China takes up civic work in Africa
It's sending 1,809 UN peacekeepers and 300 volunteers in a new Chinese 'peace corps' program.
Wau, South Sudan
She named her baby daughter Siwei Liu, which means "be aware of danger." The young Chinese mother had just passed the United Nations exams and knew she would soon be leaving China's Hubei Province for places unknown and dangerous.Skip to next paragraph
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Less than six months later, Fang Liu, a lawyer with the Chinese police forces, packed her suitcase, waved farewell to her husband and baby daughter – and set off for South Sudan. "It was," she says solemnly, "a very long way away."
Ms. Liu, today a UN police observer, was joined by 435 other engineers, medics, and transport specialists, all of them part of China's contribution to the 10,000-strong UN force charged with monitoring the peace agreement here until 2011.
The Sudan mission is the longest-ever peacekeeping mission the Chinese have joined to date – but not their only one.
Playing a far more active role in UN peacekeeping than ever before, 1,809 Chinese troops, police, military observers, and others are deployed worldwide. The majority – 1,273 – are here in Africa, building roads, setting up clinics, patrolling troubled villages – and generally trying to show that China wants to be considered part of the international community when it comes to doing the right thing by this continent.
The number of Chinese peacekeepers worldwide is much smaller than the number that Pakistan supplies the UN – currently 10,173 according to UN statistics – or India, which has sent 9,471 of its nationals to participate in most of the UN's 15 current missions worldwide.
But, it's more than South Africa (1,188 blue helmets) or Brazil (1,277) have in the field – and far more than the US, which, unlike 118 other countries, puts no boots on the ground. (The US does, however, provide the largest chunk of the funding for these missions – 26 percent of the total. China, in turn, provides 3 percent.)
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Some of the words that typically come to mind in association with the budding China-Africa relationship are "trade," "raw materials," and "cheap goods." "Weapons," sometimes pops up, "neocolonialism" has its takers, too.
"Socially responsible," however, does not typically make the Top 10 list.
But increasingly, China is both expanding and honing its aid to the continent, and also trying to draw more attention to its social commitment to the people of Africa.
Since 2000 China has canceled more than $10 billion in debt for 31 African countries and has given $5.5 billion in development aid, with a promise of a further $2.6 billion in 2007-08, according to estimates by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Beijing has overtaken the World Bank in lending to Africa: In 2005, China committed $8 billion in lending to Nigeria, Angola, and Mozambique alone – the same year the World Bank spent $2.3 billion in all of Africa.
In 2006, lending by China's Exim Bank was $12.5 billion – and is set to rise by more than $5 billion in 2007, according to the EIU estimates.
The loans China offered Africa in 2006 were three times the total development aid given by rich countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and nearly 25 times the total stock of loans and export credits approved by the US Export-Import Bank for sub-Saharan Africa, points out Greg Mills, director of the Brenthurst Foundation, an economic think tank in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Not content with only making big gestures, China has also gotten involved with dozens upon dozens of smaller projects across the continent, touching the lives of everyday people.
During his February tour of the continent, Chinese President Hu Jintao opened a Chinese-built hospital in Cameroon, inaugurated a Chinese-funded malaria research and prevention center in Liberia, and launched a Chinese-language after-school program in Namibia, among others.
And in April, after a five-day visit to Sudan, Liu Guijin, the newly appointed Chinese special representative for Darfur, announced that his country was going to boost its humanitarian aid to Sudan, donating some $10 million worth of aid to the troubled region and sending in close to 300 Chinese military engineers to help strengthen the overtaxed African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.
Western donors, concerned that China is throwing around aid, investment, and business with no strings attached, have been calling on Beijing to abide by global standards when it comes to human rights and the environment. Last month, the World Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China signed a memorandum of understanding to improve cooperation on aid and investment.