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All's fair in trade and war

"All's fair in trade and war" Continued...

Issue: "Darfur," Nov. 25, 2006

South of Zambia in Zimbabwe, discontent with the Chinese is growing. Locals resent China's coddling of Mugabe, but also dislike the influx of cheap Chinese shoes and clothes. Businessman Simon Spooner told WORLD that flea-market goods, made in China, are gutting local manufacturing-but not with a better product.

A Chinese pair of shoes might only last three months compared to a local pair's year, but it is often the only footwear Zimbabweans can afford now with four-digit inflation. The goods are so substandard, locals call them "zhing zhongs." And now, by extension, "anything that doesn't work is zhing zhong," Spooner said.

Chinese goods flooded in about three years ago, benefiting from a new free-trade agreement. Spooner said oft-corrupt officials are also likely benefiting from the arrangement: "Publicly, they might raise the odd concern about job losses, but at the end of the day, they're not going to do anything about it."

So is China bad for Africa? While trade and investment are building some economies, other practices are potentially damaging. Joshua Kurlantzick of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says Chinese loans may re-indebt countries and its arms sales fuel conflicts: "In Africa's weakest states, where the rule of law often simply does not exist and economic policy makers do not enjoy the same kind of independence from politicians as in China, this state-led business model could simply be a disaster-an invitation for rapacious governments."

While U.S. aid and trade in Africa still exceeds China's, Beijing is catching up. Increasing U.S. trade, while encouraging economic reforms, would be good medicine for the continent. But that takes time. Meanwhile, eager businessmen like the Chinese metal trader are making long-range plans.


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