David Cameron warns Africa of a 'Chinese invasion'

By Heiko Khoo
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, August 4, 2011
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British Prime Minister David Cameron [Getty Image] 

The British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned China for its system of "authoritarian capitalism" in a speech made at Nigeria's Lagos Business School during his recent tour of Africa. He simultaneously complained that China does not protect private contracts or provide guarantees against expropriation. Cameron justified his speech by claiming that as the "shadow" of colonialism has now been lifted, he has a duty and right as an Englishman, to warn Africa that it faces a "Chinese invasion".

Let us first consider his theoretical description of the Chinese economic system and then make some comparisons between Western and Chinese relations with Africa.

From the mid 1990s, the proportion of the Chinese economy owned by foreign and domestic private companies grew. It appeared that China was moving towards capitalism. Indeed leading economists from China like Justin Yifu Lin and Wu Jinglian argued that it is the private sector that provides the dynamic motive force of growth, and it is certainly true that private sector firms grew more rapidly than state sector firms. The economist Barry Naughton characterized China's transformation as "growing out of the plan". As the dominant economic theories in the world are pro-capitalist theories, the source of the Chinese economic miracle had to be found in private sector dynamism bravely breaking down all Chinese walls, to conquer and eliminate the last vestiges of communism.

The empirical evidence is certainly available. One can find street peddlers who became millionaires, Dickensian conditions in the button factories of Wenzhou, and high suicide rates at Foxconn's mega-factories, where a million Chinese workers make iPads for capitalist profits. It is easy to conclude that this must be capitalism. Most Western Marxists fell under the spell of such facts and declared China's capitalist transformation to be complete.

But then, just when China was declared to be more capitalist than everywhere else on earth, along came the biggest capitalist economic crisis since the 1930s. As the United States, Europe and Japan suffered a huge economic contraction, the levers of China's state planning system – that had supposedly "withered away" – reappeared like a ghost. Not only did it rise from the dead but it also revealed extraordinary life force. It overcame a widespread collapse in the private sector and reasserted the dominant role of public ownership of the Chinese economy. The government, state-owned banks and publicly owned enterprises invested and as a result China's economy grew by 30 percent during the last three years.

With Western economic theory in disarray China's economic performance exacerbated the intellectual crisis. Two years ago it was commonplace to assume that China's economy was dominated by private sector exports to the world; thus the sharp fall in world trade from 2008 should have battered the Chinese economy. Serious investigation revealed that most of these exports were imported goods, assembled in China and re-exported. Chinese growth was actually driven by investment and the main source of investment was the public sector. It is state-sector dominance over the private sector that was at the root of the Chinese economic miracle for over 30 years.

Let us to return to the dominant theory and its consequences. If China is a capitalist country ruthlessly plundering its own people, then what is the nature of Chinese investment in Africa? Surely it must be worse for Africa than any "mistakes" committed by the wealthy, democratic and benevolent Western capitalist countries? So journalists began to produce howls of outrage about China's enslavement of Africa. A catalogue of lies and misinformation is happily churned out by mainstream Western media sources, to provide ammunition to politicians and the public about the Chinese "invasion" of Africa.

The lies and misinformation center on the idea that China is practicing a new form of imperialism, plundering Africa of its raw materials in exchange for squalid deals with brutal dictators like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. Deborah Brautigam has produced extensive evidence of systematic misrepresentation and falsification of the reality of Chinese-African relations. Her latest expose concerns the fact that the German government's Africa adviser Günter Nooke claimed that that the present drought in the Horn of Africa, which endangers millions of lives, is partly due to Chinese agro-business buying up Ethiopian land to produce export crops. Brautigam reveals that China owns no agricultural land in Ethiopia! (http://www.chinaafricarealstory.com/)

Most Africans view Chinese investments positively because they need infrastructure, which over 100 years of European "help" failed to deliver. To this day only 29 percent of African households have access to electricity, so it is little wonder that huge Chinese investment in electricity provision is welcomed. China's approach to Africa emulates its own developmental experience; its internal political economy projects itself externally. Chinese state-owned banks and state enterprises invest in African infrastructure mainly in exchange for raw materials. Chinese companies have vast experience in such infrastructure projects in China. Their policy follows the maxim, "if you want to become rich, first build a road."

A look at the history of British, European and US intervention in Africa does not lead to David Cameron's conclusion that the "shadow" of colonialism has been lifted. Vladimir Lenin argued that imperialism is a stage in the development of capitalism where finance comes to dominate industrial capital and squeezes super-profits from the plundering of the people and territories of the world. It is an era of wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions.

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