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A 7.9-magnitude earthquake rocked China a few days ago. At press time, the official number dead exceeded 12,000. And with many more thousands still trapped beneath debris, that number is expected to rise dramatically. With the world still reeling from the cyclone that seared Myanmar (where the military government was being criticized for hampering relief efforts), the quake mercilessly shook our channels from that devastation to the horror that hit the host country for the Olympics. These natural disasters trumped the news of the fiery tension touched off by Olympic torch in connection with China’s treatment of Tibet. But what about the Asian aggression in Africa? Is the Chinese connection to the Continent causing rumblings of a different sort?
“China-Africa trade jumps by 39 percent,” so reads the title of a January 6, 2006, BBC article. “Representing a record high, analysts said the surge was fuelled by China’s increased imports of African oil, most notably from Sudan,” says the article. “Africa is also buying more Chinese-made goods, the figures show,” it continues. “China is investing heavily in African oil exploration to help meet its rapidly-growing consumption. In 2003 it overtook Japan to become the world’s second-biggest consumer of petroleum products after the US.”
An official from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, Yu Yingfu, reports that the robust business relationship between China and Africa actually started in 2000 with the China-Africa Forum. The proliferation of Chinese construction projects on the Continent is evidence of the official government figure of $175 million that was poured into one African country’s economy during the first 10 months of 2005. Duncan Innes-Ker, an economist with the Economist Intelligence Unit, revealed that “Africa has become more important for China as a source of the raw materials needed by the Chinese manufacturing sector.” The target countries are Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, Congo Republic, and Senegal, among others.
“These days the street, one of the loveliest in this seaside capital [of Dakar, Senegal],” says The International Herald Tribune of August 21, 2006, “is more likely to be home to Chinese merchants who sell shoes, electronics, plastic jewelry and toys from storefronts built into Centenaire’s grand old villas.” As if spoken with an almost ominous tone, the article states, rather bluntly: “China, it seems, is suddenly everywhere in Africa, not just in oil-rich states. Trade between Africa and China has almost quadrupled since 2001, and last year reached almost $40 billion.” Sounds good on paper. Naysayers, though, say there’s a gloomy message in the fortune cookie that Africa has been dealt.
“As a growing economy power, China is the latest in the long string of colonizers who want to exploit Africa,” bemoans “Shaka,” a pseudonym for an African who wishes to remain anonymous. The Tribune seems to share Shaka’s sentiment. “China is hardly the first nation to seek its fortune in Africa,” it says. “First the Arabs, then the Europeans built their empires on African riches and sweat, followed by the Cold Warriors, fighting their proxy ideological battles in Africa’s marketplaces for influence and profit.” The article candidly admits: “China has done pretty much what the rest of the world has done in Africa, but without the moralizing about good government and fighting corruption. Indeed, the Chinese model could prove deceptive and destructive.”
Are the Chinese people racist against Black people? My first reaction to this question is that generalizations of this nature should probably be avoided. However, when asked this very question one traveler (we’ll call her “Carmen”) wrote the following: “My experience studying abroad and traveling in China has led me to believe that native Chinese people do, unfortunately, tend to be somewhat racist against black people. I assume this is rooted in large part (as is often the case) in unfamiliarity. There can also, unfortunately, sometimes be a perception that blacks are ‘dirty’ or ‘evil.’”
Yet another respondent chimed in: “Ask the Tibetans if Chinese are not racist. Ask the Mongols. Ask the Miaos. Ask the Oughours. Ask the Kazakhs.” If you’re like most Americans, you probably haven’t heard of most of these ethnic groups. But, you can’t help but get the feeling that they’d answer in the affirmative that the Chinese are indeed racists. Be that as it may, it certainly goes without saying that this is not true of all Chinese. The ones that I call “brother” and “sister,” and who are teaching me Chinese, most assuredly aren’t racists. They heartedly embrace me, as well as a young Black couple that speak fluent Chinese, as dear friends of theirs. It’s a beautiful thing.
On the other hand, Carmen, mentioned above, talks about the experience of a friend of hers, a Black man who also speaks fluent Chinese (Mandarin), when he traveled throughout China. He was regularly called racist names like “monkey” as he traversed the Chinese mainland. She lamented: “Most of the time he would brush it off and ignore the ignorance, but occasionally he would comment back to the offender in Chinese and once they managed to get over the fact that he could understand what they were saying, they would pretend not to understand his Chinese in hopes of saving whatever little face they could while scurrying away.”
Will the Chinese bring racist attitudes with them to the Continent? Have they done so already? Are there strings (or, noodles?) attached to these lucrative deals being made with various African countries? Does it all amount to Chinese-style neo-colonialism? Father time will ultimately have to answer these and other questions. In the mean time, we can only hope and pray that a different sort of “Great Wall of China” isn’t erected in Africa where it would act as an insurmountable barrier to race relations between Africans and Chinese...Peace on Earth...Amen.
Dr. Firpo Carr n can be reached at 800.501.2713 or