The truth about Vore’s new best buddy, China – Part 1

The best way to explain the dangers posed by OmniVore cuddling up to the People’s Republic of China is to see what China has already been doing is Africa, and how they have gone about it.  

In 2007, Sebastian Junger wrote “Enter China, the Giant” for Vanity Fair.  In the next few postings I will try to reproduce that article here.  My sincerest thanks to Conde Nast Magazines and Mr Junger for their generosity in allowing the reproduction of a most excellent report.  

Thinking of the similarities between what Fiji has to offer – with our pristine ecosystems, our minerals and natural, untouched resources – and what has happened in Africa, one cannot help but shudder at the prospect of the illegal regime p***ing it all away because they are broke and China offers easy instant money with long-standing ties.  

Enter China, the Giant

Desperate for Africa’s oil, China has been investing hundreds of billions of dollars in pariah regimes – most controversially, Sudan – then selling them the weapons to stay in power.  But outrage over the Darfur genocide may change Beijing’s bottom line. 

By Sebastian Junger, published in Vanity Fair July 2007, copyright Conde Nast Magazines

The rebels came out of the eastern desert in a column of pickup trucks a hundred vehicles long and were not spotted until they had crossed most of Chad.  The trucks were rumoured to have com from a Chinese oil base, and the rebels carried Chinese weapons and were backed by a country – Sudan – that got most of its revenue by selling oil to the Chinese government.  By the time American spy satellites picked them up, the rebels – calling themselves Front Uni pour le Changement (FUC) – were 60 miles outside the Chadian capital of N’Djamena and closing fast.  Mirage jets, part of a French stabilization force, fired warning shots at the advancing column, but nothing would slow it down. 

Each truck carried 55-gallon drums of water and spare fuel in the back and could operate across a thousand miles of desert unaided.  Pouches of rocket-propelled grenades hung from the sides, and belt-fed machine guns were bolted to the rooftops.  Five men rode inside the cab, and another 5 or 10 men rode in the back along with bedrolls, ammunition, fuel drums and spare tires.  Some trucks were plastered with mud to blend in with the desert, and others had their windshields punched out to allow for an additional machine gun on the dashboard.  Outfitted like that, there was virtually nowhere in the Sahara they couldn’t go. 

Around 4am on April 14 2006, a Chadian Army commander spotted the rebel column on the outskirts of N’Djamena and radioed in to his headquarters, “We are face-to-face.”  Moments later, the first rockets came in.  The FUC commanders had expected Chadian officers to switch sides as soon as the column arrived but, instead, the rebels found themselves surrounded in the centre of town and getting shot to pieces.  By midmorning the corpses of scores of FUC fighters had been dumped in front of the new National Assembly building. 

The coup had been thwarted, but the fact that rebel forces could get anywhere near the capital was troubling to foreign investors, and Chad’s fledgling oil industry was not yet self-sustaining.  Facing the combined might of China and its client state, the Sudan, Chadian president Idriss Deby did what – in African politics – could only be considered the obvious : he made FUC leader Mohamat Nour his minister of defense, and he invited the Chinese government into Chad to drill for oil. 

In addition to supplying oil money and weapons to Sudan, China has adamantly defended the country against any international criticism over Darfur, the region of southwestern Sudan where militias, supported by the Islamist government in Khartoum, have killed hundreds of thousands of tribal Africans.  The war has spilled into Chad, causing an immense amount of suffering and destabilizing the entire region.  Yet, in the year since the attack on N’Djamena, the Chinese have made astonishing inroads into Chad – a country that could easily consider China an enemy.  It is the particular brilliance of Chinese foreign relations in Africa, however, that they seem to be able to conduct business with both sides of a raging war without alienating either party. 

The groundwork for Chinese involvement in Chad was laid in 2000, when the World Bank lent the African nation $37million to build a pipeline from its Doha Basin oil fields, through Cameroon, to the Gulf of Guinea, where it terminated in an offshore loading platform.  Chad’s portion of the oil revenue was expected to run into hundreds of millions of dollars annually – an enormous boon for a country that ranks at the very bottom of the world’s poverty list.  In an attempt to break the endless cycle of corruption that so many African countries are known for, the World Bank stipulated that 80% of those revenues be spent on social programs.  The problem was that the World Bank conditions – though well intentioned – restricted President Deby’s military spending so drastically that Sudan was able to outspend him by 50 to 1, which made the outcome of the war almost inevitable.  In October 2005, Deby declared that he was no longer abiding by the loan agreement, and within months the World Bank ended all loan payments to Chad. 

In the world of international development, there was a huge amount riding on the Chad-Cameroon pipeline.  Over the past century, Western companies have extracted trillions of dollars worth of oil, gas, minerals and timber from African countries that were simply incapable of investing the revenue in a responsible way.  The countries were too young, too fragile, too riven by tribal tensions and, frankly, led by men who were too greedy to put the money to good use.  The elaborate system of loan conditions and monitoring mechanisms set in place by the World Bank was one of the first major attempts to avoid this trap, and by all rights it should have worked.  It was innovative and forward-thinking and could well have provided Africa with a way out of poverty. 

