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It’s the economy, stupid.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made another round of public statements about China I thought worthwhile taking a look. As the Chinese become more affluent, I think they will care less and less. But, for now, they do. Reuters reported on Clinton’s remarks in her recent trip to Africa, and I would like to share my thoughts on those.

LUSAKA, June 11 — Africa must beware of “new colonialism” as China expands ties there and focus instead on partners able to help build economic capacity on the continent, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.

Look, the Africans can decide for themselves what is best for them. The best thing that has happened to Africa in recent years is the fact that there is a economically significant nation who is offering them an alternative, and frankly, one that is giving them a much better deal.

The nonsense aside, I think America is finally more serious about the continent. China’s trade with the continent could accelerate making U.S.’s share less significant. America wants back in the game and thinks this type of PR works. I don’t think so. Like China, the continent is hungry for technology, infrastructure, and medicine. America has much to offer in these areas. Her relationship with the continent will not expand by badmouthing someone else. It will have to come from offering more of what the continent wants.

Clinton, asked in a television interview in Zambia about China’s rising influence on the continent, said Africans should be wary of friends who only deal with elites.

This answer shows me how misguided the U.S. thinking is. If I am Clinton, I would tell the Zambians in what ways America can help the region through trade and cooperation. Another person could have just as easily told them, “be wary of friends who tell you they are your friend.” America’s significance with the region will be dependent on what America tangibly offers them. The more time Clinton spends on nonsense, the less time she has in exploring opportunities.

“We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa,” Clinton said in a television interview in Lusaka, the first stop on a five-day Africa tour.

“When people come to Africa to make investments, we want them to do well but also want them to do good,” she said. “We don’t want them to undermine good governance in Africa.”

By the way, Australia has largely escaped the financial crisis in the West because of their trade with China. Africa is finally enjoying growth precisely for the same reason. It is rather ironic Clinton talks about governance, because the world thinks America suck at that department now. Ask the Americans themselves.

Clinton, appearing on the televised “Africa 360” program in Lusaka today, said African states could learn much from Asia on how governments can help support economic growth but said she did not see Beijing as a political role model.

“We are beginning to see a lot of problems” in China that will intensify over the next 10 years, she said, pointing to friction over Chinese efforts to control the Internet as one example. “There are more lessons to learn from the United States and democracies,” Clinton said.

This message is targeted more at Americans, because of the 9% unemployment, protracted wars, and the budget deficits, she needs to create reasons for her domestic audience to think certain things in America are still going “right.”

Why take the trouble of flying thousands of miles away to tell the Africans China’s political system is not so great? China is not purveying that kind of stuff anywhere. If American ‘democracy’ is so great, be confident the Africans will come knocking on her doors. Patent it and collect licensing fees. Be confident.

Her trip, which also takes her to Tanzania and Ethiopia, is meant to highlight the Obama administration’s drive to help African countries meet challenges ranging from HIV/AIDS to food security and speed up often impressive economic growth.

Let’s see. How about lowering the prices on HIV/AIDS drugs? How about not using patent schemes to block poor Africans from making them? I suggest checking in with Cuba to see how they help the Africans.

She has repeatedly drawn comparisons with China, which pumped almost US$10 billion (RM30 billion) in investment into Africa in 2009 and has also seen trade soar as Beijing buys African oil and other raw materials to fuel its booming economy.

So that rich developed countries can enjoy a higher standard of living. We are all part of the system. But, if Exxon, Gap, De Beers, and Walmart want to pass some of their profits along to Chinese factory workers and Africans, I am sure they wouldn’t mind.

I really hate to put it this way, but the U.S. government and media propaganda on China’s trade relationship with the African continent is nothing new. This is the same narrative on China’s relationship with Latin America too.

Chen Weihua, a editor at the China Daily U.S. edition recently wrote, “Real picture of Sino-Latin America ties,” and he puts it nicely:

The Western media continually criticizes China’s role in Latin America as being “neocolonial” and claims it has an “insatiable demand for commodities”, so I was keen to observe the people’s attitude toward China during my trip to the region recently.

Judging from the enthusiasm for China displayed by government officials, businessmen, academics and ordinary people in Chile, the picture presented by the Western media has been seriously distorted.

