The relevance of Emmanuel Hevi: China in contemporary Sino-African relations.

Author:Matambo, Emmanuel


China is 'predicted by many to become the most important world country of the twenty-first century--as the USA was for the twentieth, and the UK was in the nineteenth' (Macionis and Plummer 2008:93). However, China's rise has raised concerns, especially in the West, because of its controversial human rights record, economics and political ideology, and conversely, Africa has been sanguine about China's rise.

It sees China as a kindred spirit of the global South and a survivor of Western domination. China does not use human rights records, economic ideology and democracy as qualifications for economic relations with Africa, as do Western powers. This makes China's overtures almost irresistible to Africa. Furthermore, the growth model that China has latterly employed has been met with approbation from leaders of the Third World (Halper, 2010).

Amid such African optimism, the works of Emmanuel Hevi, a Ghanaian who lived and studied in China, and the insights he gave about that country, deserve attention. As is the case today, decades ago Hevi wrote that '[f]ew subjects are as complicated as China's Africa policy and the motives behind it' (1967). Later in the book, though, he reveals his position by concluding that in the withdrawal of Western imperialists, Africa was confronted with another possibility of subjugation as '[t]he Eastern imperialists ... decided in their turn to do a carve up' of the continent (Hevi 1967:65). This sentiment is in tandem with Campbell's (2007:120) that stated that China had followed Otto Von Bismarck's remark that a country that has lordship over Africa will have lordship over the world; an indirect implication that China intends to control the world.

Hevi was critical of China's autocratic politics and the extent to which communism had cowed ordinary Chinese into pitiful submission (Hevi, 1963). China, at the time Hevi was writing his books, was more concerned with converting Africa ideologically rather than relating to it economically (Ayenabo et al, 2012:6421). However, post-Mao China has undergone marked political and ideological changes, leading some writers to aver that China under Deng Xiaoping was transformed 'into a quasi-capitalist state' (Gittings 2005:251).

Against this backdrop, this study seeks to give an even-handed justification of Hevi's relevance in current Sino-African relations. Without dismissing China's impressive growth, this work cautions Africa against naivete as it adores and emulates China. China's notion of governance and human rights needs to be objectively scrutinized. The paper uses constructivism to argue that Africa's almost unqualified acceptance of China stems from the identities and interests that it shares with China. Thus, this exercise relies almost entirely on secondary data gathered by prior literature. From the sample data, it will be made, hopefully, manifestly clear that by and large, Western literature and sentiment has been largely negative or paranoid about China's rise while the general African sentiment has been optimistic, thereby accentuating the uniqueness of Hevi's work.

The first part of this work gives the historical background of China-Africa relations; the second part will be a brief but, hopefully, clear explanation of constructivism in its international relations garbs. The third part delves into the main arguments of Emmanuel Hevi's on the People's Republic of China (henceforth China or PRC); following an understanding of how Hevi's argument applies to current Sino-African relations, and the fifth part applies constructivist arguments to illustrate why China has been readily welcomed in Africa but has not enjoyed similar attitudes from the West, and last, the conclusion.

Background of Sino-African Relations

The relations that Africa currently shares with China could be traced centuries ago (1) but they certainly became more pronounced during the Cold War. The momentous event that cemented Afro-Chinese relations was the Bandung Conference held in Indonesia in 1955 (Masud, Ahmmed, Mostafa and Choudhury, 2013). The main rationale for the conference was to solidify the bonds among global players that had been relegated to insignificance by the tussle for superiority between the capitalist West and the Soviet Union. China and India were undoubtedly the biggest players at the conference and this is borne out by the fact that the vows that were signed at the conference were almost similar to the diplomatic principles of coexistence that the two countries had signed prior to Bandung (Hevi, 1967). It was thus expected that African states would settle for the fact that China and India would be the de facto leaders of the players present at the Bandung Conference.

