New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, in his November 22, 2006 column (no longer free) titled “Harmony versus Democracy: Stay Tuned”, writes,
China is not in the business of exporting war, development models or political blueprints. It wants to do business, morality be damned. Democracy, in its world view, comes in a very distant second to growth – if it comes in at all. The kindest view of the Chinese position is this: Growth solves most problems, and no problems, be they of poverty or enslavement, are solvable without it.
Nowhere have the Chinese differences with Washington been clearer than in Africa. While the leading industrial nations of the G-8 tie aid for Africa to democracy and “zero tolerance for corruption,” China does energy deals of the kind cemented at the recent China-Africa forum in Beijing.
“African countries can now play to multiple audiences,” said Jeffrey Herbst, the provost of Miami University and an Africa expert. “The G-8 has been eclipsed and the big losers are Bono and Jeffrey Sachs and the charity crowd. The Chinese are not interested in the internal governance or human rights affairs of African states.”
The Chinese approach has the merit of seeing potential rather than cause for conscience-salving charity in Africa; it has the drawback of helping thugs like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
So, what is particularly important for other countries — and environmentalists — is to recognize that China has emerged as an independent actor in world affairs, and that everyone besides China and Africa may well be watching from the sidelines on this one.