January 21, 2008

HARRISONBURG—Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, is featured in a story on China’s expanding role in Africa which is published in the current issue of Maclean’s, the largest weekly news magazine in Canada.

The article, “Egg Rolls in… Zimbabwe? Why China has become the Big International Player in Africa,” by veteran journalist Michael Petrou, an Oxford University-educated historian-turned-journalist who has covered conflicts in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, quotes Dr. Pham, who has published a number of studies on the strategic implications of China’s involvement in Africa, a number of times:

“For the longest time, China was the most effective shield the Bashir regime had in Sudan,” says J. Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, referring to Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president and dictator…

What’s at stake, however, is more than a share of Africa’s natural resources. Western countries also crave political influence on a continent that is rife with conflict and poor governance, and that is emerging as a key battleground in the struggle against Islamist extremism. But Western influence is undermined by China’s no-strings attached aid and trade policies.

“ Beijing’s willingness to divorce political conditionality from economic engagements throws a lifeline to odious regimes that might have otherwise collapsed under Western pressure,” Pham wrote in a recent essay, citing Zimbabwe as a prime example. “The ultimate consequence of this laissez-faire approach is that the leverage of those seeking to promote reforms in Africa has been considerably weakened: too much pressure and they now run the risk that the objects of their attention, especially if they are well-endowed with natural resources, will simply turn to an alternative partner.”…

[Carnegie Endowment for International Peace visiting scholar Joshua] Eisenman, however, is also optimistic that the United States can still compete with China for influence in Africa, regardless of how much money China is willing to spend there. He describes a concert he attended in the Angolan capital Luanda performed by American hip-hop artists The Game and Omarion. The Angolan fans were enraptured. “There is no such thing as the Chinese equivalent of that in Africa,” he says, “and there won’t be, not in my lifetime. People talk about Chinese soft power, but the desire of people to go to America, and to be American, has no equivalent in the way they view China.” Pham has witnessed the same phenomenon among African government ministers who sign trade deals with China but insist on sending their children to be educated in the United States, Britain, or Canada. “They’re not clamouring to send their kids to Beijing.”

The full text of the article can be accessed online by clicking here.