calls for centralization. This means that China needs a special political and economic system. In Africa, according to its history and reality, many countries have undergone democratization since 1990s, but such a high degree of centralization is hardly a deep-rooted idea. While rulers in some African countries may envy Beijing's highly-centralized political power, the "Jasmine" revolutions" have proved that many nations reject it.

China has grown into the world's second-largest economy in the past 30 or so years from a poor, developing country. It is natural that some African countries are eager to discover China's "secret" and boost their own development. However, African nations cannot simply copy China's model. They need to realize their own path of development.

Why has the US suddenly become so concerned with the so-called China model becoming popular in Africa? This is likely due to US feelings of helplessness as China expands its business interests and influence on the continent.

Struggling for an economic recovery, entangled in two so-called "wars on terror" in Afghanistan and Iraq and shifting its strategic focus onto a "return to Asia", Washington at this stage can actually do little in Africa. This remains a "failed continent" for the US, yet it still holds a grudge about China moving in.

A CNN report on September 9 said [6]:
While Western countries are still important players in Africa's energy sector, the deepening engagement of China in Africa's infrastructure, mineral sector and telecommunications is creating "deep nervousness" in the West, says David Shinn, the former US ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.

The competition in these areas, he explains, usually pits big Chinese enterprises that are financially backed by Beijing's deep pockets against Western companies that often have shareholders to consider and are by-and-large acting independently of their governments' desires.

According to Shinn, this different system of government "does create anxieties" because "the United States and the West see China filling all kinds of voids that it thought it would eventually fill."

China overtook the United States as Africa's biggest trade partner in 2009, according to OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] ...figures, whereas in 2000 the United States' trade with Africa was three times that of China's.

Shinn says that to the eyes of many African leaders China's capacity to move fast, coupled with its policy of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs, often makes Beijing a more attractive partner than the West, whose policy in the continent is usually linked to conditions about good governance and human-rights reforms.
So what can China do to satisfy Washington and the West? It should be pointed out that the sectors and areas that China is engaged in in Africa are mostly those the West declines to become involved in due to violence or low returns. Yet the West complains about China's competition with them.

Should China pull all its businesses out of Africa? It is intriguing to note that Western "concerns" come as the US and the European Union are seeking increased Chinese investment. In today's increasingly inter-dependent world, the US - though still the sole superpower - should be "generous" enough to welcome China's business activities in Africa. After all, peaceful competition is a core value of Western capitalism.

Notes
1. Clinton Chastises China on Internet, African ‘New Colonialism', Bloomberg, Jun 12, 2011.
2. In Africa, U.S. Watches China's Rise, Ayyaantoo Online News, Sep 2, 2011.
3. Ibid.
4. Click here for the Chinese text.
5. In Africa, U.S. Watches China's Rise, Ayyaantoo Online News, Sep 2, 2011.
6. Is the West losing out to China in Africa? CNN, Sep 9, 2011.

Dr Jian Junbo, an assistant professor of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, China, is currently an academic visitor at London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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