Tuesday, February 6, 2007

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Are there limits to Chinese soft power?

China has begun to hit some constraints in its soft power offensive in Africa. According to the Economist, Africans are now treating the Chinese in ways that might strike a chors with Americans:

In Zambia, where China has big copper-mining interests, a candidate in last year’s presidential election promised, if elected, to chase out Chinese investors after lethal riots at a Chinese-controlled mine. In Nigeria, Chinese oil workers and engineers have joined Western counterparts in being kidnapped and ransomed by insurgents in the country’s Niger Delta region. And there have been protests in South Africa and Zimbabwe against cheap clothing imported from China. In Zambia and South Africa, both destinations on this trip, Mr Hu [Jintao] could face some unusually pointed questioning.
China can respond by offering soft loans with no political conditions -- which ameliorates governments but not necessarily citizens. However, even those kind of loans have their limits -- as the Financial Times' Alec Russell points out:
President Hu Jintao of China arrives in South Africa on Tuesday for the most serious and frank exchange of ideas on his 12-day tour of Africa.

Unlike his other seven hosts on the tour, South Africa has little need of the cheap loans and infrastructure projects that Beijing is proferring to Africa to feed its hunger for resources.

While South African officials are confident that today’s meeting will be extremely cordial, President Thabo Mbeki did recently warn that Africa should beware of falling into a “colonial relationship” with China.

“A lot of governments see China as the panacea,” said Lucy Corkin, of the Centre for China Studies at Stellenbosch University. “Thabo has put out cautionary signals.”....

Diplomats say it is no coincidence that the longest visits of his Africa trip are those to South Africa and Zambia, both of which have shown signs of discontent with the Chinese investment drive.


posted by Dan on 02.06.07 at 10:37 AM


Commentators have been suggesting that China and the U.S. are on a collision course for some time now. I've never fully bought into it, but I think it is obvious that China, like the E.U., wants to serve as a counterbalance to U.S. hegemony.

posted by: John Norris Brown on 02.06.07 at 10:37 AM [permalink]

I think there's a middle ground: China and the US aren't on a titanic collision course, but we should expect jockeying for position in the Third World.

posted by: Daniel Nexon on 02.06.07 at 10:37 AM [permalink]

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