As China’s interests in Africa develop, the rest of the world is starting to notice that China’s influence has spread to almost every corner of the continent. In some places, it is even allowed to do whatever it wants. 

Researchers from African countries investigated the various ways China wields influence in their countries and raised concerns about China’s presence in their reports at a recent series of seminars organized by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in the United States.

Chinese oil exploration in South Sudan causes pollution

Mary Ajith Goch, director of the South Sudanese media Catholic Radio Network and former president of the Media Development Association, said that many oil fields have been polluted and destroyed since the arrival of Chinese oil companies in South Sudan decades ago.

An unnamed analyst said, “They don’t care about waste management and environmental protection. They want lower prices, and the agreements are not transparent, so I don’t know what they are signing up for to provide environmentally friendly services.”

The analyst also noted that Chinese oil companies are unwilling to comply with relevant laws set by the South Sudanese oil sector and avoid responsibility for community pollution problems. She added that they don’t want to implement these policies and have recently rejected comprehensive environmental audits.

On Feb. 13, 2020, AP reported that Community leaders and lawmakers in the oil-rich Upper Nile and Unity states, which border Ethiopia and Sudan, accused the South Sudanese government and the two major oil consortiums. However, the Chinese-led Dar Petroleum Operating Co. and the Greater Pioneer Operating Co. ignore the problem and attempt to silence those who have tried to expose it.

Simon Ngor, a pastor with a church in Melut, a small village in the oil-rich area of Upper Nile state, said, “People are dying of unknown diseases … The oil company says they’re working on it, but I don’t think they actually are.”

The AP interviewed more than two dozen people in Paloich and the surrounding areas. Residents reported alarming health problems that echoed those found in the buried reports: babies with congenital disabilities, miscarriages, and people dying of unexplained illnesses.

The county health department director, Dr. Bar Alony Wol, showed reporters a photo of a baby girl born in September 2018 with her intestines protruding from her body. He said he witnessed a baby born without a head a few years ago.

According to a local advocacy group’s environmental study, birth abnormalities around oil fields in Ruweng state nearly tripled between 2015 and 2017, from 19% to 54%.

To defend Chinese oil companies’ non-compliance with local environmental rules, Mary Ajith Goch said the Chinese regime pressured the South Sudanese government through diplomatic means to support the extension of the UN embargo on South Sudan in 2021, reversing its previous position of abstaining from the vote.

She quoted sources saying Chinese companies see some functionaries as threats when debating with the oil ministry. The oil companies are not happy with the policies the government is trying to impose on them. They think they should be treated specially. In addition, these companies want to dominate the country’s resources, which is deeply worrying.

Corruption appeared in Chinese investments in Zambia’s construction sector

In a study report, Rueben Lifuka, Zambian anti-corruption activist and scholar, claimed that Chinese construction businesses benefit unfairly from CCP subsidies and that project implementation is rife with corruption.

Because choosing Chinese contractors is often a condition of securing Chinese funding for major highway projects, Chinese firms won over 85% of road restoration projects in Zambia.

China’s investments frequently include undisclosed terms and conditions. As a result, it is difficult for stakeholders such as the media, the Zambian parliament, and civil society to monitor the Zambian government’s commitments.

According to Lifuka’s research, Chinese corporations push down local prices and operate with profit margins of less than 10%, compared to an average of 15% to 25% in the construction industry. Chinese companies may depress competitors’ overall bid price by as much as 50% in extreme situations. While some Chinese contractors bid low to secure a contract, the ultimate contract amount is frequently inflated due to subsequent adjustments.

Lifuka said Chinese contractors actively lobbied officials from Zambia’s functional departments and specialized agencies to propose specific projects and promised to provide tailor-made loans to implement the projects. But these projects are often not a national priority and are over-engineered and overpriced. 

Critical decisions about where to invest and which sectors to support are based on strengthening China’s political and economic influence and expanding its international trade ties rather than commercial goals in Zambia. 

Rather than commercial objectives, critical decisions on where to invest and which sectors to support are centered on growing China’s political and economic influence.

China has become Africa’s largest bilateral infrastructure financier, accounting for about a quarter of total infrastructure financing in 2018. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Zambia became the first African country to default on its sovereign debt in 2020. The government attempts to obtain credit assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Zambia’s borrowing terms from China must be more open and transparent due to its debt restructuring. According to a study of loan data conducted by the China Africa Research Institute (CARI) last year, Zambia’s debt to the Chinese regime and commercial lenders was as high as $6.6 billion, about double the amount revealed by the country’s previous government.

China’s Safe City Trap in Mauritius

Roukaya Kasenally, an associate professor at the University of Mauritius and the African Institute for Sustainable Democratic Elections president, questioned the need for innovative city development in the island nation and criticized the Mauritian government for its lack of transparency in dealings with China. 

She wrote: The Mauritius Safe City project is similar to other African projects in that it focuses on surveillance and control. So In a democracy-loving island nation, China’s ‘Big Brother’ model might be present. She also inquired about the project’s goal, whom it is intended to assist, and whether it will impact freedom.

According to local media sources in Mauritius, approximately 3,000 intelligent video security cameras were deployed in nearly 1,500 different locations as part of the Safe City project.

Kasana’s report shows that the Mauritian government-China loan agreement, effective from 2018, will last for 20 years and cost an estimated $455 million. The surveillance equipment mainly comes from Chinese technology companies such as Huawei, ZTE, and Hikvision.

Kassana added, However, the Mauritian telecoms contracts with Chinese lenders have not been made public, and it is unclear who would manage the data. For individuals who value civil liberties and political rights, this uncertainty, which allows data to be manipulated and misused, is a frightening prospect.

Mauritius’ standing on the global Democracy Index has been declining since 2017, when the government enacted a series of authoritarian measures, including the detention and expulsion of journalists and opposition MPs. 

While China’s Safe City project is gaining traction in Africa, 12 nations in Sub-Saharan Africa are initiating Safe City programs in response to China’s enticing loans. However, Kassana warned that China’s orchestrated rhetoric to help Africa bridge the digital divide should be taken with caution.

China overfishing in West and Central Africa

In the report, Agnes Ebo’o, an international law expert, notes that offshore fishing is one area where China’s involvement in Africa is rapidly outpacing the rest of the world. Outside estimates of the size of China’s ocean-going fishing fleet range widely, from 3,000 to 6,000 vessels. By comparison, China’s closest competitor, the United States, has only about 300 boats.

China’s greedy pursuit of quantitative dominance rather than qualitative dominance has given China a bad reputation, especially in the Gulf of Guinea region of West and Central Africa.

The Chinese regime maintains unfair subsidies for its offshore fishing vessels, resulting in Chinese offshore fishers having an unparalleled advantage over local artisanal fishers, with the former’s vessels costing millions of dollars. At the same time, the latter’s entire equipment is worth only a few hundred dollars.

The report notes that ocean-going fishing vessels should fly the flag of their country of origin when operating in foreign waters. Still, many ocean-going fishing vessels with Chinese owners are flying the flag of a foreign host country.

Authorities in all countries have seized Chinese vessels for IUU fishing activities. However, the Chinese regime seems to turn a blind eye to these actions, even though it does not explicitly condone or encourage them.

China is a major investor in Africa and has much influence over the region. As a result, many governments troubled by the impact of Chinese offshore fishing are reluctant to condemn Chinese fishing vessels’ actions publicly.

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