At the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, chiefs and experts attributed the fast trade and investment growth from China as a key factor for Latin America not only surviving, but thriving during the global financial crisis.

The same message was heard from top Chilean officials at the 5th annual meeting of the Chile China Business Council, which drew some 500 government officials and business people.

It is true that commodities are an important part of the trade between China and Latin America. However, that trade benefits not only China, but also Latin America and the rest of the world.

By being the world’s manufacturing workshop, China has paid a high environmental cost. Just half a century ago, that job was done in most of today’s developed countries when they were the global manufacturing center.

Many developed countries have an insatiable demand for China’s rare earth and, of course, the country’s cheap labor. But this never seems to bother the Western media.

In fact, China and Latin America are quickly diversifying and elevating their trade and investment as witnessed by the host of agreements signed by China and Cuba, Uruguay and Chile in the past few days.

China has already become Chile’s largest trade partner. Chinese businesses are increasing their presence in the South America country. The billboards on Santiago streets by automaker BYD and appliance firm Haier, and the Chinese businessmen who do trade, operate malls and run convenience stores are proof of China’s presence.

Both countries share a priority in development. Chile aspires to become a developed country and China wants to become a xiaokang (well-off) society.

Chilean President Sabastian Pinera made constant reminders that the two countries are very close despite the geographical distance between them.

The mood among the ordinary people I met in Chile was also favorable to China. I have never heard the word “Welcome” as often as I did in Chile. Ordinary Chileans I met in cafes, museums, parks in Santiago and Pablo Neruda’s colorful and hilly neighborhood in historic Valparaiso greeted me with “Welcome to Chile”.

What Pinera said was true. China and Chile are very close. In South America, Chile was the first country to recognize China’s market economy status, the first to sign a free trade agreement with China, the first to establish diplomatic ties with China and the first to support China’s WTO accession.

Of course, China and Latin American countries, all belong to the developing world and are going to compete with each other. But we all know that competition is a good thing and there is no need to distort the picture simply because of competition.

Latin American nations are independent countries and they are no one’s backyard. For China and Chile, they are really neighbor countries separated only by the Pacific. You can literally fly from Beijing to Santiago without passing over any other country.

In conclusion, I’d like to go back to the 1992 U.S. Presidential elections where Bill Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush. Remember one of Bill Clinton’s slogans?

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

Bill needs to tell Hillary to focus her department on trade, not bad mouthing. Want an example of how ambassadors expedite trade? China does it all the time. Here is one example.

  1. June 15th, 2011 at 10:10 | #1

    Chinese media has responded to Clinton’s remarks in Africa:

    Clinton remarks aim to estrange Sino-African ties

  2. colin
    June 15th, 2011 at 11:35 | #2

    Clinton is clearly playing the great game of nations. What’s surprising is that she thinks her ridiculous accusations of China will be taken at face value. Does she not think she and America loses credibility when such accusations and lies are told?

  3. June 15th, 2011 at 13:24 | #3

    @colin
    Indeed, coming from Clinton, it really undermines the hard work she has put into the S&ED. It is really hard to comprehend why she does that.

    Economic progress comes from real economic activities. I think if she spends too much time “state-crafting” to try to get a leg up, the opportunity cost of not accelerating real economic activities enough may cost more.

  4. xian
    June 16th, 2011 at 21:32 | #4

    How incredibly blunt, I didn’t think this kind of shallow thought reached that high
    This just proves there hasn’t been any effective diplomacy in the West since Bismarck, and China should take advantage of their poor PR practices

  5. Charles Liu
    June 17th, 2011 at 09:52 | #5

    It is a well known, but seldom publicized fact, that China runs a net trade deficit. Essentially China is helping much of the developing/underdevloped world thru trade deficit.

    The “new colonialist” accusation basically says the “old colonialist” feel left out. Well perhaps building fence around other people’s oil resource and shooting the locals to keep them out isn’t the way to go.

  6. raventhorn2000
    June 17th, 2011 at 10:48 | #6

    Old Colonialism never went away.

    The West is still lording over the world and telling everyone else what to do, according to the “superior” Western Ideological standard, since apparently, the rest of the world are still completely primitive.

