Why France and Germany won’t join China’s ‘Africa Quad’

Author: Lucas Engel, Reed Piercey, and Deborah Brautigam, Johns Hopkins University Chinese President Xi Jinping invited the leaders of Germany and France to join a ‘quad’ of cooperation with African countries during a virtual summit on 5 July 2021. But why did Beijing suddenly propose this partnership? And is the move likely to bear fruit? […] The post Why France and Germany won’t join China’s ‘Africa Quad’ first appeared on East Asia Forum.

Why France and Germany won’t join China’s ‘Africa Quad’

Author: Lucas Engel, Reed Piercey, and Deborah Brautigam, Johns Hopkins University

Chinese President Xi Jinping invited the leaders of Germany and France to join a ‘quad’ of cooperation with African countries during a virtual summit on 5 July 2021. But why did Beijing suddenly propose this partnership? And is the move likely to bear fruit?

The Chinese move was, on one level, a political response to the United States-inspired ‘Build Back Better World Partnership’ (B3W) launched in June 2021 by the G7 advanced economies — itself a rejoinder to Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). While business cooperation makes strategic sense for all four parties, little is likely to materialise on the ‘Africa Quad’. Past attempts to formalise informal ties have failed, and Xi’s proposal will likely suffer the same fate.

In the past, Sino–French and Sino–German business partnerships often took the form of a contractor-supervisor relationship, a model of infrastructure cooperation that usually came about at the behest of African clients. African governments appreciate the blend of Chinese prices and European quality, encouraging German companies like Gauff, Lahmeyer and STEAG, as well as French companies like SOCOTEC, Solaria and Egis to supervise Chinese contractors.

These early relationships have evolved and become partnerships that are no longer devised by clients. They are driven by French, German and Chinese private actors. German companies and banks have begun approaching Chinese entities directly and concluding partnership agreements allowing them to profit from the BRI.

French multinationals are reimagining their modes of cooperation with Chinese companies by forming French–Chinese joint ventures and consortiums. French and German businesses operating in Africa have recognised the need to find ways of working with the Chinese if they want to remain active on the continent.

French–Chinese and German–Chinese business partnerships show no signs of slowing down, but Xi Jinping’s government-driven ‘Africa Quad’ initiative faces numerous obstacles. German officials hesitate to lend their name to projects they perceive as non-compliant with their own environmental and social standards.

The critical parliamentary inquiry into the German state-owned KfW Development Bank’s involvement with Chinese contractors in Africa is a case in point. Although KfW itself did not award any of the contracts and their relationship with Chinese companies stopped short of official cooperation, even their tentative arrangement was enough to spark considerable backlash at home.

German public opinion on China is also shifting. A new German coalition government will likely have to absorb China-critical voices in the Free Democratic Party and Green Party, meaning that outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence on constructive engagement could soon wane.

Unlike Germany, France has previously taken steps to move beyond unofficial cooperation in its engagement with China. Yet the outcome of those efforts cast doubt on future official cooperation. After China and France issued a joint declaration on cooperation in developing markets in 2015, the two countries took steps to establish a ‘Third Market Cooperation Fund’ — but France pledged only US$2 billion to China’s US$10 billion.

The discrepancy reflected a lack of enthusiasm among French businesses about government direction. France’s largest employer federation, the Movement of the Enterprises of France, rejected official Sino–French cooperation in 2016. The fund never became a reality.

Sino–French and Sino–German business and banking connections in Africa have failed to produce a consensus in favour of cooperation. Yet the first proposal for a European, Chinese and African trilateral partnership was co-authored by France and Germany in 2008.

Although the European Union’s trilateral proposal ultimately failed due to a lack of African consultation, the 13 years since have made clear that private French and German enthusiasm for practical cooperation on the ground must now contend with rising tensions — a development reflected in the European Union’s designation of China as a ‘systemic rival’.

Beijing has nothing to lose and much to gain from the ‘Africa Quad’ proposal. Although narratives about debt-trap diplomacy, corruption and lax environmental and social standards dominate mainstream media coverage of the BRI, the initiative could still benefit from multilateralisation.

The addition of partners who are perceived as responsible and compliant with higher standards could improve the initiative’s perception problem. European partners could also bear some of the business and banking risks. Given recent upticks in debt distress in BRI recipient countries and pandemic-driven domestic spending in China, the multilateralisation of the BRI is more appealing to the Chinese leadership than ever.

If Xi’s ‘Africa Quad’ push fails to find support in Europe, China will still have signalled to the rest of the world that it is prepared to work in good faith with international partners. The ‘Africa Quad’s’ failure would also illustrate Europe’s relative disinterest in infrastructure development, especially if the B3W does not take shape.

