• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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BusinessDay

History repeats itself with China (1)

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It’s a long time since we talked about inferior Chinese goods flooding the Nigerian market . . .

–Yes, about two years.

–I remember, sir, that you put the blame on Nigerian traders.

–Yes, they go there and order the cheapest goods they can find.

–But cheap should not automatically mean inferior, should it? My father told me that when he was growing up in the 1950s many goods made in England, Germany and USA were cheap but also solid and well made.

–Yes, those countries had a modicum of respect for their African buyers . . .

–Or was it their own self-respect that would inhibit them from selling substandard goods that would ruin their reputation?

–That, too, I’m sure. They had a vested interest in developing this new market . . .

–Their first forays into Africa, I should think, since the beginning of the industrial age.

–Yes indeed. For centuries the European nations had sold to one another and mildly competed with one another. And when they poured into the Americas their competition speeded up. Africa was for them only a market to purchase free labour (slaves) to work the lands and mines of the Americas, and the only “technology” they exported here was guns and ammunition to arm the local slave hunters, and gin, rum and whiskey to drug them senseless and ruthless.

–So I suppose the next phase was when they ceased transporting Africans to the Americas, subdued and colonized them (enslaved them on their own land), and settled down to making new fortunes buying African raw materials at giveaway prices, processing them, and selling back to Africans the products of their new industrial culture?

–Exactly. And to develop and hold that new market the goods had to be solid and workable and convincing.

–Ah, I see. So, a century and a half later China had no need for the European pioneers’ concern for quality.

–The job was already done. The Africans were thoroughly hooked.

— The market was fully developed and handed to China on a bamboo platter?

–That’s right. But, mind you, before China, Japan was.

— Japan was not then a technological superpower?

–In the half-developed African markets of the 1950s there were also goods made in Japan which were both cheap and shoddy. In the 1970s and 80s “japan-made” was replaced by “Taiwan,” equally shoddy and fragile, which reigned until “China,” the worst, arrived and rose to complete market dominance after the year 2000.

–An interesting progression. But are you implying that substandard goods are peculiar to Asia?

–I really couldn’t say that. Maybe the world has simply gone from bad to worse. Maybe as exploitation learns better to hide its face, its manifestations get uglier and uglier.

–Please explain. I mean, Europe I know, America I know; but what is this inscrutable new power called China?

–You see, China burst upon the world scene in the 1990s fully industrialized, with a population over a billion, and an army of millions, the world’s largest, equipped with nuclear bombs—in other words, a superpower with no visible antecedents that would prepare the world for its coming.

–But that’s impossible, isn’t it? There had to be preliminaries.

–There were, but they were invisible, conducted in secrecy, beyond the global public gaze, behind the famed “Bamboo Curtain.”

–Bamboo Curtain? That sounds too fragile to have achieved such complete protection and secrecy.

–It was shielded by Soviet Russia, which had in turn hidden its own development into a technological and military superpower behind an “Iron Curtain.”

–I see.

–China emerged from behind these encasements just as the Soviet Union was breaking up, and quickly replaced it as Euro-America’s rival for world dominance.

–Is China, the new imperialists, worse than Euro-America, the old imperialists?

–They are basically the same: brash, arrogant, insolent, couldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of them—but perhaps without the self-consciousness and residual guilt imposed on the old imperialists by their Christian religious past and their horrendous history of genocide on five continents…

–And perhaps their pretensions of fairness, liberalism and “human rights.”

–China has no apologies, for instance, for backing Arab Sudan’s mass murder and dispossession of the black African owners of the land—until they separated into South Sudan the other day.

–If they support genocide in Sudan, I suppose it would be too much to expect them not to deliberately flood Nigeria with substandard goods.

–From all available evidence, the Chinese believe that all is fair in war and trade. Machiavellian to the core. Same principles on which Europe and America have always operated—just that this player is new on the world stage, and some Africans naively expect them to be more fair and just than their predecessors.

–So, what if Nigerian traders order high quality goods and pay premium prices for them?

–China will still ship us inferior goods…

• To be continued

 

ONWUCHEKWA JEMIE

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Jemie is the Editor-in-Chief of BusinessDay