China Ink

Walking into a minefield

Western newspapers pillory a (possible) Chinese mining investment in Guinea.

Walking into a minefield

Captain Camara, chief of Guinea's ruling junta

So has China’s investment in Guinea been welcomed?

The Chinese press isn’t particularly enthusiastic about the deal – a $7 billion mining investment by the China International Fund – and gave it very few column inches. The normally rambunctious Global Times quotes a non-commital spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that “this cooperation between developing countries followed market rules and international practice based on principles of equality and mutual benefit.” The newspaper goes on to point out that according to the Guinean mines minister, the Chinese firm will be a “strategic partner in all mining projects” in the West African country. Guinea is the world’s largest producer of bauxite, a raw material used to make aluminium, it adds.

The tone in the Western media is pretty much summed up by the headline in the Economist: “Don’t worry about killing people”.

The magazine notes that the deal was signed barely a fortnight after Guinea’s ruler, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, and his junta “butchered at least 150 demonstrators calling for civilian rule”. It adds: “By coddling Guinea’s dictator, China again mocks human rights in Africa.”

TIME magazine points out that the deal is crucial for the West African country. China will “dig for diamonds, gold and bauxite and provide Guinea with much-needed revenue as it faces the prospect of economic isolation.”

Has a deal actually been done?

This is less clear. Tellingly, the China Daily doesn’t quote a single Chinese government source when it reports the news. Equally interesting: it is a private Chinese company behind the deal and not a state firm, like Chalco. If it had the government’s blessing you would normally expect a quote from a senior member of the leadership welcoming the investment.

The BBC also noted that PR on the deal was entirely driven by Guinea’s regime. “There has been no word from the Chinese side,” its website noted.

The Economist appears to hedge too. It is critical of the announced agreement but then qualifies this with the phrase “if it does materialise”.

But another sign of growing ties between China and Africa?

Unquestionably. Trade between China and Africa has grown tenfold between 2001 and 2008 to $100 billion. The Chongqing Morning Post also quotes Zhou Xiaojing, director of the Asia and Africa Institution of the State Council Development Research Centre. Zhou says China’s investing in Africa is just a normal economic activity. “It’s business but the US and Europe do not want China to do this because they want to restrict China’s development, and undermine the Sino-African relationship. Unlike Western countries, China cooperates with African countries without political conditions.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame recently told German newspaper Handelsblatt that Chinese investment in Africa had fuelled the development of the private sector, whereas Western countries had mostly exploited African resources. Kagame added: “The Chinese bring Africa what it needs: investment and money for governments and companies. China invests in infrastructure, and builds streets.” The Financial Times also reports that the ‘Chafrica’ story continues to blossom with news of a multi-billion dollar port and transport corridor to be built by the Chinese in Kenya.

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