BUSINESS

Deadly workers' riot at Chinese-run plant in Madagascar 'shocks' Beijing embassy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 December, 2014, 11:36am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 December, 2014, 12:50pm
AFP

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China’s embassy in Madagascar said it was “very shocked” by a violent labour dispute at a Chinese-run sugar factory in the west of the island that resulted in four deaths this week.

Clashes between police and local workers at the Chinese-run Sucoma plant turned deadly on Wednesday, with two people killed and nine wounded. The plant’s sugar stocks were also looted.

The workers were demanding the release of two of their leaders who had been arrested.

A spokesman at the embassy said in a statement it was “regrettable” that “troublemakers incited by people with bad intentions” were using violence at the Sucoma plant.

The embassy also complained that authorities in Madagascar were not upholding a duty to protect the factory.

The day after the riots, a policeman and a soldier posted to the factory were slashed to death with knives.

The Malagasy workers at the plant are demanding better wages, and contracts for seasonal workers.

The embassy insisted the Chinese company that owns the plant was respecting local laws, and said it had created many jobs in the town of Morondava.

It said it was up to Madagascar’s government to handle the matter so that “negative influences” are not felt on the island’s investment climate.

China’s vast investment in countries across Africa has led to social unease in some countries, with the visitors sometimes accused of exploiting workers.

China overtook the US as Africa's biggest trading partner in 2009, and Sino-African trade jumped 20-fold from US$10.6 billion in 2000 to nearly US$200 billion in 2012, according to Xinhua.

The value of Chinese construction projects in Africa jumped more than tenfold from US$1.81 billion in 2002 to US$19.75 billion in 2008. A common business model is for Chinese state-owned firms to build infrastructure in Africa, financed by Chinese state-owned banks, in return for resources such as oil.

China has a lot of economic power in African countries that supply resources, such as Angola and Sudan, Dane Chamorro, Asia-Pacific director of British risk consultancy Control Risks, said. In African countries where Chinese workers have been brought in to build infrastructure, China's reputation has been tainted by resentment from locals.

Initially, the African side embraced China with enthusiasm, because in the past 10 years China provided trade and investment to Africa without conditions such as human rights imposed by Western institutions, explains Anthony Desir, a partner of the Strategic African Mineral Investment Fund, an African resource consultancy.

But recently, "we see less excitement about China from the African side, because there is less enthusiasm for selling resources without getting high-value development.

"China's soft power is at a crossroads. The last 10 years is absolutely not going to be the working model for the next five to 10 years," Desir said.

With additional reporting from Toh Han Shih