4.09.2008

WORRY FOR CHINA, NOT ABOUT IT

A nice piece by The Economist on China's ravenous appetite for natural resources. The US and Europe are leery of what this means in terms of China's growing influence in, say, Africa, but I'm with The Economist in thinking this to reflect our paternalistic view of Africa, that that's our continent to "save," and that our "aid for progress on human rights" approach is necessarily better than China's "let's do business, no questions asked" approach.

For one, for Africa it's not "no questions asked" when it comes to China, or perhaps more accurately, it's not often any different from US/Europe's relationship with Africa. Consider also that many people are sour on the effect of aid and benchmarks in reforming Africa; meanwhile, China's investment in Congo, to use but example, is ten times the amount of aid from the West, and has transformed the landscape of much of this dirt-poor country.

What is appropriate to worry about is not China as a threat but China as a nation on the brink. The ravenous developing nation can import all the raw materials it wants to, but it can't import clean air and clean water. And parts of the country are in peril as a result. Who knows what environmental catastrophe lurks, or what the effect will be on a generation of babies who grow up under the smoky haze of much of China's urbanized areas.

So instead of some jingoistic fear-mongering or paternalistic tsk-tsking, maybe the US and Europe should just concentrate on how to engage China in the important global environmental issues of the day. After all, when it comes to resource consumption, we may all need to go on a diet, but some hungry eaters may need more help than others.
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