Bad apples in Africa: Chinese traders' and companies' behaviour worries envoy

China's reputation being tarnished across continent by the behaviour of some Chinese nationals and companies, ambassador to Tanzania says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 4:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 4:25am

The "bad habits" of Chinese traders and companies were among the main challenges to the nation's image in Africa, according to ambassador to Tanzania, Lu Youqing.

In an interview published in yesterday's Southern Metropolis News, Lu also flagged his concerns about the quality of some infrastructure projects in nearby African countries that were built by Chinese contractors at questionably low prices.

"Tanzania hosts ambassadors from about 70 countries, but none of them needs to constantly worry like us about consular protection issues," Lu said in response to a question about alleged police harassment and robberies targeting Chinese in Africa.

"Our people just cannot shake their bad habits. When they come to Africa, they are not united and engage in infighting like usual," Lu said, referring to competition among Chinese companies over contracts and bribes offered to Tanzanian officials to lobby on their behalf.

He said the embassy became tense every time Tanzania announced another ivory seizure.

"[Some Chinese here] knowingly engage in illegal activities. Of course, they're only a minority," Lu added.

Lu said he received complaints from local officials and police about Chinese nationals who hid ivory inside the bonnets of cars and even inside the bras of female air passengers.

He was also very concerned about shoddy roadworks carried out by Chinese contractors in neighbouring African countries.

"When I became ambassador in 2012, each kilometre of road cost about half a million US dollars. This has increased over the past few years due to our regulatory efforts," Lu said.

However, some Chinese companies that had been banned by Tanzania were building roads in neighbouring countries at a cost of US$300,000 to US$400,000 per kilometre.

"What will happen to these roads in three to five years' time?" he asked.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing could not be reached for comment yesterday by the South China Morning Post.

Adams Bodomo, a professor of African studies at the University of Vienna, said he shared Lu's concerns.

"There are widespread business malpractices by some Chinese in Africa, including illegal mining in Ghana, poaching of endangered species in South Africa and bribing officials to deliver shoddy construction throughout the continent," Bodomo said.

But the vast majority of Chinese were "doing a good job and are building and delivering infrastructure projects faster, cheaper and far better than some Western companies in Africa".

"Governments of Africa must put in place regulatory systems. No businessman will always do the right thing if you don't regulate them effectively," he said.