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China in Africa: Ethical Globalization or Imperialism?
in the news: The Next Empire, by Howard W. French is an article about China's role in Africa that appears in the May, 2010 issue of The Atlantic. It begins: "All across Africa, new tracks are being laid, highways built, ports deepened, commercial contracts signed--all on an unprecedented scale..." It goes on to ask, "Do China's designs promise the transformation, at last, of a star-crossed continent? Or merely its exploitation?"
commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org): Africa has long been perceived as the place where the world's misery is most evident. There, it has seemed, the most people are Struggling With A Basic Need: Sustenance (theme #24). For me personally, the scenes from the Ethiopian famine in 1984 helped spur my writing the book Coming of Age in the Global Village. There I dreamed of a how the world might be transformed: hopeless poverty decreased as the world's rich people ("the haves") began unselfishly valuing the economic development of "the have nots." Surprisingly, the biggest economic progress success story of the last four decades has happened in China--once commonly referred to as communist China. To illustrate how difficult China's recent efforts in Africa are to make sense out of, consider the opposing worldview themes in the table below.
I'd say the themes in column A are all rather idealistic, in that they connect with a more refined view of human nature. Looked at this way, people are not just out for themselves and into indulging in their base desires. They care about others, about helping them, playing fair, and about making the human world and its planetary home a better, more just place. They believe in people's abilities to restrain themselves and overcome what their own self interest seemingly dictates. They value co-operation more than competition. Some even buy into the old Marxist adage, "To each according to his need, from each according to his ability."
In contrast, the themes in column B are much more down to earth, in that they're grounded in accepting that people naturally pursue their self interest, and that life is a struggle involving winners and losers. Accordingly, people seek to win as measured by acquisition of material goods, resources, and control of territory. They seek to exercise power over others. They see their seeking wealth and power as the way to increase more wealth and benefit everyone. If they care about making the world a better place in terms of lifting its masses out of poverty, they aim to show by example how its down--not through hand outs.
Pondering these contrasting worldview themes, someone with Global Vision (theme #4) interested in a world where increasing numbers of people are both empowered and think of themselves as Global Citizens (theme #37B) might wonder "What does the world need more of? Many of them would prefer Group A themes over Group B. On the other hand, some might recall how idealistic left-leaning idealists (first in the 1930s, and later during the height of the Vietnam War) viewed the communist world (the Soviet Union, Cuba, communist China, etc.) and the "fascist" USA/Western Block. They linked the communists more with the idealist Group A themes, and the "Western capitalists" more with Group B themes. Some on the left who did this perhaps now recognize their naivety.
Of course in the intervening decades, in some places the political world alignment has changed dramatically. Then there's China. Despite its seemingly unchanged highly centralized, authoritarian socialist government, it has moved to embrace aspects of a market economy and toward a consumerist society. The key question is, how does it want the rest of the world to turn out? Do any of its central planners value Global Vision and Global Citizens themes, or are they seeped in the type of Proud Identification (theme #37A) that sees only China's interests? Are the worldviews of China's central planners and its entrepreneurs really dominated by Group B themes as the recent The Atlantic article seems to suggest? We'll see!
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