Sunday, January 04, 2009

Michael Ignatieff and China's New Colonialism

China becoming a global leader in African exploitation

With Michael Ignatieff set to lead the Liberal party into the new year, it's safe to say that foreign policy will find itself firmly entrenched in the Liberal party`s agenda.

Of particular interest should be Ignatieff`s stance on China. In 2006, Ignatieff criticized Stephen Harper for the Prime Minister`s criticism of China.

Among other things, Ignatieff hailed reductions in Chinese poverty as an erstwhile human rights triumph.

"You have to give them credit for a fact not enough Canadians, I think, recognize which is over the last 10 years, the most important human-rights advance in the world has been the hundreds of millions of Chinese lifted out of absolute poverty," he mused.

Yet one can`t help but wonder how Ignatieff might have reacted to some of China's activities abroad, particularly in Africa:

It seems China is turning back the clock on colonialism. The country that was once the most sought-after Colony among all European countries is all grown up, and ready to do some exploiting of its own.

Among raw materials, China is also pursuing African oil. The Beijing government is pursuing oil through a collection of exploration and development deals, and reciprocal trade deals coupled with foreign aid packages.

China`s efforts in Africa has them active in countries like Equitorial Guinea, Gabon, Angola, the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the latter two cases -- one of which, Sudan, is currently the subject of considerable human rights-related outcry -- the Chinese are involved in countries with ongoing civil conflicts.

Inevitably, China's activities in the DRC will favour the Congolese government over the rebel National Congress for the Defense of the People. As in the Sudan, the Chinese are taking sides in a civil conflict.

If anything, China's activities in Africa -- energy-related and otherwise -- demonstrate that communism is all but officially dead in China. Now, it has learned to exploit the developing world just as stringently as western states and multinational corporations have.

The mess -- both in terms of environmental devestation and human suffering -- being left in China's wake poses a definite question mark on Ignatieff's insistence that reduction in Chinese poverty is a human rights triumph.

Especially when one considers the cost.


  1. An underlying irony here is that the free market and increased economic freedom haven't brought the Chinese any further to political freedom or democracy.

    Instead, North American jobs are being farmed out to Asian sweatshops where the people will work in bad conditions for worse wages.

    When free traders talk about how North Americans and Europeans are "pricing themselves out of the global marketplace", does this mean we have race these emerging economies to the bottom to be able to "compete" and effectively turn the clock back six or seven decades, so that our North American wages and benefits go all the way back to where they were in the Gilded Age?

    Cutting union benefits to keep a company from going under is one thing, but a wholesale reduction across the board?

    It's funny how the people who (almost) always say these things are the ones who are already in comfortable positions and don't need to worry about making ends meet.

  2. Well, there are a couple of caveats that should be added to your comment, Jared.

    First off, the vast majority of the jobs being sent abroad are low-tech manufacturing, textile and bottling jobs. While it still puts North American workers out of work, these are in many respects the jobs at the bottom end of the manufacturing strata slipping away.

    Germany provides an interesting example. Germany has pursued trade relentlessly because it has comparatively few natural resources to draw from, and so must import significant amounts of raw materials from abroad.

    Germany's solution was to build a high-tech manufacturing economy. Germany's workers are among the most skilled and highly paid in the world.

    I don't believe that free trade leads directly to the mass export of jobs abroad, but rather that we haven't significantly developed our economy to cope with the new realities of global trade.

    As Michael ignatieff said when he was in Edmonton last year -- and this is something on which I agree with him -- we need to move the Canadian economy away from raw materials export and more into the higher-end of the global economy.

    Replacing old trade barriers isn't the way to do this. The way to do this is to use the revenues we're generating from current exports and use it to develop our own higher-end economy.

    In particular, I think provinces such as Alberta, where we rely heavily on energy exports to fuel our economy, should work towards developing alternative energy technologies. Global warming or no global warming, the need for renewable energy is inevitable.

  3. Good points, Patrick-but isn't this type of diversification you talk about the sort of thing that sends a lot of right-leaning economists and intellectuals into screaming fits? Namely, that the government has a positive role to play in building society and developing the economy?

    As it stands, with NAFTA locking us in when it comes to oil (and directly trampling on our provincial rights in the process), different groups trying to get access to our water in the same fashion (and that's something that, believe it or not, you and the Council of Canadians have in common), and our best firms being bought up one after another, depriving us of R&D and related high-tech jobs, along with all the purchasing those local companies do and the positive ripple effects that emerge from that, NAFTA has if anything restricted our provincial rights, increased the branch plant status of our economy, and in some ways keeps us as hewers of wood and drawers of water.

    When Ralph Klein cheerleader Neil Waugh begins criticizing the jobs being shipped south of the border along with the bitumen, and noting that NAFTA's provisions restricting any attempts we might make to get it back, there's something seriously wrong with this picture.

    You cite the example of Germany, and its aggressive pursuit of raw materials, but you also mention how their workers are highly paid, not to mention the substantial investment Germany makes in social programs (and the Scandinavians enjoy both strong economies and high standards of living-what's the deal with that?) provide the best of both worlds in the best advantages of both the free market and communal social programs.

    SImilarly, I found an interesting article where Diane Francis, one of our leading right-wing intellectuals, notes how the federal and provincial governments invested in what would become Syncrude, one of the country's biggest oil companies.

    Imagine, the government actually helping business and the economy! It's like the Twilight Zone:

    Marxism is an economic, intellectual and political dead end. Capitalism as practiced in the 19th and early 20th centuries led to sickening working conditions and did little to lift most people out of poverty until government programs redressed the balance...and more significantly, was what led to the rise of Communism in the first place.

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  5. Let's try this again...



    And now Diane Francis...




  6. Jared, NAFTA doesn't prevent Canadian companies from buying bitumen, nor does it prohibit Canada from processing said bitumen.

    In fact, a significant portion of the processing -- namely, the upgrading -- is taking place on-site in Fort MacMurray before the oil is shipped via pipeline, most often to refineries in Fort Saskatchewan.

    Furthermore, just because a high-tech firm is bought by a foreign company doesn't mean that the jobs that represents are going to be sent abroad. Keep in mind that high-tech firms still need highly skilled employees. Sorry to say that you just don't find very many of them in Africa or Latin America.


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