Two recent Chinese articles about China’s role in international development
I have been following, off and on, Chinese media articles on China’s participation in international development, a topic I am eventually hoping to do fieldwork on (along with three of our PhD students, from Venezuela to Indonesia). There has been lots of media attention to the topic, but no accounts so far of whether and how the Chinese presence, and the potential clash between Chinese and World Bank approaches, is affecting locals in these places.
Recently I came across two interesting articles on the topic on one of the most popular mainstream Chinese news sites, sina.com. One is about Burma, published on 10 October, in the immediate aftermath of the violent crackdown on the pro-democracy demonstrations. The article , entitled “China and Burma conduct joint sweep of border zone casinos,” points out that, while “some countries, headed by the West, use the excuse of the political situation to pressure Burma,” they ignore that the Burmese government has been cooperating with China trying to crack down on border-zone casinos, run, according to the article, by antigovernment (I suppose Wa) ethnic militias but patronized by Chinese tourists. It claims that the crackdown has resulted in the reduction of the number of casinos from 149 in 2005 to 28 today. (If true, this raises interesting questions: did Chinese military or police actually cross the border, or was it sanctions against casino-going officials or pressure on the militias that had such an effect? One can more or less rule out the possibility that the closures are the result of Burmese police operations.) The worldview of the article is clear: while the West goes on about democracy, it hinders the Burmese government in carrying out real development — i.e. eradication of vice and imposition of order — that is taking place with Chinese help.
The other article (“Chinese aid to Africa draws Western criticism”, 17 October) is on the topic that has seen most public contention (and World Bank alarm) lately regarding the motives and effects of China’s rapidly expanding investment and development aid commitments. According to the article, the IMF’s representative in Congo-Kinshasa warned the country’s government against taking out a $ 6.6 billion Chinese state loan while negotiating the rescheduling of its $ 8 billion World Bank debt. This came just after the EU’s ambassador to Zambia cautioned the government there not to take “the4 old road to indebtedness.” The article counters that, in fact, the loan is not a loan but the value of three development project agreements, signed respectively by China’s state railway construction corporation, water and electricity infrastructure construction corporation, and China Export-Import Bank, and dismisses Western carping about China being the “new colonialist” as an old record. The story highlights that China is reluctant to use the same terminology as the international development institutions do to describe its projects (precisely to avoid such comparisons), but it is involved in the kind of large-scale, high-impact infrastructural projects that used to be typical for the Western development industry in the 1960s and ’70s, with the exception that it brings its own workers.