Africa. The Dark Continent. The Oil-Rich Continent. The Continent with which China now has trade that exceeds 160 billion US Dollars.
There were three panelists, a blonde South African-sounding, soy latte sipping SOAS PhD student, a soft-spoken but burly (Idi Amin in proportion) ILO Director and a frank and slightly controversial Nigerian diplomat
There was little they said that cannot be garnered from 15 minutes of google-searching, wikipedia-skimming or book-flipping. One and a half hours I suppose isn't enough time to give an introduction and then go into depth. What was interesting though was that each panelist was more sino-oriented than the other. The bleached African from SOAS tried to give a more balanced and academic view of the topic by saying how the multiplicity of both Africa and China (interesting concept of how they didn't act in one voice despite the one party system due to the actions of private entrepreneurs and various regional state actors) prevented outside parties to correctly determine what China's real intentions are and what 'Africa' is really thinking. Also, she made an interesting point about the 'Angola Model' where China's huge credit-line to the country (with no 'conditionalities' except the collatoral of oil) has meant that they have gained a huge foothold there. (Personally I felt that there was a strong Chinese presence in the region since the Cold War and the Angolan Revolution aided by Cuba. ) A similar system has been applied to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where China was able to acquire mining rights for minerals like Cobalt in return for huge sums of developmental/infrastructural assistance and aid. She finished by mentioning that it would be naive to think that China was only trying to help the development of these African nations or that they were simply in it for the resources either....an astute observation, that No-OnE would have come up with.
So besides the banality of the conclusion, there was still food for thought. So China did help construct roads and run rail lines and their conditions for such aid were minimal in comparison to the IMF or the traditional western powers - but why? Is it as simple as Leverage and Capital? It was on that note that the two 'diplomatic' official began their talk. While Idi Amin was more muted in his praise for China, it was clear from the Nigerian diplomat's stance that they both felt that the doorway opened by China was much better and less encumbered with provisions than that offered by multilateral organizations. Memorably, the Nigerian diplomat mentioned how it was the manipulative powers of Western Media that convinced us that the Niger Delta was a dangerous place and an unsafe place to invest - all to scare off all other potential investors. They asserted that when China went to Africa they asked what they wanted rather than being told that they had to do one, two and three. They even conceded that China wanted Africa's resources, but that if it brought along development in their region, it was still worth it (mutual assistance).
Right, now I feel bored and don't want to finish this ground-breaking piece. An interesting statistic to end this though, apparently when asked what they would like money for or help to build, 9/10 times some TPLAC government asks for a football stadium.