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China's environmental footprint in Africa

Ian Taylor

Readinch

China's environmental concerns at home have driven Beijing's quest for resources overseas, argues Ian Taylor. The country must consider the ecological impact of its logging and oil extraction in Africa.
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China's exponential expansion into Africa is well known and has been the subject of numerous reports. But China's environmental footprint on the continent has not yet been fully addressed. And this is becoming an increasingly hot topic within Africa.

Examples abound where Chinese companies have been caught flouting conservation laws and collaborating with criminals in the exploitation of Africa's natural assets. While western agents also do the same, the lack of a powerful environmental lobby within China that can effectively critique Beijing's actions in Africa ­is a real worry.
 
In Gabon, the activities of the Chinese state-run oil company Sinopec have stimulated public outrage. In 2002, Gabon selected a quarter of the country as a nature reserve, protecting 67,000 square kilometres of mostly virgin rainforest. But it has emerged that Sinopec has been prospecting for oil in one of Gabon’s national parks. The company has been charged with mass pollution, dynamiting areas of the park and carving roads through the forest. And all of this was illegal, as the environmental impact study Sinopec was forced to conduct has not yet been approved. A Gabonese government delegation visited the park and corroborated that Sinopec was guilty of a whole variety of environmentally-damaging practices.

The scandal has sparked disquiet among Gabon's international donors, while Gabonese activists charge that corrupt local officials have been personally profiting as they look the other way. After considerable pressure, the national parks council finally directed Sinopec to stop its exploration activities. But a massive ore-mining project is soon to get underway in northern Gabon, also run by a Chinese company. There are real fears that further environmental damage may be caused by resource-hungry Chinese companies, facilitated by corrupt government agencies in Gabon.  

There is also growing evidence that China's strategy is based on protecting the country from further environmental damage, while obtaining resources from other parts of the world. After the Yangtze River floods of 1998 (which caused 2,500 deaths and billions of dollars in damage), the government directed that logging in the country had to be seriously regulated. Tree planting and the protection of forests was the new policy. Illegal logging was also cracked down on.

However, China still needs wood for construction, pulp mills and furniture manufacturing. And it is now getting huge amounts from overseas –­ particularly from Africa. Much of this is illegally harvested. Imports of industrial wood have more than tripled since 1993 and China now trails only America in wood consumption.

According to GlobalTimber.org.uk, China is sourcing huge amounts of wood from forests in Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Liberia. What is worrying is the illegal nature of this trade, as well as the concomitant environmental damage.

Half of all wood imported from Cameroon into China is harvested illegally, while only 10% of wood exported from Congo-Brazzaville to Beijing is legal. The figure for Equatorial Guinea is the same. In Gabon, 70% of wood exports to China are illegal and, incredibly, 100% of the wood that China gets from Liberia is illegal, as timber exports are banned. It has been widely acknowledged that China's imports of Liberian timber helped fuel the bloody civil war there.

Problematically, the species of wood that China imports is not generally declared. As a consequence, there is no real way to verify the extent of China's involvement in aiding and abetting illegal logging in Africa. In addition, Beijing does not declare the weight of wooden furniture imported into China and thousands of tonnes of timber from Africa go through Chinese customs undocumented.

photo by Chas Pope

China's quest for oil

China's top 10 trading partners in Africa are, with the exception of South Africa, oil-producing states. It is well known that a "resource curse" stakes out many African oil-rich nations; an embarrassment of riches in oil has tended to undermine many countries’ democracy and accountability. Regimes that benefit from oil receipts are not controlled by a need to generate revenues through taxation, and are thus more easily tempted to sideline calls for accountability or participation in government. The resulting struggle for access to the source of wealth dramatically increases political instability. Of course, in such a situation, the question of the environment is rarely very high on the agenda. Revenue generation becomes confined to small locales where the oil is, with the prime markets for the products being external (the international market). This makes the general economic health of areas outside the enclave quite secondary, if not irrelevant.
 
The case of Nigeria and its Niger Delta oilfields is well known as an environmental disaster area. Importantly, there is real concern within Nigeria about Chinese activities in the Nigerian oil industry. In April 2006, a bomb exploded near an oil refinery in the Niger Delta region, which was specifically aimed as a warning against Chinese expansion in the region. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) stated, “We wish to warn the Chinese government and its oil companies to steer well clear of the Niger Delta. The Chinese government by investing in stolen crude places its citizens in our line of fire.” 

It is important not to identify China as the sole exploiter of Africa, or of being unique in its disregard for Africa's environment. The history of western involvement in the continent is not a proud one on this score. Indeed, Chinese exploitation of Africa's resources pales into insignificance when compared to western activities both past and present. However, the nature of China's current involvement in Africa is problematic vis-à-vis the environment.

While Wang Yingping of the China Institute of International Studies asserts that, “Chinese businesses pay greater attention to protecting the environment,” others disagree.

