How the Africa-China romance is killing Europe

In the past decade the international media first focused on China’s economic boom, which was then followed by the ‘Africa is rising’ narrative. The latter partly as a result of China’s investments. Many have wondered whether China’s interest in Africa would trigger a new wave of colonialism and exploitation of mineral resources, needed to keep Chinese factories going. 

On regular occasions one would find media analyses of the China-Africa romance (like herehere and here). And like a mother not too happy with her daughter’s choice of partner, the experts tended to be wary of the authenticity of the cute new couple. Even when South Africa became the ‘S’ in BRICS, the rest of the world (read: the West) had its doubts. Was South Africa ready to play with the big boys?

As it now turns out, what the West, and Europe in particular, have been afraid of all the time is how much the “Old World” would lose because of the new relations between China and the African continent. A documentary on Dutch public television by broadcaster VPRO, that premiered recently, painfully shows the consequences for Europe now that it virtually has closed its borders, while China is welcoming African migrants with open arms.

The 45-minute documentary entitled “Zwart geld: De toekomst komt uit Afrika” – “Black money: The future comes from Africa” (one could question the title) examines two things.

First, we see how migrants live in ‘Nigeria Town’ in the Chinese city Guangzhou.

Four Africans – three Nigerian men and one Mozambican woman – serve as living examples how life is like after having roamed across the globe in the hope to find employment or to do business. (Usually the latter.) It’s intriguing to watch the easiness with which the main subjects go about their daily life and interact with their Chinese business partners; there seem to be no signs of racism, a subject that inevitably needed to be covered by the filmmakers. It’s a totally different picture of the loneliness and hardships endured by African immigrants who came to Europe as seen for example in the documentary series Surprising Europe.

African migrants in China are far better off as we learn that one can make $5,000 a week in China, that an individual can make it in China and that on a daily basis twenty to thirty million dollar is sent from China to Nigeria in cash.

The second narrative of the documentary focuses on the losses for Europe as a result of the economic romance. This time no European experts, but South African economist Ian Goldin and Cameroonian historian Achille Mbembe. Goldin, the former Director of Development Policy at the World Bank and now Director at the Oxford Martin School paints a clear picture for Europe: “I predict that in 2030, Europe will be saying desperately: ‘we want more Africans’.” A pretty grim picture for those political leaders in Europe who in recent years have been working hard to build the European fortress.

A lot of the analysis and facts Goldin presents about the economic dawn of Europe are not new. However the connection he draws between the liberal economic policies that have enabled free flow of people and goods in Europe for the economic good of the continent and the liberal politicians that have drafted these policies while also being the ones responsible for the strict immigration laws might be the most interesting.

As the main focus of the documentary is on the economic consequences (positive for Africa and China, negative for Europe), Mbembe seems to be given an appreciative nod rather than adding something substantial. His role here is merely to question “Why is Europe unable to understand that the world we live in is a totally different world. And that the future of the world more and more won’t be decided in the West.”

Watch it here (interviews are in English).

* Photo: Pieter van der Houwen.

20 thoughts on “How the Africa-China romance is killing Europe

  1. I think comparing economic migration to China vs Europe is a bit premature and y’all know why but this fits nicely into the ‘Bad Europe narrative’.

    “It’s a totally different picture of the loneliness and hardships endured by African immigrants who came to Europe as seen for example in the documentary series Surprising Europe.” If you go looking for positive stories only, which the makers seem to have done, you’ll find positive stories only.

  2. Great and insightful article, however, human nature and African colonial history being what they are, one fears that the past may tend towards repeating itself… especially when so much effort is exerted in the business of perpetually keeping African societies at the warring, have-not stage… Either way, the China-Africa relations will be better defined and a realistic assessment likely some 40 years on at the very least… honeymoons, after all, are what they are…

  3. It is obvious to me that not many people have seen for themselves the conditions that Chinese workers and Chinese companies African employees in Africa work and live in. I have and I can tell you that it is not pretty. There is absolutely no health and safety protection of the employees and they are payed slave wages and treated as such. Why do you thing you do not find many Chinese construction companies in South Africa? They can’t or won’t adhere to our occupational health and safety legislation. As Babylonmagnus states, “honeymoons . . . are just that”, a honeymoon, very temporary. I personally shy away from any and all Chinese goods solely because of the conditions they are manufactured in!

