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· Afro Optimist
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April 10, 2013 4:24 pm
Sinohydro shrugs off Africa criticism

By Leslie Hook

“Do we look like colonists? We haven’t killed any locals.” The unusual remarks by Wang Zhiping, board secretary of Sinohydro, in an interview with the Financial Times highlight the debate about China’s role in Africa.

“We use our actions and the things we do to show that we are not neocolonialists.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping hit back at similar criticisms during his first trip overseas as head of state last month, countering a rising tide of criticism and debate among African officials about China’s role on the continent.

Mr Wang defended Sinohydro’s work in Africa, where it had been involved in more than 70 hydropower projects, as beneficial for all parties. “A dam is a sign of social progress and civilisation,” he said. “You have resources. I have money, technology and management. We can develop together.”

Sinohydro and other Chinese engineering companies have been at the centre of Chinese policies in Africa, where they have built everything from highways and high-rises, to hydropower dams and football stadiums. When Mr Xi visited three African countries during his first overseas trip, he vowed to increase Chinese investment, highlighting the importance of Africa to China’s foreign policy strategy.

The role of Chinese state-owned enterprises in Africa has been controversial at times, because their projects are often funded by Chinese government loans that the recipient nation repays with exports of resources.

Proponents argue that China’s infrastructure projects are enabling much-needed development in places where western companies are unwilling to work because of political risk or sanctions. However, critics say these infrastructure projects place overly heavy loan burdens on the recipient countries and have a poor record of compliance with local labour and environmental rules. Many Chinese infrastructure projects rely primarily on workers flown in from China.

One of the most controversial was China’s $9bn aid package to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, in which the International Monetary Fund intervened to force a rewrite of the debt terms because the loans were deemed too expensive. Sinohydro and China Railway Engineering received a majority stake in two large copper and cobalt mines as part of the deal. Other high-profile projects by Chinese companies in Africa, such as the Merowe dam in Sudan, have been heavily criticised by environmental groups.

Mr Wang said the company paid close attention to its environmental rules, and denied that Sinohydro selected projects to further China’s foreign policy aims.

“The reason we are going abroad is just to make money,” he said. “In this process, we will protect the environment, assume social responsibilities, help development and help alleviate local poverty.”
 
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