Mauritania and China

AFP:

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz called for closer ties with China on Monday during a visit to the Asian country, the official AMI news agency reported.

“The Mauritanian government wants more infrastructure and bigger involvement of the CTCE company in Mauritania’s development,” the agency quoted the president as saying, referring to the China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group.

[...]

New China news agency said he was the guest of honour at a Chinese-Arab economic and trade forum in Yinchuan in the northwest.

China and Mauritania meanwhile signed an agreement granting the Mauritanian armed forces financial support worth 20 million yuan (2.3 millions euros, 3.1 million dollars).

As elsewhere in Africa, Mauritania’s cooperation with China at the government level has caused domestic controversy, as happened with a fisheries deal the two countries signed earlier this year. China may have an “apolitical” approach in Africa (though what, really, is ever apolitical?), but the more China’s involvement in Africa grows, the more China will become involved in local politics, whether it wants to or not. It will be interesting to see how the Mauritanian opposition, and the population as a whole, reacts to this new step in the country’s relationship with China.

Zooming out from Mauritania a bit, it’s also interesting to me to think about how China is winning vocal support from African heads of state who are not necessarily from the most powerful countries on the continent, but who wield substantial influence in their sub-regions. I am thinking of, in addition to Mauritania’s Abdel Aziz, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, both of whom have expressed strong pro-China leanings. China has not received universal welcome in Africa, but it has won, and is winning, influential friends.

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12 thoughts on “Mauritania and China

  1. Alex,

    You (and most Westerners) don’t seem to realise that China is the only game in town.

    If an ambitious African politician wants to finance and build hard infrastructure, the only option is China and even the least educated Africans understand that.

    Mauritania is not all about fishing, there are several other areas for investment (e.g. Iron ore) and the Chinese tend to be the most dynamic investment partners in Africa.

      • I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. There was virtually no economic growth then. Real wages declined precipitously and there were very few new business opportunities.

        That was the situation when the “kind” Westerners were the only game in town and your only option was to accept “structural adjustment programs”.

        When the “wicked” Chinese came to the scene last decade, they might have done a lot of evil, but they triggered growth of the economy and created job opportunities. This has not been lost on people like me who lived through the 1980s.

        Humanitarian aid, HIV prevention campaigns and photo-ops with hungry African children may warm the heart, but they have negligible economic impact – and everyone knows it. Everyone knows that a reduction in agricultural tariffs can spur economic growth. Everyone knows that roads and infrastructure improve productivity and create new jobs and everyone knows that Africans would rather work and make their own money than depend on aid handouts.

        Nobody wants to do it except the Chinese.

        I don’t think the Chinese are my friends, but they make my life better. I can afford to buy a $150 Chinese generator and my cousin in the village can afford a $200 Chinese motorcycle. He can use the proceeds for his motorcycle taxi business to feed his family and send his little boy to school.

        Virtually nobody I know (including my poorest relatives) depends on Bill Gates or whatever new fad cooked up by Bono and Geldof for anything, but our quality of life has improved due to the opportunities created by the Chinese.

        The appeal of the Chinese is not their kindness nor their lack of racism (they are racist), but the fact that they are the first major power to seriously consider Africa as an investment opportunity, not as a basket case for aid. They are busy constructing a 14,000 hectare special economic zone (a hub for manufacturing) near my home in Lagos.

        They have moved the argument beyond protein fortified biscuits.

      • Why is it that when the U.S does invest in nations with questionable governments everyone rushes to attack us for ‘propping up dictators’ and when we don’t invest in them everyone rushes to attack us for not ‘helping those nations develop’. Why should the U.S show any morality at all if these are the results we get?

      • US investment in the non extractive industry sector is negligible. If you want to build a road, or a dam or even a factory, the US is generally uninterested.

        That is a fact.

  2. It’ll last for a time but as China acquires more power and as Chinese investments and citizens show up more in these countries China will have a greater temptation to interfere and will feel greater pressure to interfere. When rioters target Chinese businesses in other countries* what will Beijing do in response?

    * As has happened in the past decade.

    • Both the Chinese and the locals will adapt.

      The Chinese will adapt, because they cannot afford to lose business opportunities. The locals will adapt, because nobody else wants to invest in their countries.

      Secondly, there is no such thing as a monolithic Chinese experience. There are bad Chinese companies and good Chinese companies. Huawei has a good reputation while your local Chinese sweatshop may not. Your local Chinese sweatshop may have bad working conditions, but an 18 year old girl in Lagos will prefer to be paid $4 a day to prostitution or starvation.

    • I forgot to add that I once lived in the Niger Delta.

      Western businesses in that part of Nigeria were targeted by more than rioters – there was a full blown armed insurrection. I am yet to see any evidence that (a) the Chinese are on track to cause an ecological disaster on the scale created by the likes of Shell and ExxonMobil (b) the level of aggro against the Chinese remotely approaches that against Western multinationals.

      What will Beijing do in response? Ask your State Department what it did in response to the Niger Delta Crisis, the Chinese will merely learn from your Government’s experience.

      • The wider point is that nobody is an angel when it comes to doing business in Africa and ultimately it is the responsibility of African governments to ensure that standards are adhered to.

        The Nigerian Government is learning that the hard way.

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