  7. raffiaflower
    June 18th, 2011 at 12:12 | #7

    america’s mistress of irony, as witness the neo-colonial invasion of LIbya. Hillary delivers a double whammy: she badmouths an absent third party and patronizes her hosts on how to run their own house. That’s rich – America is hardly a role model for good governance at the moment, given the corrupt and lax financial practices that provoked the financial crisis, and the blatant manipulation of international law to justify its wars.
    Did her hosts send Hillary off with presents of grass skirts, wooden spears and skull necklaces befitting a witch doctor prescribing a new brand of voodoo economics?
    Africa doesn’t need mumbo-jumbo hypocrisy from Western leaders whose attitude remains steeped in a colonial mindset: that these natives simply aren’t able to properly govern themselves, and aid must be conditional that they remain subservient.
    What Africa needs is fair trade – a popular term for “ethical” Western companies – for its resources and practical assistance, as China is offering.
    All the bitching about China can’t reverse the reality of its presence in Africa – or Southeast Asia, for that matter. Until US wants to up the ante.
    Hillary’s screed, however, has achieved at least one purpose: to pacify the haters and bashers across the Atlantic.

  8. June 20th, 2011 at 10:22 | #8

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/20/jon-huntsman-predicts-major-problems-for-china_n_880402.html

    Huntsman spouts traditional US view that China will having “major problems” soon, in 5 years or so, according to him.

    That’s again, assuming that the Chinese political system is inflexible to respond to the People’s needs.

    Then again, is the Democratic system “flexible enough” to respond to the People’s needs?

    It seems US politicians are just as petty and power/money hungry and corrupt as other politicians.

    Revolving door elections in US has not really produced radical changes in policies. Indeed, the very foundations of the US political system seem to be against any changes in the policies that would upset the powerful and the rich and the elites.

    How is that any more flexible than any other system?

    The question for Huntsman is, how is waiting for “inflexibility” in China causing problems for China supposed to be the job description of the next President of USA?

    Maybe “flexibility” doesn’t work in US.

  9. xian
    June 21st, 2011 at 00:29 | #9

    @raventhorn2000
    That’s sad, I was hoping Huntsman would have a more realistic view of China given his last posting
    Unfortunately, given the lineup of Republican candidates Huntsman actually seems the least retarded

  10. June 21st, 2011 at 00:52 | #10

    It also speaks about the anxiety in America media today:

    they are vacillating between fearing a successful China and hoping for a failed China.

    They cannot think in terms of how to leverage a successful China, and that’s a shame. Sour grape mentality.

  11. June 21st, 2011 at 06:41 | #11

    Xian,

    I doubt very much that Huntsman’s experience with China is sufficiently enlightening to make him “realistic”.

    Even George Bush Sr. who spent a great deal of years in China during a time of transformation, was too grounded in his very Western view of China.

    yinyang,

    The sour grape mentality is very apparent. And partly, Huntsman was feed that mentality to illicit political support.

    It says much about the “flexibility” of Democratic system, where a politician is prone to feed the populous with such retarded generalized “A-Q” slogans to make them feel good.

    Notice how Lu Xun’s “A-Q” lives too often in Western societies now:

    (a) wanting pride shamelessly,
    (b) claim to be better but do otherwise or nothing at all.
    (c) etc.

    Both of (a) and (b) aptly applied to Huntsman’s comment.

  12. June 21st, 2011 at 06:48 | #12

    Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia about Ah-Q and Lu Xun,

    “China at the turn of the 20th century, the period in which the story is set, was facing a significant clash between traditional culture and modern capitalist-industrial ideologies defined by Western nations. However, the downfall of the Qing Dynasty and the growth of Western capitalism, as is shown in the novella, had hardly any influence on average rural Chinese people.

    The story carries the author’s message: that the ignorance of the masses in China, which was the root of its backward status, could not be remedied by a simple change of government.

    Lu Xun commented that what China really needed was what he called “medicine of the spirit”, which might mean modernized education and the resulting changes of social habits. In the novella, such idea is well expressed in an inverted fashion. By presenting the poor living status of masses in China on both material and mental levels, the author tried to make people (especially the urban intelligentsia) aware of the gruesome reality facing the Chinese common people.”

    Lu Xun’s point is surprisingly applicable today to all societies, including China and US.

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