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Is China's Africa Policy Failing?

The story about a Chinese mining boss allegedly being killed by striking workers in Zambia has been widely reported in major news outlets in China, including the Workers’ Daily and The Beijing News. These reports have caught Chinese netizens’ attention. Some compare the working conditions in Zambia to China, while others reflect upon China's policy of ‘development-aid diplomacy’ in Africa.

Exporting the exploitation model

On the Chinese micro-blogging platform Weibo, some netizens suggested that the riot occurred because Chinese bosses treat Zambian workers exactly the way they treat workers in China, with low wages and few labor protection standards [zh]:

@拓拔英雄:用对待中国工人的方法对待赞比亚工人,效果就不一样了,以为是人就可以这样对待。赞比亚人忍不住了,中国人还能忍多久。

@拓拔英雄:When [the Chinese business people] treat Zambian workers the same way (they treat) Chinese workers, the consequence is different. They think all human being can be treated in this way. (But) Zambians will not stand for it. How much longer will Chinese stand for it.

@21世纪经济报道微评:【赞比亚】近日,一赞比亚中资煤矿公司发生劳资纠纷骚乱,一名中方经理死亡多人受伤。这种事情屡见不鲜。就像西方人喜欢输出自己的意识形态判断,中国人也喜欢输出自己的过低劳工标准,于是,悲剧就产生了。

@21世纪经济报道微评:Zambia. Recently, a labor dispute happened in a Chinese-owned Zambian coal-mining company. A Chinese supervisor died while many were injured. It is not rare. While Westerners like exporting their ideologies, Chinese like exporting exceedingly low labor standards. Then, tragedies result.

Many were surprised after a People's Forum writer pointed out that the new Zambian minimum wage is higher than that in Beijing. The monthly minimum wages for average workers in Zambia is 1,132,400 Kshilings (around 220 US dollars), while in Beijing it is 1,260 Reminbi (around 200 US dollars). At the end of the article, the writer asks [zh]:

看来我们还不如非洲,那么哪个猪头决定要援助他们的?

It seems that we have fallen behind from Africa. Which idiot decided to give them aid?

Development-aid diplomacy

Official logo of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

China has provided massive amounts of development aid and loans, along with expertise to African countries, in exchange for support in diplomatic relations. One of the most celebrated projects supported by China is the Tanzania-Zambia (TAZARA) Railway, built in the 1970s. But some netizens are doubtful about the effectiveness of the decade-long ‘development-aid diplomacy’ after the riot [zh]:

@艾磊儿:主要还是中国政府太贱!非洲被西方欺负也不敢说话,中国却拿钱去舔人家屁股,还自吹什么中非友好,在人家眼里你就是傻B!

@艾磊儿:The Chinese government is so cheap! Africa did not resist when bullied by the West. China brings money to kiss their asses. When China bolsters friendly relationship with Africa, the African countries just see you (China) as a stupid guy!

Yuaner1989 complained about Africa not being grateful for China’s assistance in building infrastructure [zh]:

@yuaner1989:赞比亚爆发骚乱,中国人遭昔日的“老朋友”绑架威胁,非洲曾经对中国的无私援建感恩戴德,为何如今却翻脸不认人?中国在崛起的过程却发现朋友越来越少,时移世易,中国是否应当去试图结交一些新的朋友?

@yuaner1989:A riot happened in Zambia. Chinese people were kidnapped by their ‘old friends’ of the past. Africa once felt grateful with China’s selfless assistance to help out its development. Why have they now become hostile? As China gains prominence, she finds fewer friends. Times have changed. Should China find some other new friends?

There were also more reflective responses, which highlighted the exploitation and negligence of local needs by  Chinese businesses [zh]:

@刘克斯:从赞比亚煤矿劳资纠纷看我国国外企业的国际责任。我们曾经是帝国主义的殖民地,深受被掠夺被奴役的痛苦。今西方国家称非洲是中国殖民地,我们竭力反对,但是否静静反思一下,我们到非洲办企业开矿山,除考虑到企业自身利益,是否考虑到当事国利益?包括环保、公益、劳动保护、工人工资和福利待遇等等!

@刘克斯:From the labor dispute in Zambian’s coal mine, we can see international responsibilities of our country’s businesses. We were once colonized by imperial countries, and felt the pain of exploitation and serfdom. Now Western countries consider Africa a colony of China, and we reject such accusations. But isn't it about time we reconsider? We have corporations in Africa to open up mines. A part from pursuing our corporate interests, we should look after their interests, including environmental protection, philanthropy, labor protection, wages, and benefits!

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