‘China Open Mic': Examining China's Development Footprint in Africa

The Ghanaian government arrested about 169 Chinese illegal miners early June as part of a crackdown on illegal mining in Africa's second largest gold producer. All 169 miners were later released after talks involving the two countries. However, 1,072 Chinese gold miners in Ghana have returned to their homes since the crackdown.

The arrests and the release of the miners were the topic of the very first China Open Mic Google hangout organised by China Open Mic Sunday, June 16, 2013.

China Open Mic logo. Image source: chinaopenmic.com

China Open Mic logo. Image source: chinaopenmic.com

China Open Mic (@ChinaOpenMic) is an open space that aims to inform and transform thinking on China in global development in the digital age, and to explore how China’s development can benefit all. It offers an open and comprehensive perspective that connects currently divided narratives on a rising China in international media.

Introducing the topic, Andy Shuai Liu, founder and editor of China Open Mic and a communications consultant for international development, wrote:

The recent arrests and release of Chinese miners* in Ghana have started another round of debates over China’s growing presence in Africa. Much has been covered in international media. Many discussions have looked at issues such as China’s foreign investments and Chinese labor in Africa.

One of the ideas that the discussion explored was, does it matter if the cat is white or black?:

If we look back at the recent history, we will be reminded that Deng Xiaoping, the reformist Chinese leader, encouraged economic development by all means when he opened up the Middle Kingdom to the world in 1979.

“It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice,” said Deng.

Today, we may be in a world that is just a bit different. Can we then still say, “Don’t mind the illegal miners, so long as they’ve got us gold”?

Below is the recording of the hangout posted on YouTube:

The panel was composed of specialists in China-Africa relations:

Jemila Abdulai (@jabdulai), founder and editor of Circumspect, a blog on Ghana, Africa and development

Shuang Bin (TBC), scholar in democracy and governance with a focus on China-Africa relations

Hongxiang Huang, freelance journalist for Southern Weekly and the Atlantic, founder of China-South Dialogue and business representative for a Chinese company in Kenya.

Merlin Linehan (@MerlinLinehan) (TBC), founder of advisory firm China in Africa and specialist in trade and investment in China and other emerging markets

Winslow Robertson (@Winslow_R), historian, specialist in China-Africa relations, and founder of the Sino-Africa DC group

The panel addressed the following questions:

What are the historical linkages between China and Ghana?

How are the poor in Ghana and in China related to the escalation of the dispute over gold mining?

What are the challenges for both China and Ghana to ensure that their development efforts are fair to, and can benefit, all?

Looking ahead, how can China, Africa and international communities work together to strengthen the rule of law and promote good governance for optimal development outcomes?

In this post, Andy Shuai Liu, who was the moderator of the hangout, shared a summary of what he learned:

1. How do local people think of illegal mining and Chinese miners in Ghana?:

Jemila Abdulai: Foreign investors, including Chinese ones, make profits with Ghana’s gold but do not invest back in local communities where people’s livelihoods largely depend on gold

2. How is the Western media covering these issues?:

Winslow Robertson: Media coverage in the U.S. and Europe is split between balanced reports linking to the facts and reports that might be over-interpreting the issue

3. How have China and Ghana interacted historically?

Winslow Roberts: This is one of the situations where the Chinese government and the Ghanaian government have friendly relations; but then Chinese citizens and Ghanaian citizens in different sectors might have different relations.

4. According to Deng Xiaoping, the reformist leader who opened up China to market economy and foreign investments in 1979, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.” Does it matter now which cat catches the mice?

Hongxiang Huang: Yes, the black cat and the white cat can both catch mice. But maybe in the long run, the black cat, [for example]… does not only catch the mice. It can also damage the furniture… and cause other problems.

See the full summary here.


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