The Economist has a great article (for free) about Chinese actions in Africa. Well known among China watchers is the country’s courting of African leaders in an attempt to lock up energy supplies. Not as talked-about is the pointing to China of African strongmen in justifying their often brutal and oppresive regimes. If China can succeed and grow while keeping state control of nearly the entire economy and denying its people political rights, then why shouldn’t African countries follow their lead?
Obviously, this is a flawed argument and leads to awful situations such as Chinese support for Sudan, which is currently undermining UN efforts to stop the genocide in that country. Robert Mugabe, ruler of Zimbabwe for 26 years, can also count on Beijing to defend him in the Security Council. China is simply not going to chastise other countries over their human rights efforts (except the US, of course).
This unscrupulousness gives the US a convenient reason to criticize China’s efforts in Africa. Uncle Sam can attack the Chinese for ignoring human rights rather than voicing their real complaints about China’s buying so many African resources – namely, that it wants them for itself, or at least doesn’t want rival China to have them. If China were to pay attention to the behavior of certain African governments, it would remove the grounds for US criticism. Of course, it might lose its access to those precious raw materials as well. And worst of all – for Beijing, that is – it might have to actually pay attention to its treatment of its own citizens. Don’t hold your breath.