By Ren Ke
In his office in Harare, Frank Wu oversees a team of local
administrative staff that run his company, Shomet Industry
Development - one of the largest Chinese companies in Zimbabwe.
Wu was sent to Zimbabwe in 1999 as an employee of a State-owned
Chinese enterprise. Two years later, he left the company to start
up his own business in the country.
Wu found that agricultural machines were badly needed as some
farmers, who at the time had benefited from Zimbabwe's land
reforms, wanted to increase production.
He bought some used machines and materials, and managed to
re-equip and re-design them. Orders started to flood in and along
with it, loans from local banks, helping to grow his business.
After its initial success, Wu's company then entered into the
local construction, engineering, transportation and furniture
All of his businesses are thriving. His 400 local employees
receive wages ranging from US$100 to US$500. The country's annual
GDP is no more than US$300 per capita.
Wu lives with his family in Zimbabwe, so he has only been back
to China once since they moved.
"When I had just started my business, I could not afford the air
tickets, but now I do not have time to go back", Wu said.
Wu is not alone - more than 5,300 Chinese-born citizens
currently reside in Zimbabwe, helping him to overcome his
Looking at the bigger picture, Chinese businessmen are now
spreading across the African continent - from Somalia on the banks
of the Red Sea, to Morocco bordering the Atlantic Ocean. There is
hardly an African nation that has been ignored by them.
They build huge manufacturing plants, providing products ranging
from daily necessities and home appliances to motorcycles. They
have also set up Chinese markets to sell their goods labeling them
as "Made in China".
The Chinese entrepreneurs have constructed huge infrastructure
networks to service the areas surrounding their factories - ranging
from railway networks and houses to hospitals and schools.
In some oil-producing countries like Sudan and Angola, Chinese
companies have helped to establish oil-refining facilities.
Along with the industrialists, Chinese leaders are not far
behind. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Nigeria, Morocco and Kenya
in April, and Premier Wen Jiabao swept through seven African countries in June.
In November last year, Beijing hosted the Sino-African Summit, giving a warm welcome to
leaders of 48 African countries in the hope of forging "new
This has paid dividends for both sides, resulting in bigger
contracts for Chinese businesses, more aid for Africa and
cancellation of debts for the most underdeveloped African
High-level exchanges have helped to promote international
economic relations. Chinese companies, albeit mostly State-owned,
are heading for Africa with more and more employees, technology and
investment - a total of US$6.3 billion at present. On top of this,
the trade volume between China and Africa has quadrupled since
2000, and is expected to exceed US$100 billion by 2010.
However, the present nature of Sino-African trade largely
products in return for resources has raised concerns that relations
between China and Africa has the potential to become akin to that
of the old European colonial empires - one of exploitation and
suffering for Africans.
Wang Yingying, a researcher with a leading thinktank the China
Institute of International Studies disagrees with this notion.
"China's approach to Africa is totally different from that of
the old European colonists," she said.
Wang added: "Controls in politics and sovereignty of a country
always accompany colonialism, however, China never intervenes with
African countries' domestic affairs, and does not have the
intention to do it either."
History has witnessed the violence that European colonists
committed in Africa - as some experts have said, they came for
trade at first, and later with army flags, or, more accurately, the
army flags went first, and trade followed. Resources were plundered
and people were slaughtered, while poverty remained.
Today, some African nations, such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, are
undergoing sanctions imposed by the United States and European
Union. Economies have declined, people have lost jobs, and
hyperinflation has set in inflation in Zimbabwe is expected to
exceed 4,000 percent this year.
"China's aid to us comes with without political preconditions,"
said Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau Aristides Gomes. "We have no
worries in cooperating with China."
Political conditions do not exist, let alone intervention. This
is in spite of vociferous opposition from the US and EU,
particularly in regard to Sudan and Zimbabwe.
"Sanctions cannot solve problems, it impoverishes local people.
China's approach supports Africa's industrialization, and benefits
the people too," Wang said.
In the face of US and EU pressure, Chinese firms have helped
Sudan to establish its own oil industry, resulting in an 8 percent
growth in the country's economy last year.
Wu, along with the rest of the Chinese community, is helping to
implement sanction-torn Zimbabwe's economic revival program. He is
expected to hire as many as 800 local employees this year when his
new real estate project is launched.
Professor Yang Guang, director-general of Institute of West Asia
and Africa Studies, told China Features: "We cannot mix colonialism
with exploiting resources, if we view exploiting resources as
colonial behavior, we will find that the whole world is now
conducting colonial actions."
According to Yang, the reason behind the warming of Sino-African
relations lies in the different benefits and comparative advantages
to their economies. While China has a vast wealth of capital, more
advanced technology and administrative experience, Africa has an
abundance of unexploited natural resources.
Yang believes that China is on the same road of development as
Africa albeit a few miles ahead. Compared to economically more
developed countries, China only has a cheap labor force and a huge
domestic market to offer to potential investors.
As China's commerce minister pointed out in order to buy an
Airbus, Chinese workers have to produce 800 million shirts.
Foreign investment in China has intensified ever since reforms
were introduced to open up its domestic market to the outside
world. Foreign businesses gained a foothold in China's domestic
market and recorded healthy profits, assisted by China's cheap
labor costs. However, the benefits of this investment are
As a result of the swathes of foreign investment in China, the
speed of industrialization has accelerated, while raising the
standard of living.
At the same time, China's exports have been upgraded.
Manufactured goods such as machinery, electronic products and
textiles have replaced primary products such as grain, minerals and
"Not only should African countries learn from developed
countries like Japan, but also some developing countries such as
China and India," Namibia's President Pohamba said.
"At present, we should peg our eyes to China, for its experience
is more valuable for our reference."
Despite the fanfare in increased Sino-African relations, Wang
admitted that imbalances did exist within the relationship. China's
foreign direct investment in Africa, which is more important to
development than trade, still cannot match the scale of the
These problems are being addressed. At the recent Sino-African
summit, China set aside a development fund of US$5 billion, which
will be primarily used to encourage Chinese companies to invest in
Some development-oriented methods have also been adopted, such
as sending agricultural experts to Africa, and widening the
practice of training African staff.
A Chinese idiom says that it is better to teach someone how to
fish for themselves rather than to constantly supply them with
When Chinese construction companies went to Somalia after its
civil war, they could hardly find a brick mason.
Today, various training centers have been set-up ZTE
Corporation, a Chinese telecommunication equipment producer, has
established 15 training centers across the continent, training more
4,500 local employees each year.
ZTE Vice-President Zhang Weimin said: "Chinese businesses in
Africa are not just selling and buying, but helping the continent
to enhance its capacity for development."
However, obstacles still exist. Yang pointed out that "low
investment in Africa is not only a problem for China, but also for
the whole world".
Situation is made worse as some African nations have a
comparatively poor environment to encourage investment ranging from
unsteady political regimes, corruption, violence and flawed legal
Yang said: "As China sticks to a non-interference policy with
regard to Africa, African countries will have to try and solve
these problems by themselves."
The situation, however, across the continent is gradually
improving. Many civil wars have ended, and it now on the way to
development - the continent's economy grew by 5.5 percent in 2005
and is expected to be higher this year.
Referring to the new era of Sino-African relations, Chinese
foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said: "Times have changed,
and so has the direction of development in Africa."
This new era in Sino-African relations is heralding a new style of
bilateral relations that goes beyond the age-old doctrine of
products in return for resources.
Along with many state-owned and private businesses, more and
more Chinese entrepreneurs like Wu will head for Africa in search
of their fortune while also bringing prosperity to the locals.
(China Daily January 19, 2007)