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: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: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]:


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: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: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: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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