Even official Chinese publications quote this assertion by Sierra Leone's Ambassador to China: “The Chinese just come and do it. They don't hold meetings about environmental impact assessments, human rights, bad governance and good governance. I'm not saying it's right, just that Chinese investment is succeeding because they don't set high benchmarks.”

It is time that China started setting high benchmarks and made its resource extraction in Africa a model for co-operation and mutual advantage, and not something that calls Beijing's recent upsurge of interest in Africa into question. After all, the very last thing that the African continent needs is another set of exploiters.


Ian Taylor is senior lecturer in international relations at the University of St. Andrews.

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中国在非洲所扮演的角色

当然。中国在非洲角色,在还未获得真正的评价时,确实是需要短暂的顾虑......

China's role in Africa.

Yes. Indeed China's role in Africa, while underappreciated, is going to need a moment's pause to be considered...


塞拉利昂

中国官方消息来源不是塞拉利昂驻华大使关于中国没有进行环境影响评估引语的出处。

他是在2005年接受英国channel4新闻采访中说这番话的。(当时是我采访了他)

-Lindsey Hilsum

Sierra Leone

The quote from the Sierra Leone Ambassador to China, Sahr Johnny, about China not doing environmental impact assessments etc. does not come from "official Chinese sources." It was in an interview with Channel 4 News in Freetown in June 2005, and broadcast on C4N during the Gleneagles Summit in July 2005. (I know bcs I did the interview.) I also used it in the New Statesman in July 05 and in Granta later that year. -Lindsey Hilsum


中国是唯一应对非洲环境负责任的国家吗?

真希望伊安·泰勒也能多写些西方国家开发非洲资源的状况。估计,就像他在这一文章中提到的,“在这一点上,西方在非洲的活动史没有什么光荣纪录。”

建议“中外对话”在探讨非洲环境问题的同时,不要再把中国在非洲的投资作为这一问题的唯一讨论重点。

非洲国家的落后的环保制度和腐败现象应该是这个大陆需要解决和克服的问题。否则,任何投资国都会钻非洲的空子。

Should China be the only nation held accountable for African environment?

I really hope that Ian Taylor could write more about the West's exploitation in Africa. Well, I reckon the situation won't be better than that when China is involved, as Ian wrote: "The history of western involvement in the continent is not a proud one on this score."

Hopefully, chinadialogue will not again focus on Chinese investment when reporting on environment damages in Africa.

Weak environment protection laws and corruption in Africa should be the key issues the continent need to face and resolve. Otherwise, whatever country invests in Africa, it will take advantages of these negative factors of the continent.


如何理解作者的“非法木材交易”概念?

很有意思的文章,有不少好的观点。但问题是作者提到的木材交易是非法的,如何解释?是因为利比里亚的国家法律或者国际法禁止这样的交易?还是说根据国家法律或者国际的不成文的标准它们属非法伐木。

我担心作者在一定程度上混淆了法规制度和非法规制度的概念。尽管我相信确实有非法贸易的存在,但我还是很吃惊非法贸易的畅行。Wallace

Confused by autor's concept of 'illegal nature ofthis trade (of wood)'

an interesting paper and with some good points. question is the above mentioned concept of illegal trade of wood. what does the author mean such trade is illegal? is timber trade banned by Liberian national law or some international standard? Or illegal logging according to national law or international non-regulatory standards? i am concerned the author was confusing regulatory systems and non-regulatory systems to some extent. i am surprised by the vailability of illegal trading anyway although i believe there is indeed such thing happening. Wallace


回复:塞拉利昂

我坚持我的有关塞拉利昂驻华大使关于中国没有进行环境影响评估引语的提法。Hilsum的采访被转发(引用)在2006的中非(北京)(媒体)上。所以,我说中国官方出版物引用了大使的话。不知道是错在哪了?? Ian Taylor

Re: Sierra Leone

The statement by me that "Even official Chinese publications quote this assertion by Sierra Leone's Ambassador to China" is correct and I stand by it. Ms Hilsum's interview is quoted in Chinafrica (Beijing), April 1, 2006, p. 4. Thus it is correct to say that official Chinese publications quote the S/Leone Ambassador's thoughts on the issue. Not sure what the problem is - Ian Taylor


再:中国在非洲

对我来说,中国不在乎非洲人,只想剥削非洲的发展潜力。我不想说他们是有意地做“邪恶”的事情,但低薪和差的工作条件是不合理的的。

此外中国在这个方面也太短见了。中国支持穆加贝这样的领导人,尽管他的统治使得津巴布韦成了一个没有希望的国家和一个不好的长期贸易伙伴。如果中国想要的是长久稳定和好的贸易发展,它会鼓励苏丹允许联合国进入达尔福尔地区,等等。

一个愤世嫉俗者人可能说中国很乐意看到非洲保持这种没有希望的状况,因为这样中国能很便宜地从非洲获取资源源,同时更容易出口自己便宜的产品,因为没有什么竞争者。

Ref China in Africa

The problem I find is that China doesn't actually seem to care about Africans - they just want to exploit Africa's potential. Not to say they're deliberately being "evil", but the low pay and unsatisfactory working conditions is not a good sign.

