China, Africa Dictators Link Rings Alarms

Not only has China (search) become an exporting giant, dumping cheap goods and creating enormous trade deficits all over the globe, but it continues to reach out to historically oppressive regimes for trade, economic partnerships and greater influence on the world political stage, policy watchers say.

A number of lawmakers, former ambassadors and foreign policy experts who testified in a Washington hearing late last month asserted that the United States needs to wise up to the fact that China plans to become a superpower militarily, economically and politically — by any means necessary.

"China kind of burst on the scene with a presence that has been frightening to many people who hadn't realized how wide this reach ... is," Rep. Randy Forbes (search), R-Va., chairman of the new House China Caucus (search), told

Forbes and others recently testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission about the objectives China is pursuing in the international community.

China is beefing up its military arsenal to the tune of $90 billion, according to the U.S. Defense Department. The Pentagon last month reported that sum as the amount China is putting annually into its military budget to expand its influence. While that number is just a fraction of what the U.S. spends on its armed services, officials in Beijing dispute the Pentagon's claims.

Economically, China's state-run newspaper reports that the country's economy held a 9.5 percent growth in the second quarter and is poised to continue strong throughout 2005. In July, Beijing decided to peg the yuan to a basket of currencies rather than the dollar, which had kept its currency artificially low and allowed it to compete unfairly in the world goods market, U.S. analysts say. The U.S.-based China Currency Coalition said based on data from the first six months of 2005, the U.S. trade deficit with China is on track to hit $210 billion this year — a whopping 30 percent increase over 2004.

While the Bush administration engages China on these matters, the U.S.-China Commission has turned its focus in part to the political alliances China has been forming with governments that have been targeted by international critics for continued human rights violations, rampant corruption and state-sponsored terrorism.

Alongside new commercial enterprises on the continent of Africa, China has been solidifying its strongest and longest partnerships with two African dictatorships: Zimbabwe and Sudan. Both nations are known for their oppressive regimes.

In June, Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe ordered the bulldozing of 700,000 people's homes that he declared illegal. The government of Sudan has been blamed for the murder of more than 180,000 civilians in Darfur and the displacement of nearly 3 million people who now live in refugee camps. Both government actions have been called crimes against humanity.

"What I think is disconcerting is the willingness of China to not only help but to defend rogue regimes," said Princeton Lyman, who served as ambassador to both Nigeria and South Africa in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations.

"China has in effect inhibited the U.N. from imposing sanctions on Sudan, and in Zimbabwe is helping to bail out a regime that is repressive and is destroying the country," Lyman said.

Lyman testified on Chinese-African ties before the commission last month.

Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not return calls for comment.

"It is clear that [the Chinese] see Africa as a fertile facilitating ground to help them secure their own economic gains, and in doing so, attain a new level of global power," Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., testified.

"In Sudan, Chinese oil investments have helped to prop up a regime in [the capital of] Khartoum that our president and this Congress have accused of involvement in genocide," Feingold said.

According to David Shinn, former ambassador to Ethiopia under the Clinton administration and deputy chief of mission to the U.S. embassy in Sudan for the Reagan administration, China's relationship with Africa is not new, just more intense.

Chinese loans, weapons sales, funding for big projects like roads and soccer stadiums, agricultural training, student exchanges and health care assistance have been commonplace for decades in Africa. More recently, the Communist country is blanketing the continent with its own state-linked enterprises, often undercutting bids from domestic companies and investing heavily in natural resources like oil, gas, minerals, fish and timber, which the Chinese are hungry for back home, Shinn said. With oil prices on the rise, the impact could give China an artificial advantage by allowing it to go around the global market.

"Certainly they have been expanding their activities on the continent in the last 10 years," Shinn said. "It seems to be increasing exponentially."

China has been a supplier of arms to past Sudanese governments and is now a huge investor in Sudanese oil, Shinn charges. In fact, Sudan is one of three African countries that have a trade surplus with China, rather than a growing deficit. In return, Sudan supports China in its policy to prevent autonomy for Taiwan and its much-maligned human rights record.

According to Joshua Eisenman, whose upcoming book, "China and the Developing World: Beijing's Strategy for the 21st Century," China and Zimbabwe's long-term relationship has been characterized by weapons sales and financial and technical aid to the struggling African country. China continues to assist Zimbabwe as it spirals into serious economic deterioration, starvation and political chaos. Meanwhile, China benefits from Zimbabwe's natural resources and other commodities, Eisenman claims.

But experts caution against an overreaction to these relationships and to China's global policy in general.

Shinn said the relationships are not all negetive. He suggested that a significant part of the dialogue should be collaboration between the U.S. and China in areas of improving economic development, education and fighting terrorism in Africa today.

Randall Schriver, former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under the Bush administration, said the key is to formulate a strong U.S. policy that takes China's new direction into account, while not alienating or trying to "contain" China.

"Welcoming a China that is more influential and powerful and welcoming China's active participation in regional and global matters in word and deed is critical for making the right kind of impact on Chinese leaders," he said in testimony before the U.S.-China Commission. "This should not take away from the message that we will seek to shape the environment as well as be prepared to deal with China if it chooses an adversarial role."