Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Ilaughed it off when news came last week that US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had made pointed re­marks about China’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Africa and played up the United States’ role on the con­ti­nent.

Obama said “we don’t look to Africa sim­ply for its nat­u­ral re­sources, we rec­og­nize Africa for its great­est re­source, which is its peo­ple and its tal­ents and their po­ten­tial”. But he also ad­mit­ted that the US trade with the con­ti­nent is only equal to its trade with Brazil and “we still do the vast ma­jor­ity of our trade with just three coun­tries – South Africa, Nige­ria and An­gola. It’s still heav­ily weighted to­wards the en­ergy sec­tor”.

I laughed off Obama’s words be­cause as aWash­ing­ton cor­re­spon­dent, I know just how goodUS politi­cians are in dis­tract­ing at­ten­tion from the real is­sues. And if you’ve trav­eled in Ethiopia as I did in the past more than a week, China’s pos­i­tive pres­ence in Africa, fu­eled by China’s op­ti­mism of the con­ti­nent’s fu­ture, is more than ob­vi­ous.

Walk­ing on the streets in Ad­dis Ababa, peo­ple greeted me with “China” or “ni­hao”, which is hello in Chi­nese.

At a ma­jor traf­fic in­ter­sec­tion near the AfricaHall, a huge Ethiopian Air­lines bill­board pro­motes its daily di­rect flight from Ad­dis Ababa to “the mod­ern heart of China” Shang­hai.

In bustlingMeskel Square, another gi­ant bill­board, this time ad­ver­tiz­ingHuawei, a Chi­nese tele­com gi­ant, states its mis­sion is “paving the way to the fu­ture” and “grow­ing to­gether and shar­ing the fu­ture”. Huawei and ZTE, another Chi­nese tele­com com­pany, have been en­dorsed by the Ethiopian govern­ment to build a mo­bile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work in the coun­try.

Pass­ingMeskel Square is Ethiopia’s first light rail­way, which is be­ing con­structed by a Chi­nese com­pany. Chi­nese com­pa­nies are also build­ing rail­ways from Ad­dis Ababa to a port in the Repub­lic of Dji­bouti, where 70 per­cent of the port trade come from land­locked Ethiopia. A lack of such in­fra­struc­ture has been a ma­jor ob­sta­cle for Ethiopia to at­tract for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment and de­velop its econ­omy.

There are many more ex­am­ples of ben­e­fi­cial Chi­nese projects in the coun­try. Chi­nese au­tomak­ers, such as Li­fan, are as­sem­bling cars in Ethiopia and it has plans to lo­cal­ize its car parts pro­duc­tion, moves that are en­cour­aged by Ethiopia’s Five-Year Growth and Trans­for­ma­tion Plan. Right now, most of the cars run­ning on streets are used cars, in­clud­ing many dumped by in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions.

WhileWestern coun­tries of­ten ac­cuse China of sim­ply ex­tract­ing re­sources from Africa, none of the Chi­nese com­pa­nies I sawin Ethiopia this time are there for re­sources. In­stead, they are pur­su­ing win-win co­op­er­a­tion in the na­tion’s mod­ern­iza­tion drive.

Un­like manyWestern na­tions who see Africa as a con­ti­nent seek­ing hand­outs, Chi­nese, from their own ex­pe­ri­ence over the last four decades, firmly be­lieve that teach­ing peo­ple how to fish is far bet­ter than giv­ing them fish.

And con­trary to theWest­ern crit­i­cism that Chi­nese com­pa­nies don’t hire lo­cal work­ers, the vast ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ees in Chi­ne­sein­vested com­pa­nies in Ethiopia are lo­cals. And some are as­sum­ing var­i­ous lead­er­ship roles. Chi­nese firms are mak­ing great ef­forts to train the lo­cal work­force be­cause skilled la­bor is of­ten in short sup­ply.

While theUS held its first sum­mit with African lead­ers last week, China’s op­ti­mism about Africa has been re­flected by its early es­tab­lish­ment of the Fo­rum on China-Africa Co­op­er­a­tion back in 2000 and also China’s rise to be Africa’s top trade part­ner.

Even dur­ing last week’s US-Africa Lead­ers Sum­mit, there was plenty of crit­i­cism about how the US has ig­nored Africa and lags be­hind not only China, but also Brazil, In­dia and Europe in en­gag­ing Africa in devel­op­ment.

African na­tions call for more en­gage­ment by the rest of the world, and there is plenty of room for every­one, in­clud­ing the US and China. But the kind of ugly pol­i­tics as re­flected in Obama’s pointed re­marks should not be part of this. The au­thor, based inWash­ing­ton, is deputy edi­tor of China Daily USA. E-mail: chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­

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