The rise of China as an economic superpower has been felt around the global but more so in the global south, especially Africa. The reason is simple: unlike Western countries, including North America, the Chinese are said to treat Africans as equal trading partners. China does not interfere with internal affairs of African countries, where it offers help, China does so “without strings attached,” so goes the argument.
This is good news particularly for many African states whose leaders have long felt uneasy with the West’s insistence on human rights, good governance and accountability among other things as prerequisite for providing aid and forging trade partnerships. China gets to benefit from Africa’s immense mineral resources that it needs to sustain it’s rapid industrial growth. Given China’s own human rights record, it is not difficult to understand why it won’t be a human rights policeman of the world.
Yet South Africa’s recent refusal to issue the Tibet spiritual leader, The Dalai Lama with a visa to attend Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations makes it clear that contrary to the common belief, the Chinese will interfere with internal government affairs where its interests are at stake. Whatever explanations South African government has given for failing to issue The Dalai Lama with the visa are mere excuses. The truth is that allowing The Dalai Lama in the country South Africa would be on a collision course with China. China is South Africa’s one of the major trading partners. The Chinese have invested huge amounts money into South Africa’s mines – this is a country South Africa can neither afford to lose nor alienate.
This is puts China on par with the West: democracy, human rights, trade relations, accountability good governance etc… only matters when it suits their interest. While preaching these ideals, the West are known to tolerated autocratic regimes and vicious dictators. Examples are everywhere, from Latin Africa, Asia to Africa. USA backed Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, until last two weeks of his 30 years autocratic rule, with Joe Biden, USA’s Vice President shamelessly insisting that Mubarak not was a dictator. USA knew Mubarak was a dictator, of course, but it was in their interest that he stayed in power.
Abandoned papers in Colonel Mu’ammer Gaddafi’s former intelligent offices in Tripoli have shown that both Britain and the USA worked with Gaddafi’s secrete services, including of sharing intelligence when it suited their interests. Britain have reportedly sold weapons to Bahrain despite having a full knowledge that Bahrain could use those weapons against its own that are demanding greater political freedoms and improved human rights. These are the very ideals that the West proclaim to be promoting. All these activities show double standards and the West can no longer cling to the more high-ground of the past.
China has approached its relations with Africa differently but the principle is the same: Look after your interests first. Africa may be better off with China than the West, I am not sure, but after South Africa’s refusal to issue The Dalai Lama with visa in fear of alienating China, the Chinese can no longer cling on to the claim that they do not interfere with internal matters. The Dalai Lama’s was meant to be a personal visit after all, not a state one.