The London Review has a summary piece about China's new love affair with Africa. If you've been keeping up with Chinese affairs on the continent, there probably won't be much new information in this piece, but it's a nice summary, and it's helpful to have it all in one piece. It's a subscription only article, but the main gist is summed up here:
In all likelihood China will be neither a saviour nor a destroyer. Some African opinion leaders have realised that it does not really stand for a different model. ‘Non-interference’ is not a value so much as a thin shield for old-fashioned realpolitik. China, like any other major power, generally puts its own strategic interests first. If its clients prove too embarrassing, it will restrain them, just as the United States once dumped Mobutu Sese Seko, when his taste for champagne, diamonds and bloodshed proved too embarrassing. Yet if China’s interests are better served by protecting rogues, it will protect them. If Chinese companies can get away with destroying Africa’s environment and paying little attention to its workers, they probably will. If they cannot – because local activists or consumers call them on it, or because it affects their sales in Africa and the West – perhaps they won’t.
Like the Western powers, China seems set to traffic in whatever images of Africa suit it: before the 2006 China-Africa summit in Beijing, Chinese officials plastered the city with posters of tribal warriors and lions that might have been taken from the National Geographic fifty years ago. Like the colonial powers, China will buy Africa’s resources and sell it manufactured products, regardless of whether Africa manages to produce anything that China wants to buy or succeeds in using China’s largesse to upgrade its own industries. ‘The key must be mutual benefit,’ Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s finance minister, told a group of Chinese officials. ‘Otherwise we might end up with a few holes in the ground where the resources have been extracted, and all the added value will be in China.’
Last summer, when the main opposition leader in Zambia, infuriated by the deaths in the explosives factory, made Chinese investment an issue in the presidential election, the Chinese Embassy threatened to break off relations with Zambia if he was elected. Hardly a model of non-interference.