(Reuters) - China’s economic expansion abroad can give rise to resentment in the countries it targets — risks that are likely to increase as China channels more foreign exchange reserves in overseas investments.
Africa has received billions of dollars in Chinese investment, and China last year overtook the United States as the continent’s biggest trading partner.
Here are some experiences of Chinese investment in Africa:
China’s commercial ambitions have pushed its workers into some of the most hazardous corners of Sudan, where they have had to face political as well as cultural hostility.
Sudan’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has repeatedly ordered Chinese companies to leave the oil-producing region of Southern Kordofan and in 2007 attacked two oilfields there run by China’s CNPC, kidnapping workers.
The insurgents’ main grudge is against Beijing, which it accuses of arming and supporting Khartoum in the conflict-torn Darfur region. But they also have problems with staff on the ground.
“The real problem we have with them is accountability,” said JEM spokesman Al-Tahir al-Feki. “If something goes wrong between the locals and the Chinese, there is nowhere for the locals to go ... We have established relations with the West. But we have nothing with the Chinese,” he said.
This country of 12 million people has become one of Beijing’s largest economic partners in Africa.
Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Zambia in 2007 and pledged $900 million in investments in mining, while China’s Zhonghui Mining Group said last month it will invest $3.6 billion in Zambian projects over the next five years.
But opposition politicians have tapped into anti-Chinese sentiment, fed by clashes between workers and management at Chinese-run enterprises in Zambia.
Michael Sata, leader of the opposition Patriotic Front, has won popularity with his anti-Chinese stance.
In a reflection of anger at the government’s close relationship with Beijing, its candidates have lost the last three parliamentary and presidential election in Zambia’s Copperbelt Province.
Chinese firms are heavily involved in infrastructure projects. They have built an industrial port in the capital, Nouakchott, and a sports stadium.
Chinese firms are also involved in construction of a pipeline to supply clean water to the city.
“The Chinese have an incredible capacity for work,” an engineer on the pipeline project told Reuters, on condition of anonymity as not authorized to speak to the media. “They work seven days a week, they never fail to show up and respect their contracts rigorously.”
A $9 billion minerals-for-infrastructure deal between Congo and China is presented by Congolese President Joseph Kabila as a cornerstone of his plan to rebuild after years of war.
Chinese companies are to rebuild thousands of kilometers of road and rail connections and build schools and hospitals.
In exchange, they will be granted mining rights to concessions estimated to contain millions of tons of copper and cobalt reserves.
The deal requires the Chinese to hire Congolese manual labor in an effort to create jobs in a country plagued by rampant unemployment.
But many Congolese remain skeptical. “It’s a good thing. They said they’d build motorways and everything,” said Michel Nzuzi, a street vendor in the capital, Kinshasa.
“But they don’t pay enough (to local workers). Even the kids shining shoes in the street earn more than those guys.”
In the neighboring Congo Republic, Chinese firms are also heavily involved in infrastructure projects. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso rejects allegations that Chinese workers take jobs away from local people.
“Contrary to certain assertions, it’s not just Chinese on the various construction sites, there are also numerous Congolese workers,” he said.
Ordinary people said they also welcome the presence of Chinese traders, who run shops in the two main cities of Barazzaville and Pointe-Noire selling clothes, electrical appliances and toys.
“Because of competition from the Chinese who sell at low prices, the other foreign traders, especially the West Africans, have cut their prices,” said Pierre Koumba, a 42-year-old bricklayer.
Chinese diplomats say there are around 30,000 Chinese people working in Algeria. Most are involved in massive infrastructure and housing projects the government is funding using revenues from oil and gas exports.
Executives in Algeria’s construction sector say they need Chinese workers because, even though 7 out of 10 Algerians under 30 years of age are unemployed, they cannot find enough qualified manpower.
Many Algerians view Chinese workers with a mixture of resentment and awe at their capacity for work.
Tensions spilled over this month in a suburb of the capital, when about 100 local residents and Chinese migrants fought a mass brawl using knives and bludgeons.
Nacer Jabi, who teaches sociology at Algiers University, said cultural differences played a part.
“Mixing with others, understanding other people, that won’t happen overnight,” he said. “The Chinese should do more to let Algerians know about their rich culture.”
Compiled by Christian Lowe in Algiers, Reporting by Andrew Heavens in Khartoum; Shapi Shacinda in Johannesburg; Joe Bavier in Kinshasa; Christian Tsoumou in Brazzaville; Vincent Fertey in Nouakchott and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers