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Environmental Groups Say China's Role in Africa Leading to Backlash


Activist organizations say China's investments and aid to African governments are producing a backlash from local communities who see few of the benefits. They held a news conference in Beijing to call on China to pay more attention to African governance, engage with local communities, and stop ignoring human rights and environmental abuses. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

As China's trade and investment in Africa has rapidly increased, Beijing has come under increasing scrutiny for its approach to African investment.

Activist groups say China makes deals with often-corrupt governments with little concern for the social and environmental impact of projects.

Daniel Ribeiro of Justica Ambiental, an environmental organization in Mozambique, told journalists in Beijing Friday that Chinese companies create a backlash by refusing to employ or engage local people.

"We can see there is a negative perception of Chinese citizens," said Ribeiro. "And, also when they see projects and see Chinese workers in positions that they could occupy is also causing a negative perception because they see they're taking away our jobs."

China has also been accused of following the path of former colonial powers by buying up Africa's resources and selling back manufactured goods with little concern for African development.

The Chinese government says it maintains a policy of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs, but argues its economic relations with Africa benefit both sides.

Beijing says its aid for African schools, hospitals, and public works projects show it is after more than just resources and profit. China has vowed to double aid to Africa by 2009 and forgive more than $1 billion in African debt.

The International Rivers Network, a California-based environmental and human rights group, said in a recent report that China ignores corruption and the suffering of local people in Africa projects.

The report said an example is the mainly Chinese-financed Merowe Dam in Sudan. It said more than 50,000 farmers were moved from the fertile Nile River valley to the Nubian Desert to make way for the dam.

Ali Askouri is the founder of the Piankhi Research Group, which says it represents the communities affected by the Merowe Dam project.

He says dam security forces murdered three farmers, injured 40, and arrested many more protesting the loss of land. But he says China has remained silent about the abuses and operates the project under tight security.

"This is an open destruction and plundering of resource of African societies," said Askouri. "So, it's hard to speak about any sense of development. And, the question remains, to whom are you doing development? Who's the target of that development?"

China has also been accused of ignoring human rights abuses in Sudan's Darfur region, where government-backed militias have been accused of genocide.

Beijing recently appointed a special envoy for Africa to deal with the Darfur issue, but it previously had been reluctant to press Khartoum to allow U.N. peacekeepers into the region.

Human rights organizations, politicians, and celebrities have called for a boycott of the Beijing 2008 Olympics to pressure Beijing to use its influence on Sudan.

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Friday said any Olympic boycott would fail.

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