Instead, Chad’s war with Sudan got in the way.  Four months after the attack on N’Djamena, President Deby severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and invited the Chinese into his country to drill for oil.  To many experts it seemed a bald attempt to bribe China into easing its support of Sudan.  Once in Chad, China didn’t waste any time.  Last January, the Canadian company EnCana announced the sale of its 50% share of a vast, undeveloped oil field, named Block H, split between the northern and southern parts of the country, to China National Petroleum Corporation.  The company then quickly partnered with another Chinese petroleum firm to buy up the rest of the block.  With that purchase, the Chinese held oil interests in a swath of troubled, politically repressive countries stretching from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Guinea. 

 

I arrived in N’Djamena just before the one-year anniversary of the April 13 attack.  Despite some skirmishes and a Sudanese air raid near the town of Bahai, things were quiet inside the Chad bornder.  There were rumours that Sudan’s militias were going to make another attempt on the capital, but there was nothing anyone could do about it except wait and see. 

With a population of around one million, N’Djamena is a city of low cement buildings and long boulevards that could never be traversed without the huge shade trees that the French planted a hundred years ago.  Chad is a country of almost biblical harshness : kiln-like heat and droughts and locust plagues and deadly scorpions that ride atop the monstrous camel spiders found in the eastern deserts.  Refugees from Darfur don’t fare well on foot in eastern Chad.

With the discovery of oil there have been some improvements, however.  There are now paved roads to the oil fields, a couple of new high-rises in N’Djamena, and the amazingly ghastly National Assembly building that the Chinese slapped together out of steel and beige tile.  Farther out of town, beyond the earthen berms of the French military base, the government is building a housing development for the influx of people they expect once the oil money hits town.  The site is 143 acres of bone-dry gully and hardpan that had to be filled and graded and laid out in a huge, well-drained grid.  An American company put in a bid for the job but never had a chance against the Chinese. 

“Not only are the Chinese cheaper, but they said they could do the job in 3 months”, the project director explained to me as we drove around the jobsite.  It was around 120 degrees, and workers were moving slowly through the heat and the dust, preparing the roadways for hardtop.  The labourers were all Chadian, but everyone else on the job – engineers, drivers, architects, crew bosses – was Chinese.  “They don’t have limited hours; all they do is work,” the director says of them with admiration.  “And they are not paid well – no insurance, nothing.  They’re fast, cheap, and they don’t argue.  That’s why they got the job.”

According to experts, Chinese construction firms regularly underbid Western rivals by importing cheap Chinese workers and slicing their profit margins to as little as 3%.  As a result, American companies lose one construction contract after another in Africa.  Even in small business ventures, the Chinese are hard to compete with.  A Taiwanese restaurant owner in Chad named David Wu, whose parents immigrated to Angola when he was young, admits that he hires Chinese workers because they are so cheap.  “I would rather take Taiwanese workers, but I can’t,” he explains.  “They take a month vacation every six months and want to be paid $2,000 a month.  The Chinese don’t take vacations and will work for $700 or $800 a month.  Chinese merchants are everywhere now – in Angola, in Niger, in Congo.  They’re able to undercut locals because all their goods come from China.”

I asked an American military officer with long experience in the region how the Chinese can be so successful doing business in one of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world.  The man’s answer came out in one long rush. “The Chinese say to these countries, ‘Look, roads will help your economy, so let’s build a road, and we’ll provide most of the money for it,’” he said.  “The rest of the loan is then provided by Chinese banks and secured against future oil revenues from the country.  The road-building contracts go to Chinese construction firms with Chinese engineers, workers and equipment.  All of this comes in a package.  Why internationalize something when you can do it yourself? The construction materials come on Chinese ships  and are moved on Chinese trucks and Chinese equipment that use Chinese-made rubber gaskets.  The Chinese Embassy in Chad is totally self-contained – they even grow their own vegetables.  The US government can’t plan past six months from now.  The Chinese think a hundred years in advance.”

 

China’s relationship with Africa started in earnest in the late 1950s, when its support – along with the Soviets’ – for rebel leaders like Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe helped overthrow colonial administrations all over the continent.  It has been only in the last 10 or 15 years, however, that China has entered Africa with bulldozers, engineers, and construction crews.  With foreign-currency reserves toppling $1trillion and an economic-growth rate of 11 percent a year, China is both desperate for national resources and in a position to spend enormous amounts of money to get its hands on them.  Oil is of particular concern.  Chinese oil needs are rising 10% annually – by far the fastest of any nation in the world – and if those needs are not met, their economic expansion will collapse.  That has sent them to Africa. 

China now gets 31% of its oil from Africa and is the top trading partner for several major oil-producing African countries.  Chinese trade with the continent has quadrupled since 2000 and is expected to triple again by 2010, blowing past the United States to hit $100billion a year.  To top it off, China has cancelled more than $1billion worth of African debt.  On a continent as mired in poverty and corruption as Africa, that kind of money will buy you a lot of friends. 

“China’s primary goal is to import from Africa those key raw materials that will sustain its booming economy,” says David Shinn, former US Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso and currently an adjunct professor at George Washington University.  “That’s oil, but its also minerals and timber.  The Communist Party is more or less predicating its future on maintaining booming economic growth, and if it should stumble, then I think the party is in danger of losing power.”

To be continued …

God bless Fiji

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