Apart from solidarity against the Cold War belligerents, what made Afro-Chinese ties increase in depth was Africa's twentieth century struggle against European colonialism. At the time the Bandung conference was convened, most of Africa was under colonial control. China contributed visibly towards Africa's struggle for self-rule and endeared itself to Africa by this gesture (O'Brien, 2008: 77). At the time the People's Republic of China was initiated, it was a poor nation (Kendall and Louw, 1989) but it still wanted to play its part in ending Africa's political travails. Apart from its modest material support, ideology played a major part in solidifying Sino-African ties (Anshan, 2007). Generally speaking, Africa looked askance at capitalism partly because colonizers were mainly capitalist and also because much of Africa south of the Sahara was instinctually inclined towards communal modes of economics. This made it easy for Africa to identify with China, a self-proclaimed communist state. However, it is important to note that China was not invariably praised in Africa. One of the episodes that jeopardized China's fortunes in some African countries and among certain political movements was its conflict with the Soviet Union, a fellow communist power (Martin and Johnson, 1985). Hitherto, China had accepted the Soviet Union as a leader of the communist bloc, calling it 'teacher of socialism' (Schrecker 2004:213; Shirk, 1996). With time, however, China accused the Soviet Union of revisionism because the latter was selling the idea that contrary to doctrinaire communism, capitalism can be defeated through nonrevolutionary i.e. nonviolent means (Hunter and Sexton 1999:183). The same label (revisionist) was given to African political movements that enjoyed Soviet largesse.

By sticking to what the Soviet Union perceived as an outmoded adherence to communist ideology, China was exposed as a somewhat rigid power, mired in ways that were not in tandem with the increasingly civilized world (MacFarquhar 1983:8). Furthermore, China was seen as a warmonger, a label that it deserved when one reads Mao's thought (Kasrils 2004:69). China was poised to reserve no measure, however extreme, to defeat capitalism and institute socialism in the whole world. Mao expressed his callous disregard for human life when, in discussions with Jawaharlal Nehru of India, intimated that still if a war were to break out and claim half of humanity, it would be worthwhile if it obliterated capitalism and brought about a socialist world order. His defense for this controversial stance was that half of humanity can be replaced in a century (see Hevi 1967:36).

Generally speaking, however, compared to the West, China was a more favored power in Africa. This was because China presented itself as an identical nation with Africa. The history of Western domination that China shares with Africa has often been cited as one of the main reasons for the formidable bonds that the two parties share (Mao, 145). After the death of Mao, China underwent a number of changes and manifested a willingness to shift from doctrinaire Marxism to a more open political and economic practice. The necessity of building the national economy supplanted the obsession with maintaining ideological and revolutionary purity, and according to Hutchings, in post-Mao China 'national interests [became] more important than ... revolutionary interests' (Hutchings 2001:143). Changes of leadership in both the Soviet Union and China, coupled with less emphasis on ideological animosities brought about the gradual wane of Sino-Soviet discord.

The world was somewhat more optimistic of the China under the influence of Deng Xiaoping, probably the second most influential Chinese after Mao in the twentieth century because he was willing to interact with other global players irrespective of their ideological leanings (Goodman 1994:1). It has to be said, though, that Mao was still regarded with reverence even if China after his death sought to drift from his ideological fanaticism (McDonald, 2011). The economic interests that China had after Mao had an impact on China's relations with Africa as China desired to improve its economy, and for this to be achieved, it needed to connect with countries that had economic promise. For this reason, China and the United States developed some semblance of friendship to an extent that 'human rights were considered a suitable subject for high-level American diplomacy with the Soviet Union, but not with China' (Mann 2000:103). Africa was obviously not viable enough. Thus, China's minimal role in aiding Africa during the 1980s could be explained by the thesis that it was hesitant to spend its much needed resources on Africa.

The Tiananmen Square unrest of 1989 was a boon to the weakened Sino-African relations (Taylor, 1998). The unrest was mainly led by students who rued the lack of democracy and political progressiveness in China. The Chinese government used disproportionate force to end the protest and engendered many casualties.

The recourse to hardline suppression of political protests was redolent of the Mao era and tarnished the improving reputation that China was building after 1976. The...

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