      • “a man cannot eat human rights”

        – the most common counter argument i hear for why everyone should step back and accept land grabbing and other form of low-benefit resource projects that continue the cycle of economic depression and theft that plagues Africa. no matter the consequences for those subjected to mistreatment and abuse, the prospect of any “economic benefit,” no matter how ill-advised, costly, or unsustainable, is justified on the grounds that human rights and development are mutually exclusive concepts. this thinking is as shallow as it is forward thinking.

        i agree that the anti-China sentiment from the Western world masks fears about their economic ascendance, and that some of the fearmongering about Chinese investment in Africa is not rooted in experience or sound analysis. Still, I think that the rosy picture painted here about China’s treatment of foreign populations is at best flimsy, and more realistically reads like propaganda. the truth is that, from direct experience in Liberia, in boardrooms and in palava huts, i can promise you that China signs the same one-sided resource agreements that the western world does, and exercises the same behind-the-scenes political manipulation of influential elites that europe rests its entire African engagement strategy on. the victims in this game are those without power or money…namely the people of the states who are bent to the will of wealthy foreigners under the misleading guise of “investment.” besides, i understand the situation for black students in Beijing is far less rosy than the picture you paint here, and i must question how you came to your conclusions. on the basis of one european documentary? this is very confusing.

        China has little regard for the health and well-being of those who live near the mines they bribe and cajole government officials to get, and do they care how those funds are spent? are they concerned with supporting corrupt, venal public figures, and the cumulative impact their under the table money will have on the societies where they operate? Africa, wake up, it is not a sustainable path to scoop your resources from the ground and fill the accounts of foreign investment companies while your people are bent and broken into day laborers or landless migrants, simply so that mismanaged government accounts can swell. China and the West have their role to play in maximizing the value of your resources, but until you have a method of ensuring that the majority of your wealth stays in your borders, no well-paid Nigerian immigrant in Shanghai, whose improbably story is held aloft as the standard of expectation, will be able to represent anything other than a continuation of the same tragic cycle that keeps your countries endlessly poor in a world of increasing wealth.

  4. any mention of the chinese shooting ghanaian youth on gold concessions perchance? one would hope that the danger of establishing any narrative “china good for africa” “west bad for africa” etc etc would be obvious by now. good to know we have people at africa is a country establishing its own narrative about china in africa, which has steadily and inevitably become apparent.

  5. I’m a little surprised that the documentary (which I haven’t watched but based on this review) seems to indicate that there is no racism against Africans in China. I’ve never been to China and am definitely not an expert on the subject matter, but I live in Cambodia and people here tend to be very racist against Africans. There’s a large Nigerian community here and they often get treated pretty poorly. My understanding is that this is pretty similar across Asia and would be surprised if it was that much different in China.

    • There is generally racism against dark skinned people. I am African American and have lived in Singapore, Taiwan, Mainland China, and Japan. They, due to history, view dark skinned people as low class, and Africans specifically as poor. I have noticed that people often change their attitude when they find out I am American, because at least they view me as higher status. I would not want to change positions with an African, it is even harder. I believe the best place in Asian for black people, is probably Japan, but the economy is not very open to outsiders and just not good in general. However, due to many years of American military presence, they tend to treat black people not much different from whites. Thailand and the Philippines does not seem bad either, but I have never lived there. In my experience, the majority Chinese nations in Asia tend to be the most racist. However, Chinese tend to be much more classicist than racist, so if they perceive you have money their attitude will often change.

      Also, when I say racism, I am not talking about skinhead or Klu Klux Klan type of Western hatred. I am talking about general rudeness, exclusion, etc based on race. Most Asians don’t hate black people and they definitely do not want to kill them.

      • Exactly. I think everything you’ve said here really applies to Cambodia. Here in Cambodia at least there is just generally racism against dark skinned people – including darker skinned Cambodians – because they are seen as poor (basically because when you work in the fields, you tan). And many people try really hard to be lighter skinned – whitening lotions are all the rage here and you see girls on motos with hats, gloves, socks, jackets, etc to hide from the sun (needless to say it’s about 35 degrees here on a daily basis). I’m not black myself but I’ve come back from the beach several shades darker (on purpose) and the response from some of my colleagues was a look of pity and “don’t worry, it’ll fade soon”. Being dark is definitely not something to aspire to here.

      • true that ,i live in china and i confirm wat u say..i used to say that am an american so chinese could have good attitude with me….thn with time i stoppd.cause i just dnt like lies..but now i think that things are changing…gettin used to each other…i dnt blame them

  6. 5’000 $ per week? As an immigrant in a country where the per capita income is around 5000 USD per year?

    And the article is suggesting that immigrants either go to china of to europe. the reality though is probably that africans will continue to head for both. And when i look at many parts of europe, i think the the processes for assimilation and integration must first be done more efficiantly before doors can be further opened up.

    I am also wonder wheather that statement about reception of the new immigrants is correct. China – as many other east asian countries – have historically been very closed, and have barely ever accepted large numbers of immigrants.

    otherwise, bonne chance

  7. When I originally commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me
    when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each
    time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment.
    There has to be a means you are able to remove me from that
    service? Thanks a lot!

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