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TematicheCina e Indo-PacificoAfrica’s ecological concern in Chinese Investment Projects

Africa’s ecological concern in Chinese Investment Projects

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The ecological concern of resource extraction is perhaps an aspect of the global world that has gained an insignificant amount of attention in recent times. The world today seems to be heading towards an environmental disaster, yet only a few have been concerned or even aware of the consequences that such activities often lead to. Among such severe worries, an avenue that requires not only the world’s undivided attention but also needs to be curtailed at all costs is the exploitation of the African continent for resource cultivation and extraction, which by itself has been subjected to severe exploitative measures for centuries

Yet, an aspect that often goes unnoticed in the eyes and minds of the world is the collusive nature of Chinese infrastructural firms in hampering the ecological balance of fragile areas in different parts of the continent. It is perhaps important to understand that China’s interest in development for the region is directly linked to its desire to extract minerals and resources in areas that have not yet been tapped into by the Western world and host countries themselves.

Financial assistance and economic aid to under-developed and developing nations in the continent have usually been a go-to strategy for Chinese ambitions of an economic takeover of the continent. However, a far more concerning side-effect of such transactional relationships has been the damage to the environment these investments have led to. China’s expenditure in the continent has majorly focused on sectors that are more or less vulnerable to environmental concerns. Moreover, Chinese firms have had a history of investing in mines that are located in sensitive areas; this has also been aided by a weak environmental protection framework in the host country which has failed to prevent these companies from exploiting the ecological balances of fragile regions. In Mozambique for instance, China’s state-owned companies had guaranteed high-rated returns by purchasing indigenous timber. What emerged later was a lesson-worthy example of China’s careless and rash behaviour towards ecological conservation. It was later found that Chinese companies had side-stepped the process of investing in processing facilities for the extracts and had permanently damaged the forests leaving no scope for sustainable management of the ecology.

Moreover, sectors such as fishing, mining, energy and mineral extractions have been under the Chinese scanner for quite some time and the multi-trillion-dollar project of the Belt and Road Initiative has been used as a cover-up to penetrate into the continent’s economy and resource structures. However, African nations and their environmental activists have begun to see what true Chinese intentions exactly are. Many projects invested by Chinese firms have faced opposition and widespread condemnation due to their specific nature of causing environmental harm to the regions. These groups have specifically accused the country of using its BRI project to destroy ecological ecosystems in their desire of extracting oil, coal, metals and timber. Local communities too, on various occasions, have come forward to demand that Chinese projects be halted which has been detrimental to conserving some sensitive regions.

Prominent examples of such exploitative methods are also quite evident across different countries from the region. For instance, in Ghana, a bauxite extraction deal was put off by the government with a Chinese state-owned subsidiary named Sinohydro Corp due to the threats it posed to the environment and local livelihoods. The Kenyan government also halted a 2-billion-dollar project with a Chinese firm meant to construct a coal-powered power plant after locals and environmental groups protested that the construction would endanger a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, these were amongst the rare cases in which a deal had been cancelled by an African government due to ecological concerns. Yet not all African countries have been able to resist Chinese funding and have rather fallen into Beijing’s economic honey trappings.

Quite a few numbers of African nations have faced the repercussions of having shaken Chinese hands with political and economic instability. For example, the Chinese government in 2014 declared that it would build an Iron and Steel plant in South Africa, which gained widespread political support in the country due to its ability to generate thousands of jobs and five million tons of steel annually. Yet like many other projects, this project too was a way of relocating some of its highest polluting projects to African nations which would invariably agree due to their economic crunches.

Hence, China’s wide-hearted investments in the African continent are perhaps not at all derived from their motive of developing the underdeveloped continent. It is rather influenced by the Chinese quest of not only taking over the whole continent through its financial might but also luring nations into towing the Chinese line. And for those nations that do not follow Chinese dictates, very well end up losing crucial investments. Yet a far more concerning after-effect of these financial investments is the lack of concern they weigh onto the environmental degradation these projects lead to. China may have projected itself as a nation that is doing all it can to preserve the environment, yet, in reality, it has been for years aiming to shift high-polluting projects to the very nations it aims to help economically. This is a prominent Chinese strategy that needs to be probed further as such projects may at first seem to generate the economic wealth that the host nation might be seeking, yet it has invariably posed to be a double burden onto the African host country. Firstly, it destabilised the host nation economically due to the ever-mounting Chinese debt that they ultimately end up relying on to complete the infrastructural projects; and secondly these projects as much as they may seem to develop the country, end up causing permanent ecological and environmental damage that perhaps can never be recuperated. Hence it would be well advised to maintain caution while entering into investment deals with Chinese state-owned companies, for the pattern has clearly shown that these projects neither bring any form of wealth creation as they promise, nor do they help in conserving the already degrading ecology and environment.

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