Critics urge caution on African aid splurge

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2007, 12:00am

A US environmental group yesterday raised concerns over China's financing of infrastructure projects in Africa, as the country prepares to host the first meeting of the African Development Bank to be held in Asia.

International Rivers Network, a California-based group which opposes dams, said China should avoid the mistakes of 'western powers' in Africa.

'China should learn from the mistakes of western governments and not turn a blind eye to corruption and environmental destruction in the projects it promotes,' spokesman Peter Bosshard said.

'Projects that do not address the needs of the affected people will fuel conflicts and social disintegration. China should consult African civil society groups and affected communities in the projects it finances.'

International Rivers Network specifically cited the Merowe Dam in Sudan, being built by Chinese companies. It said the project would displace 70,000 residents and the government had forcefully put down protests against the dam. Beijing has faced international condemnation for its support of the Sudanese government, which has been accused of genocide.

The network also said the Mpanda Nkuwa Dam, to be built with Chinese financing in Mozambique, would have a major environmental impact and should be put on hold until alternatives could be explored.

The annual meeting of the African Development Bank, a regional lender, will officially begin tomorrow but events associated with the gathering began at the weekend. Premier Wen Jiabao will take part in the meeting, highlighting its importance in the eyes of the central government.

China has fostered closer ties to Africa to bolster its power in the region and secure natural resources. Beijing pledged to double aid to African countries from 2006 to 2009, providing US$3 billion in loans and US$2 billion in export credits. There are more than 800 Chinese companies operating in Africa, according to mainland estimates. Trade between the two sides reached US$55 billion last year, with China running a deficit.

Speaking at a seminar linked to the meeting, a Chinese academic defended the labour practices of mainland companies operating in Africa by saying widely reported disputes with workers were not intentional, although he gave no examples.

Lu Bo, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Co-operation under the Ministry of Commerce, said the mainland itself had weak protection of labour rights. 'Chinese companies should strictly follow local rules and regulations,' he said.

Foreign critics, including the World Bank, say China's no-strings-attached lending ignores human rights and risks increasing corruption and the debt burdens of African countries.

Since taking office in 2003, President Hu Jintao has visited Africa three times, most recently travelling to eight countries this year.

Growing ties

Trade between China and Africa last year was (in US dollars) $55b