Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Condemning China for practicing colonialism in Africa is nothing new. But this time the old line has come from widely respected British primatologist Jane Goodall, famous for her work with chimpanzees.
In a recent interview with AFP in Johannesburg, South Africa, Goodall argued that "In Africa, China is merely doing what the colonialist did. They want raw materials for their economic growth, just as the colonialists were going into Africa and taking the natural resources, leaving people poorer."
Goodall also praised China's achievements, such as curbing the international ivory trade and restoring the Loess Plateau's ecosystem. But her charges on China are simply wrong.
It's not only insulting, it's wrong in many aspects. The European colonialists invaded Africa, dominated Africans, and took the continent's resources for nothing, while the Chinese conduct business with the African, and pay reasonable prices for whatever they could. It's a huge difference.
It is also wrong to assert that purchasing natural resources from Africa is making African people poorer. Otherwise, how can you explain the fact that the overall economic growth rate of Africa is much higher than Europe nowadays?
There are some examples of resource depletion, including in China, creating problems of sustainable development. But one must also accept a fact: There would have been no sustainable development at all if development had never got off the ground.
China needs these resources for development. And by purchasing Africa's natural resources, China is providing Africans with valuable financial resources for their development. It's a win-win situation. And it is Africans' responsibility to use the money wisely.
Nonetheless, there seems to be a persistent paranoia about China in Africa. In a recent BBC documentary, The Chinese Are Coming, even a Chinese poultry farm was depicted as an instrument of State power.
There might be some issues regarding Chinese activities in Africa. We should face up to them. But it's not the whole story. Some people always like to talk about China "taking resources from Africa," and don't see what China is providing.
I'm not emphasizing the traditional Chinese aid to Africa that's been given since the New China was established, such as buildings sports stadiums, railways and sending medical teams for Africa. Today the Chinese are constructing roads and ports in Africa, improving its infrastructure. Though these projects are orientated toward business, not philanthropy, they really help Africans.
One excellent example of this new aid is telecommunications.
In the past decade, Africa has experienced a rapid telecommunication growth rate. At the beginning of the 21st century, only 2 percent of Africans own mobile phones. Now the figure is about 80 percent.
This would not have happened without China. Not only are those affordable mobile phones Africans use manufactured in China, the Chinese telecommunication industry also brought African telecommunication service sector competition, effectively lowering price of telecommunication equipment, and improving Africa's telecommunication network range and quality.
By doing so, China is helping Africa to close the digital divide fast.
And most important, all of these are not achieved in a colonialist way. If the concern about colonialism comes from the Africans, here's a Chinese story.
More than 30 years ago when China decided to open up, there were concerns about colonialism too - would investments, goods and thoughts from outside and exporting natural resources from China also bring colonialists in?
It didn't happen. China took the opportunity of dealing with developed economies, and became what it is now.
Yes, like Africa, China has environmental issues. There are some serious problems that could have been solved in the beginning.
But it's wrong to reject development itself for the fear of possible environmental issues.
More than 20 years ago, Goodall founded the Roots & Shoots Program, educating young people from the world to work on environmental issues. China is doing the same thing, by providing African students with opportunities to study in Chinese colleges, so that they could build a better Africa after returning to their home.
I can see more and more young Africans in local universities. They're roots and shoots for Africa's future development, which surely cannot be called Chinese "colonialism."
The author is a freelance writer based in Beijing. firstname.lastname@example.org