China cannot keep out of the news. The news and the reasons are varied and include these kinds of subjects. Dissident wins Nobel Peace Prize but remains in jail. Artist put under house arrest. The value of the Yuan is artificially kept low to boost Chinese exports.
The latest on the long list, usually of complaints, is about the visit of Mr David Cameron, Prime minister of Britain. Even this has the usual slant familiar with news stories to do with countries outside the West.
News headlines and commentaries about Mr Cameron’s visit have not been exactly complimentary. In fact some of them have been exaggerated and intended to paint China as a predatory state.
“China buys up the world”, The Economist screamed in its 10/11/2010 issue. It went on to warn about “being eaten by the dragon” and characterised the country as “the elephant outside the room”.
The colourful headlines and news stories are tinged with apprehension, grudging admiration and warnings about the danger China poses to the West.
A commentary in the same issue of The Economist warns of communist takeover of capitalism thus, “The notion that capitalists should allow communists to buy their companies is ... taking economic liberalism to an absurd extreme”.
The capitalist system and its virtues, it has been drummed into our heads until we can hear nothing else, is built on the idea of free markets and liberalism. But the practitioners and preachers of that brand of economic management are prepared to put limits to that practice if it signs of benefitting others.
Then they accuse China of using underhand methods at business negotiations (booze, women, and spies). They are not the first to use such methods.
The West has used them for a long time. Africa was surrendered to the West sometimes in exchange for beads, gin and pieces of cloth.
Despite these warnings and misgivings, David Cameron went to Beijing last week. He made his intentions very clear – to get trade.
He travelled with a huge delegation of business executives. They must have been told to be wary of their Chinese interpreters, chauffeurs, waiters and janitors at their hotels.
His education secretary went to recruit teachers to teach Mandarin in schools in the United Kingdom He got a thousand teachers. That is how important China is. His mission was also to attract Chinese students to universities in the UK.
Foreign students are a huge source of income for universities around the world. They are also centres for spreading the cultural outlook and influence of the host country.
So, why all this interest in China despite the warnings, even revulsion? The economy, stupid.
Not so long ago the West was expressing concerns about growing contacts between China and Africa. Two years ago, China invited African leaders to a meeting in Beijing. The West hollered about the dangerous designs China had on Africa.
They screamed about human rights and other concerns and said Africa was going to China because the latter would not question them about their human rights record.
For quite a while China had been investing in Africa in infrastructure development, energy and mining. Again the West made a lot of noise about the Chinese being only interested in exploiting the continent’s resources and not helping in the development of Africa. Look who is talking now, many in Africa said at the time.
The West has been exploiting African resources for several hundred years and the lot of Africans has not changed much.
The Western media began questioning African leaders about why they were supposedly shifting their attention to China.
Our own President Paul Kagame was asked about it many times. His answer was always the same: China brings investment to Africa and that’s what matters. Others gave similar answers. Africa wants trade. China wants to trade.
The West wants to give aid and tell you how to behave as they prescribe what you should or shouldn’t do to earn it. They saw this as an affront to their dignity.
And now Western leaders are also rushing to China. They have apparently forgotten their objections when Africa is dealing with the Chinese. Or perhaps they do not apply to them.
Of course, they will make pious noises about human rights observance and democratisation, as David Cameron did.
But they will stop short of directing them on what to do, as they would do in Africa. The noises are more to please their domestic constituencies and perhaps to ease their conscience than a hard push for real changes in the way the Chinese do things.
All the while they will be negotiating for the best trade deals for their countries.
A commentator in The Guardian newspaper of the UK was scathing in exposing the double standards of the West when dealing with China.
Simon Jenkins, writing in the newspaper’s issue of 9/11/2010, said you go to “beg the Chinese for money and yet hold your nose and tell them how awful they are”.
We, in Africa, do not have such bad manners.