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June 28, 2017

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China needs Africa, must respect it

The Economist magazine noted on the eve of Xi Jinping's first overseas trip as president, when he visited three African countries: "China's image in Africa, once marred by suspicion, is changing ... (A) growing number of Africans say the Chinese create jobs, transfer skills and spend money in local economies."

Certainly, Western criticism has faded, but in its wake has emerged criticism of China by Africans.

For example, Botswana's president, Ian Khama, said recently: "We have had some bad experiences with Chinese companies in this country."

In an interview with the Johannesburg-based newspaper Business Day published March 21, the Botswana leader complained about China's practice of importing Chinese workers rather than using African labor. "We accept China's goods. But they don't have to export their population to sell us those goods."

The previous week, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, warned that Africa was "opening itself up to a new form of imperialism" and urged African governments to get rid of their "romantic view of China."

"China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones," the central banker wrote in the Financial Times. "This was also the essence of colonialism. China is no longer a fellow underdeveloped economy. China is the second biggest economy in the world, an economic giant capable of the same forms of exploitation as the West. China is a major contributor to the deindustrialization of Africa and thus African underdevelopment."

China's image in Africa took another hit when the Zambian government took over control of a Chinese-run coal mine with a history of labor and safety problems.

This was the same mine where, in 2010, Chinese managers shot and injured 13 workers who protested against low pay and poor working conditions. The Zambian president at the time, Rupiah Banda, defended the Chinese.

The following year, Banda lost the presidency to Michael Sata, who made Chinese investment in Zambia a major campaign issue.

After assuming office, Sata reassured Beijing that Chinese investments were welcome but said Chinese investors should adhere to Zambian labor laws. China has adjusted to the new leadership and, coincidentally, Sata is to begin a weeklong state visit to China on Friday.

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