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China’s Slave Empire

John on October 4, 2008 at 8:36 pm

Peter Hitchens writing for the Daily Mail:

Defeated, bowed figures toiled endlessly in dozens of hand-dug pits. Their faces, when visible, were blank and without hope.

We had been turned away by a fat, corrupt policeman who pretended our papers weren’t in order, but who was really taking instructions from a dead-eyed, one-eared gangmaster who sat next to him.

By the time we returned with more official permits, the gangmasters had readied the ambush.

The diggers feared – and their evil, sinister bosses had worked hard on that fear – that if people like me publicised their filthy way of life, then the mine might be closed and the $3 a day might be taken away.

I can give you no better explanation in miniature of the wicked thing that I believe is now happening in Africa.

Out of desperation, much of the continent is selling itself into a new era of corruption and virtual slavery as China seeks to buy up all the metals, minerals and oil she can lay her hands on: copper for electric and telephone cables, cobalt for mobile phones and jet engines – the basic raw materials of modern life.

[...]

Recently, a government minister, Alice Simago, was shown weeping on TV after she saw at first hand the working conditions at a Chinese-owned coal mine in the Southern Province.

When I contacted her, she declined to speak to me about this – possibly because criticism of the Chinese is not welcome among most of the Zambian elite.

Denis Lukwesa, deputy general secretary of the Zambian Mineworkers’ Union, also backed up Sata’s view, saying: ‘They just don’t understand about safety. They are more interested in profit.’

As for their general treatment of African workers, Lukwesa says he knows of cases where Chinese supervisors have kicked Zambians. He summed up their attitude like this: ‘They are harsh to Zambians, and they don’t get on well with them.’

[...]

Many in Africa also accuse the Chinese of unconcealed corruption. This is specially obvious in the ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo’, currently listed as the most corrupt nation on Earth.

A North-American businessman who runs a copper smelting business in Katanga Province told me how his firm tried to obey safety laws.

They are constantly targeted by official safety inspectors because they refuse to bribe them. Meanwhile, Chinese enterprises nearby get away with huge breaches of the law – because they paid bribes.

Unfortunately, there is a certain type of brutal capitalism which fits quite well with atheist, but not quite humanist, tyranny. It would be nice if Barack Obama could try to keep this in mind before he issues another unsolicited round of applause to China’s thriving infrastructure. Slave empires always have great monument cities. The slaves don’t enjoy it as much as the tourists.

Hitchens offers lots more detail. It’s worth a read.

Related: China’s version of Skype deletes key words like “democracy” and “Tibet” from supposedly private conversations.

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Category: Foreign Affairs |

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