China's Perspective on the Development of sub-Saharan Countries

Duisburg – 27 November 2013

The increasing involvement of China in sub-Saharan Africa has been attracting attention in the West for a number of years now, both amongst the general population and in academic circles. At a public lecture hosted by the Centre, Dr Song Wei outlined the Chinese perspective on the region, including the goals and motives of the Chinese government. In her capacity as Assistant Director-General of the Department of Aid to Foreign Countries at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, Dr Wei was able to throw light on the activities, past and present, of China in the sub-Saharan area. Chinese investment, she said, was investment in the fullest sense of the word, covering areas such as infrastructure, health-care, and humanitarian aid.

Dr Wei contended that, unlike the West, China perceived its relationship with African countries as a partnership offering mutual benefits. The Chinese government, she said, had always supported African liberation movements but had otherwise remained neutral vis-à-vis African politics. She argued that Chinese investment was to be found in every country of sub-Saharan Africa regardless of resources, because the Chinese government sought partnership with all in the region—a claim much disputed in the question-and-answer session that followed.

Responding to criticism of Chinese aid, Dr Wei addressed the allegation that China supported pariah regimes and that it engaged in what the West would term ‘new colonialism’. She pointed to the fact that criticism of Chinese aid tended to come from the West, not from Africa itself, and she argued that such criticism was motivated by discontent at the way in which Chinese aid undermined Western humanitarian efforts. Western criticism of Chinese aid as ‘new colonialism’, she said, was based on ‘wrong historical analogies’: nobody would claim that interest in Australian resources was a form of colonialism, and yet China’s commercial interests in both regions were identical.

Responding to Dr Wei’s talk, Professor Christof Hartmann of the Institute for Political Science at the University of Duisburg-Essen, pointed out, firstly, that the West—controversially—tended to view its aid to sub-Saharan Africa through the lens of humanitarianism and that this perception of Western aid as ‘solely’ humanitarian was used to challenge the basis of Chinese aid to the region, on the grounds that it merely served as an instrument in the Chinese government’s pursuit of its own interests. Secondly, he believed we should not only be asking why the Chinese are willing to invest in Africa but, more importantly, why Africa was willing to accept the Chinese approach. Although African economists tended to question whether Chinese aid really did bring development, African countries on the whole were tired of what he called ‘reform discourse’. Europe’s continuing calls for ‘reform in return for investment/aid’, he said, left the people of Africa disappointed.

The lecture was chaired by Dr Anja D. Senz, Managing Director of the Confucius Institute Metropolis Ruhr, joint organizer of the event.

Date: 27 November 2013, 14.15–15.45 h
Venue: Gallery Room, H2Office, Schifferstr. 44, 47059 Duisburg