Whether or not Xi’s ‘Africa Quad’ idea comes to fruition, private French, German and Chinese actors will continue to explore new methods of competition and cooperation in Africa. A dialogue built around the promotion and preservation of global public goods, like climate, health and security, may provide an alternative framework for exploring new forms of partnership in Africa.

Even still, the fate of past efforts suggests that official cooperation on infrastructure is doomed to fail.

Lucas Engel is a Research Assistant for the China Africa Research Initiative at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

Reed Piercey is an MA candidate in International Political Economy and International Economics at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

Deborah Brautigam is Director of the at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

The post Why France and Germany won’t join China’s ‘Africa Quad’ first appeared on East Asia Forum.
Source : East Asia Forum More   

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Hong Kong jails five students as row over Tiananmen sculpture intensifies

The students are convicted of 'rioting' after being arrested defending their campus from an assault by riot police, who fired 1,000 rounds of tear gas in a single day.

Hong Kong jails five students as row over Tiananmen sculpture intensifies

A court in Hong Kong on Tuesday handed down jail terms of nearly five years to five students in connection with the siege by riot police of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in November 2019.

Lau Chun-yuk, Ko Chi-pan, Chan Lik-sik and Hui Yi-chuen, aged 20 to 23, were sentenced to four years and nine months' imprisonment by the District Court, which jailed Foo Hoi-ching for four years and eleven months, government broadcaster RTHK reported on Tuesday.

The court found them guilty of rioting and breaching a face mask ban in place at the time, while Foo and Hui were also convicted of possess offensive weapons or items that could be used in such a way.

Deputy district judge Kathie Cheung said she had handed down the heavy sentences as a deterrent, because the students had engaged in violence against law enforcement officers, RTHK said.

The students had been wearing the black clothing of the 2019 protest movement, including gear to protect them against the tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and police beatings that characterized that year's protests.

Cheung said this showed they had intended to join in, and likened the scene to a "battlefield."

CUHK students put up an organized defense when police tried to enter the CUHK campus, setting up makeshift barricades with furniture, trash cans and umbrellas, and throwing Molotov cocktails and other projectiles at police, as police rained tear gas and other "non-lethal" munitions down on them, leaving the entire campus wreathed with CS gas.

'Pillar of Shame'

Riot police went on to lay siege to the Polytechnic University, meeting with similar levels of resistance, later in the month.

Meanwhile, the row over the University of Hong Kong (HKU)'s plan to remove the "Pillar of Shame" sculpture commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre has intensified with the withdrawal of Chicago-based law firm Mayer Brown from its representation of the university after an international outcry.

The firm had written to the now-disbanded Tiananmen vigil organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, requesting the sculpture's removal by 5.00 p.m. on Oct. 13, sparking the anger of its creator Jens Galschiøt, who said he has hired a lawyer to protect his property, which was only on loan to the Alliance.

Following Mayer Brown's withdrawal, former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying took to his Facebook account on Oct. 18 to denounce the firm as having been "infiltrated by foreign foreign powers" and calling on all "Chinese" clients to withdraw their business. It was unclear whether he meant people of Chinese descent or citizens of the People's Republic of China.

Leung, now a high-ranking official in a ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) political advisory body, said the firm had abandoned HKU and bowed to political pressure coming from the U.S., and called for an investigation by the Hong Kong Law Society.

Political denunciations by Chinese officials and CCP-backed media have often preceded investigations by the authorities in Hong Kong, where the imposition of a draconian national security law by Beijing from July 1, 2020 has ushered in a citywide crackdown on public dissent and democratic political opposition.

Mayer Brown has declined to comment further since announcing its withdrawal as HKU's representative on Oct. 15.

Ethical conflicts

Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt welcomed Mayer Brown's withdrawal, which came after more than 20 groups wrote an open letter protesting its involvement, and said Leung's diatribe was "completely crazy," and had pushed the incident to a whole new level.

He said it was important to keep alive the memory of the June 1989 massacre by the People's Liberation Army that ended weeks of student-led protests, hunger-strikes and calls for democracy and the rule of law, and for the world to continue to pay tribute to those who died.

Benedict Rogers, founder of the U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch, which signed the letter, said the campaign had been successful, and said Leung's call for a boycott of Mayer Brown showed how companies that do business with China are increasingly being forced to face up to ethical conflicts.

Zhou Fengsuo, a former 1989 student leader and founder of the U.S.-based rights group Humanitarian China, which also signed, said China is now openly trying to manipulate foreign companies and change the rules of doing business internationally.

"The CCP has made a deliberate choice to stand in opposition to the international community," Zhou told RFA. "It's actually a kind of decoupling."

"International companies, including lawyers, have a tendency to cave in to Beijing for profit, but now that this kind of confrontation is getting more and more direct, they may be forced to make a choice in the end," he said.

"These law firms that sit on the fence need to be more vigilant about the risks of doing business in China," Zhou said. "U.S. companies need to pick a side; they can't be on both."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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