In Sudan, China focuses on oil wells, not local needs
China has invested billions in oil facilities and pipelines, but not in much else, say Sudanese locals.
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China, the world's largest copper consumer, has pledged $800 million in investments in Zambia, one of the world's largest copper producers. Beijing has written off nearly $8 million of Zambia's debt and announced the establishment of a showcase free-trade zone which, according to China's ambassador to Zambia, will create tens of thousands of jobs.Skip to next paragraph
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Nonetheless, in the lead-up to Zambia's Sept. 28 elections, presidential candidate Michael Sata turned lack of safety at Chinese owned mines (50 Zambian mine workers were killed by an explosion in 2005) into a major campaign issue. Mr. Sata fumed about what he called the plunder of the country's mineral wealth and disregard for the environment – and promised to kick out the Chinese and recognize Taiwan if he won. He did not. But a few months later, Chinese President Hu Jintao cancelled a visit to the Zambian copper-mining town of Chambishi due to fear of mass demonstrations against him there.
This negative image of Beijing as a neo-colonizer could not be further from the way China – a country never involved in either the colonial "Scramble for Africa" of the 1800s or the African slave trade – wants to be perceived here.
"Over the last half decade, the Chinese and African people have built a deep friendship in the course of the struggle for national liberation, development, and rejuvenation," then Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told reporters after Mr. Hu's Zambia mine visit was canceled. "African friends, from leaders to civilians ... called China a 'brother of Africa,' an 'all-weather friend,' and the 'most important partner,' " waxed Mr. Li.
The Chinese, who, unlike the European powers who came before them, have no direct rule over any population here and negotiate the terms of their stay with the ruling government, say abuses of power are exceptions to the way they do business.
"We always encourage Chinese enterprises to be in equal-footed cooperation with their African counterparts, to abide by local laws and regulations," Liu Guijin, China's new special representative to Africa told journalists in Beijing in April. "If they did something not so pleasant, that is not consistent with government policy."
Xu Weizhong, director of the department of African studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, a government think tank in Beijing, refines this point. First of all, he says, many Chinese enterprises are independent and cannot be controlled. "Now even state-owned enterprises have room to maneuver ... and will sometimes refuse government policies. This is a dilemma for the Chinese government."
But furthermore, he says, while China is indeed aiming to be a fair business partner, the definition of what "good practice" might be should not be set by outsiders. "The Chinese government respects African rules and regulations if there are any, [but] it is less willing to respect rules that Western governments impose on African issues," he states.
Petrodar accountant Li dismisses the whole debate, calling the stories about stealing oil, degrading the people and the environment, and becoming new age colonizers "Ali Baba tales."
"I am here to make money. My company is here to do the same," he says. "I know this is a very poor and insecure place, but I am not responsible for fixing all the things that are wrong in Sudan," he adds, not quite understanding the complaints. "That's life. That's business."
• Peter Ford contributed to this report from Beijing.