China's also being somewhat short-sighted. It supports people like Mugabe, despite the fact his terrible rule is making Zimbabwe a total basket-case and a bad long-term trading partner. If China wanted long-term stability and good trade, it would push for Sudan to let the UN enter Darfur, etc.

A cynic might say China is quite happy for a lot of Africa to remain a basket-case, because that means it can extract resources cheaply and export its own cheaper products, as there's no competition.


中国只是在剥削非洲(人)而对非洲发展无益吗?

我不同意上述的评论,说中国只是在剥削非洲的潜力。

这位评论者可能忘了中国对非洲基础设施建设所做出的贡献。

同时,你能告诉我如果非洲人坚信中国在剥削他们,那为什么非洲国家还给中国很多的投机机会?

Is China only exploiting Africa?

I disagree with the comment above, saying China just want to exploit Africa's potential.

The commenter might forget what China has helped Africans in building their infrastructures.

Meanwhile, could you tell me why African countries give more investment chances to Chinese if they do believe China is just exploiting them?


薄脸皮!

很多的文章已经谈到过西方国家对非洲和中东的剥削。中国仍然还有一个问题那就是脸皮薄,换句话说,那就是不能对待对它造成负面影响的行为的批判。或许中国在非洲开设的工厂可以多雇一些当地人,同时停止进口中国的劳工。

Thin skin!

much has been written about the West's exploitation of Africa AND the Middle East. China still has a problem with "thin skin" in other words not being able to handle criticism for its actions that produce negative results. Perhaps Chinese factories in Africa could hire more locals and stop importing chinese laborers.


对评论7的答复

不是像你说得那么简单,说非洲国家给中国很多的投资机会。更应该说,向非洲提供资助的国家希望它们的投资在非洲带来变化。它们的投资是有条件的。但中国的介入是没有条件的。但这不等于说无条件的经济资助是好事情。

非洲政府不在乎中国公司付给工人的工资的多少和它们的安全标准。但很多人是反对这样的状况的。

Michael Sata之所以在赞比亚大选中获得很多的支持是因为他对中国发展业务的方式不满。

还有什么原因你认为胡锦涛主席在最后一刻取消了对Copperbelt地区的访问。那是因为他发现在那有很多不满的人民,他们计划准备让他难堪。

有很多人认为中国已经在剥削赞比亚了。请在这里看这篇文章,http://tinyurl.com/29gn2k 它是一个好例子。

Reply to #7

"Meanwhile, could you tell me why African countries give more investment chances to Chinese if they do believe China is just exploiting them?"

It isn't as simple as saying "African countries" give more investment chances. It's more that where other governments want to see change if they are going to give aid, (because they tried giving stuff without strings before - it didn't work) China will step in without strings.

But that doesn't mean unconditional financial support is a good thing. Governments don't care how much pay Chinese firms give or their safety levels, if it means they get the money coming in for the short-term. But some people do object - Michael Sata got a lot of support in his Zambian Presidential bid due to unhappiness over the way Chinese have being doing business. Why else do you think Hu Jintao cancelled a visit to the Copperbelt region at the last minute? Because he found out there were a lot of unhappy people there, who were planning to embarrass him.

A lot of people think China is already exploiting Zambia - this article is an example of that.

http://tinyurl.com/29gn2k


非洲国家没有给中国更多的投资机会

然而,是非洲的中坚分子和领导人在给中国投资机会。在部分非洲增多的反中国的情绪证明了欢迎中国的中坚人士和普通非洲人之间的差距。

在这里让我们坦诚一点:很多如果不是大部分非洲领导根本不在乎是否中国在剥削非洲的资源。

中国的在投资非洲时不问及民主、人权和投资的钱的去处。这使得中国企业比西方企业在进入非洲市场时更有竞争力。

当然,西方国家也在剥削非洲。

但目前中非关系中存在的问题未必只是或者主要是中国的原因,而是非洲的无用的政府,它们许可了这样剥削的存在,同时也没有广泛提倡可持续发展。

在非洲已获得40年独立的今天,是应该不把非洲作为永久牺牲品的时候了。Ian Taylor

African countries do not give more investment chances to Chinese

"African countries" do NOT "give more investment chances to Chinese". African elites and leaders do. The anti-Chinese sentiment that is developing in parts of Africa is proof of the gap between the welcome elites are giving to China and the "ordinary" African.

Let us be honest here: many if not most African presidents could not care less about whether or not China is exploiting the assets of their countries. What they are concerned about is that they get a cut. The fact that the Chinese do not ask pesky questions about democracy, human rights and where the money is going is an added bonus and gives the PRC a competitive edge over Western companies. Of course, the West exploits Africa too. But the fault in Sino-African relations at the moment is not necessarily solely or even mainly with the Chinese - it is with the lousy African governments who allow exploitation to carry on and who have not promoted broad-based sustainable development. Given that we are now forty-plus years after independence it is time to move on from Africa-as-the-perpetual-victim mentality.

Ian Taylor, St Andrews


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