| by Upul Joseph Fernando
( February 5, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Mahinda Rajapaksa Government seems to think that China is its saviour. It presents China as a constituent party of the government for the consumption of gullible people on whom the government depends very much to continue to be in power. When one sees the antics of the government while it is trying to take off to paradise on the tail of the Chinese elephant, it reminds him of what had happened in the very identical folk tale of a villager who tried to reach paradise with his entire family on the tail of an elephant. Ruefully, they crash-landed with much ignominy, shattering their over-inflated, unrealistic hopes.
China has gradually snuggled close to the government by promising to protect the country from the US and west-sponsored allegations of human rights violations brought against it at international fora. China has used this opiate to bamboozle the country's rulers to act against their better judgement, by drawing massive loans from China at highly unrealistic, interest rates. That is not all. Heavily subsidized Chinese industries with disproportionate tax concessions are operated by the Chinese firms using exclusively Chinese labour. The country's economy has come under severe exploitation by Chinese firms. The Norochcholai Coal Power Plant is a strong case in point. This power plant project faced many snags right from the beginning. Its frequent break downs have given it a sarcastic name tag; the people now call it 'always breakdown.' China rejects these allegations, outright.
Economic exploitation by China
The government could not have been unaware of the African experience with massive Chinese involvement in their economies. In those countries too, China had used its charm, promising them protection from international allegations of human rights violations just as they did with Sri Lanka. In a past issue of my column 'My Serendib' I discussed the economic exploitation which China had inflicted on the countries in the African Continent, and their subsequent adverse effects.
"The countries in Africa are revolting against Chinese investments and trade in their continent. People are increasingly getting anxious and restless about Chinese intentions, which are being viewed as the new 'Colonial power.' China claims that it has done more to end poverty in Africa than any other country. China is Africa's biggest trading partner and its money has paid for countless new schools and hospitals.
In the initial years, investments and trade with China were welcomed with open arms; Chinese investment boosted employment in Africa and made basic goods like shoes and radios more affordable. In 2010, Chinese trade with Africa was more than US$ 120 billion. In the past two years, China has given more loans to poor countries, mainly in Africa than the World Bank. The Chinese are now expanding beyond just mining activity in Africa. Chinese companies are signing infrastructure deals worth more than US$ 50 billion a year. China is also investing in other areas like finance and industries, and the Commercial Bank of China has bought 20% of South African Standard Bank, the continent's biggest bank. In recent times, attitudes towards China have changed in Africa.
Chinese products are increasingly held up as examples of shoddy work. Investments from China have multiplied corruption in African countries. They are also seen as interfering in the political arena of these countries, and therefore is being viewed as a Colonial power. The Africans say they increasingly feel under siege. Tens of thousands of entrepreneurs from China have fanned out across the continent. More Chinese have come to Africa in the past 10 years than the Europeans in the past 400. First came the Chinese from State owned companies, but more and more arrive on their own, and most of the contract workers, mainly prison labour, are left behind after finishing their contract.
Buildings erected by the Chinese construction firms have occasionally fallen apart. A hospital in Luanda, the capital of Angola, was opened with great fanfare but cracks appeared in the walls within a few months and it was soon closed down. The Chinese-built road from Lusaka, Zambia's capital to Chirundu, 130 km (81 miles) to the South-East, was quickly swept away by rains.
Chinese expatriates care little about rules and regulations. Local sensitivities are routinely ignored at home, and abroad as well. Sinopec, an oil firm, had exploded in a Gabonese National Park. Another state oil company has created lakes of spilled crude oil in Sudan. To avoid censure regarding poor working conditions, Chinese managers bribe union bosses. Tensions came to a head last year when in mines in Sinazongwe, a town in Southern Zambia, two Chinese managers fired shotguns at protesting workers, injuring at least a dozen.
Relationship with dictators
There are three possible reasons for the recent hatred towards the Chinese in Africa. First is that competition, especially from foreigners including the Chinese, is rarely popular. Hundreds of textile factories across Nigeria collapsed in recent years because they could not compete with cheap Chinese garments, resulting in thousands of lost jobs. The second reason could be that the Chinese are bringing bad habits as well as trade and investment. The mainland Chinese economy is riddled with corruption, even by African standards; so when the Chinese go abroad, they carry on bribing and undermine good governance in host countries. A third reason is that China is seen as hoarding African resources.
China has become a rallying point for most opposition leaders in several countries because of their relationship with the ruling Africa dictators. Opposition parties, especially in Southern Africa, frequently campaign on anti-China platforms. Even in normally calm places like Nambia, antipathy is stirring. In Zambia, the Opposition Leader, Michael Sata, has made Sinoskepticism his trademark. It could only be a matter of time before the Africans start to throw the Chinese out like they did to other colonial powers.
Sri Lanka is also prancing towards a rendezvous with the African experience created by the Chinese octopus using its tentacles to take a grip on the economies of those countries.
At a Cabinet meeting last week, the government shot down a proposal submitted by the US Pacific command to inaugurate a programme for the improvement of schools in the Northern Province, at its cost. The government acted in suspicion and refused to grant permission to the project given gratis, with no burden being imposed on the people, as is the case with Chinese projects. So-called Chinese investments that are based on massive loans given at unconscionably high rates of interest will be bound to push the people under more, severe, economic strain.
It is a vicious circle with no relief in sight in the foreseeable future. Ironically such projects get Cabinet approval without any hesitation. The objective truth which is only now dawning on us, is that the government, the country and the people, are all speedily going to crash-land, having tried to reach paradise on the tail of a Chinese elephant, similar to the foolish farmer of our folklore.