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Deal with Guinea raises questions about Chinese role 0

Reports of a large infrastructure and minerals agreement between Guinea and Chinese investors have turned a harsh spotlight on the human rights and geopolitical stakes of the scramble for Africa’s natural wealth.

But on Saturday the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed an arms embargo against Guinea, accusing the ruling military junta for “mass human rights violations” during anti-government protests last month.

The deals with Chinese, which the Guinean military junta says are worth over seven billion dollars, come just few weeks after soldiers opened fire on protesters in a Conakry stadium, reportedly killing 157 people and raping women in the streets.

The incident drew international condemnation. U.S. deputy secretary of state William Fitzgerald was sent to personally rebuke junta leader Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, making it clear the U.S. held him responsible for the killings and, like the protesters, hoped he did not run in the upcoming January elections.

“We were there for two hours,” Fitzgerald said following the meeting, according to The New York Times. “I was quite uncomfortable.”

The snapping up of the riches in Africa’s mountains, forests and offshore waters by the Chinese government and both state-owned and private Chinese firms is also becoming increasingly uncomfortable for the U.S., and this deal would bring the awkwardness to an unprecedented level.

The timing of the announcement just weeks after the Sep. 28 massacre could not be worse for China. In the past, China has been criticised – by Western nations – and commended – by some African nations – for making mutually beneficial deals without the strings, like human rights or governmental reforms, which are so often attached to investment from governments in the West.

China has yet to confirm any deals have been made or negotiations taken place and Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, said Thursday that the government has no role in the deal.

“As far as we know, this is the corporate behaviour of an international company registered in Hong Kong,” Ma said. He also pointed out that, “As a developing country, China has South-South Cooperation with Guinea based on equality, mutual benefit, international norms and market rules. It serves the fundamental interest of both peoples.”

As private behaviour, this investment would not stand out from much of the actions of many corporations based in the U.S., which are also routinely criticised for profiting from states with problematic human rights records.

The Guinea deals are nonetheless very reminiscent of deals African states and the Chinese government, through its state-owned firms, have struck in recent years. Many of these deals, such as the nine-billion-dollar minerals-for-infrastructure deal with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), point to a willingness of the Chinese government to take substantial risks and face international criticism that many Western governments cannot match.

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By Matthew BergerIPS

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi