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Stacey LINKS Safeguarding the Right to Development in the post-World War II era; Conceptual Challenges and China's instrumental Role in Africa
September 18,2015   By:chinahumanrights.org
Safeguarding the Right to Development in the post-World War II era;
Conceptual Challenges and China's instrumental Role in Africa
 
Stacey LINKS
South Africa
 
In this section I will build on the afore-explored theoretical considerations in order to specifically address the case of China's engagement with Africa. The dominant discourse of international human rights has deemed Chinese and African engagements as inimical to the protection of human rights. Western media as well as scholarship have predominantly led this wave of thinking, and while the research at hand does not wholly dismiss criticisms leveled against potential repercussions of the relationship, it is wary of uncritically subscribing to dominant perspectives without much needed and due consideration for alternative conceptualizations and interpretive frameworks. This section therefore sets out to give a brief overview of China and the RTD as it pertains to its role in Africa. It argues that, contrary to commonly held assumptions, China has in fact played an instrumental role in the consolidation of the RTD in its dealings with Africa. This role however has suffered a number of setbacks, which I argue are related to our fundamental or dominant conceptualizations of the RTD. These dominant conceptualizations worryingly leave out some of the most essential components of the right, which subsequently reinforce a one-dimensional application and understanding of the right. This unitary understanding is problematic and requires reassessment in that it hinders our ability to creatively conceptualize innovative ways in which to safeguard the RTD, instead leaving the victims of underdevelopment helpless.
 
a) China, the RTD, and China-Africa engagement
 
If we reflect upon Part I's analysis of the RTD, it is evident that this right is a complex and multifaceted right that can be conceptualized in a number of ways. These conceptualizations need not be mutually exclusive, or stand-alone from one another. Instead they form, and should form an interdependent web of understanding, which can enhance our understanding of the RTD and its application. The important questions raised by disaggregating conceptual frameworks relate to, what are the ways in which the RTD can be secured and which facets of the right are secured in a given model/conceptualization? As mentioned, the RTD continues to receive much legal scrutiny regarding its justiciability, and while questions relating to this are of great importance, they do not preclude the possibility of exploring alternative ways through which we can ensure its safeguarding. It is also evident that the most frequently overlooked aspect of this right is the emancipatory conceptualization of development as a right. Most analyses of the right have focused on human rights centred strategies to development, and to a lesser extent development as a means to the fuller enjoyment of human rights. However this latter conceptualization is frequently overshadowed with arguments relating to indivisibility. The RTD as a foundational right and the extension of the right to self-autonomy in the international political realm remains overlooked.
 
Development as an emancipatory tool in creating a more just and equitable international space remains an aspect necessary to fulfill in the broader understanding of the RTD. For this to happen market diversification, competitive advantage and equitable development is required. The development projects with which China is concerned in Africa, as well as their support of African development in BRICS and multilateral forums such as FOCAC are crucial to safeguarding the RTD. Claiming support for the contributions of these institutions and emerging systems, however, does not reflect naivety for the self-interested nature of many of these forums. It is recognized as a fundamental assumption that no international dealings, particularly in the realm of trade and development are at their core altruistic. However, it cannot be ignored that because of its very emancipatory nature and historical context of emergence the RTD is necessarily political. Moreover, its close relation with the international political economic system deems it political, and subsequently requires political redress as a mechanism of safeguarding the right. The international economic system on its own, in its neoliberal capitalist conception will not automatically steer clear of engendering inequality – thus politics in fact becomes instrumental in securing the RTD. Highlighting China's instrumental role in African development does not imply an accompanying ignorance for its strategic engagement related to domestic needs and/or international power for example. Many arguments that are centred on the self-serving nature of China's engagement in Africa are a gross oversimplification of the nexus of global justice and international trade and development.
 
One of the most visible divergences regarding the RTD can be seen in the development strategies of traditional Western donors and development agencies (of which I include the IMF/World Bank) and China. To give a simple overview of these differences one could take the example of conditionality, particularly as it relates to civil and political rights on the side of the West, versus the 'new-model' of China, which places more emphasis on 'win-win' solutions. It is noteworthy that these 'win-win' strategies are often interpreted as having the guise of altruism. As such, many critics of Sino-African relations have interrogated this 'win-win' rhetoric as being nothing more than neo-imperial action on the part of the Chinese. However, this again is an oversimplification of Chinese investment in Africa – as well as a narrow conceptualization of aid and development. Part of the problem relating to this kind of critique is that it is based on little informed knowledge of the complexity and heterogeneity of the China/Africa relationship as well as a narrow understanding of development. What is notable in China's development engagement with Africa is that it is fundamentally different from that of the West in that it is premised on conditional loans of a different kind. Whereas the Western model has relied on political conditionality or tied aid, China has pursued untied aid. However, the generalizations of complete 'unconditionality' and no-strings attached should also be handled with caution as China's aid is not wholly untied. Additionally, the supposed superiority of conditioned development aid should not be overstated as plenty of evidence exists which warns against the potential ineffectiveness as well as long-term detriment that political conditionality can result in.
 
A further aspect of Sino-African relations critique in particular centres on an apparent discomfort in addressing the African continent as one unitary body. However this is precisely what this research argues against – the homogenization of the Africa/China experience. It is important to recognize that China's engagement with Africa is fundamentally heterogenous and diverse. Thus, the dominant line of thinking that China’s engagement in Africa is necessarily inimical to human rights itself adopts a very monolithic interpretation of Africa and the China-Africa interaction(s) that is problematic.
 
b) China-African engagements and the Two Conceptualizations
 
Here it may be of use to gain insight into the Sino-African relationship and particularly China's instrumental role in the RTD by seeing how it applies to the two conceptualizations as outlined in Part I; namely, development as a right and human rights centred development.
 
The first, development as a right, is a conceptualization, which particularly in its emancipatory nature has oftentimes been overlooked by the Western development agencies. China on the other hand has played into this conceptualization and one could argue has even 'revived it'. The Chinese rhetoric of brotherly camaraderie in which it posits itself as a fellow 'developing' society, has played an instrumental role in Sino-African relations and African development. It would seem as though China's engagement in Africa speaks directly to this emancipatory conceptualization. The understanding of the RTD as an extension of the right to self-determination is largely central to the relationship and is furthermore supported by the Chinese approach to development in Africa which is focused on infrastructure and self-sufficiency. Another unique aspect is the approach of 'crossing the river by feeling the stones'. This latter approach encompasses a spirit of trust in charting unchartered territory together as equals, in which both parties are similarly unaware of what opportunities/obstacles and challenges may lie ahead. It is this kind of unpatronizing/humble approach which very much resonates in the developing world.
 
The influence of China on the conceptualization of development as a right is not only reflected in the kinds of investments that China engages in, but is more broadly reflected in the support given to Africa through various multilateral fora. This kind of 'soft power' support speaks to the support given in international fora for a more just and equitable international economic/political system. Despite a rebranding of the "dark continent" narrative of Africa, recent media depictions have reversed this narrative and instead have begun to speak of "Africa Rising". International Political Economics scholars such as Ian Taylor, however, are less hopeful of the latter turn-around. In his macro level IPE analysis, Taylor remains pessimistic about these projections. What Taylor misses by focusing purely on GDP indicators for development, however, are the more ideational changes and assertiveness, which the continent is progressively gaining. This improvement can be partially attributed to the strong Sino-African relationship that has facilitated a deeper claim to the RTD for both Africa and China.
 
An often-overlooked point in the discourse of Sino-African relations is the development of China itself. Much scholarship and skepticism is directed towards African development, however, local Chinese development is more often than not neglected. If not neglected, it is characterized as an indefensible justification for Chinese investment in Africa as an aspect for consideration. The argument goes that China has deepened relations in Africa purely for its own domestic growth, demand and development. Its role in Africa is subsequently framed negatively, where in fact China itself is a developing nation with a right to development. This narrative dismisses China's own need for development and assumes its development to come exclusively at the cost of African development. This kind of zero-sum and bleak outlook delegitimizes the need for internal Chinese development and frames the opportunity for development as mutually exclusive to the relationship; i.e. the assumption China and Africa cannot both partake or bare the fruits of development that flow from their relationship. This narrative is embedded in a fixation with exploitive international relations and assumes that mutually beneficial relations are impossible. It moreover subscribes to a linear vision of development i.e. traditional conceptions of development, and leaves little room for innovative alternative paths towards development.
 
In terms of the RTD as human rights centred development, China's track record is often attacked. Here again critics fall prey to the monolithic analysis of China's involvement in Africa. Often, particular incidences are extrapolated to characterize and define the entire relationship as opposed to understanding the heterogeneity of experiences of China – Africa engagement. Development deals shrouded in corruption is a further myth that is perpetuated by the grand critics of Sino-African relations. The assumption that these relations are grounded in corruption, however are simply insufficiently backed up. As one analyst explains, high-level corruption of this kind is particularly difficult in the parameters of China's investments in Africa: "Chinese aid is often dispensed in such a way that corrupt rulers cannot somehow use it to buy Mercedes Benzes... [It] is often in the form of infrastructure, such as a railroad... or roads... Or in the form of doctors and nurses to provide health care to people who otherwise would not have access. China provides scholarships for African students to study in its universities and increasingly funds to encourage its businessmen to invest in Africa." China-Africa expert Deborah Brautigam goes further to note that Western aid, in opposition, is in actuality far more easily involved in corruption on the continent. Additionally, many of the obstacles faced by China's engagement are not exceptional, but instead form part of universal global trends. The challenges faced by China regarding African development are therefore similarly faced by Western and other donors/investors. Instead, many of the incidences, which are often, and rightly, cited as human rights violations are not particular to Chinese relations but are intimately connected to broader international financial trends and forces of a capitalist world market and globalization. The global challenge is therefore cached in the fact that the emergence of the RTD, as a human right, has outpaced current levels of state responsibility in international relations. This challenge is not unique to China, or any other state for that matter, but a question that requires a corresponding shift in state responsibility to truly 'universalize' or globalize the right.
 
Thus, despite legal complications and challenges with regards to the justiciability of the RTD, China's involvement particularly in Africa, is in fact a leading example in how to protect and safeguard the Right to Development. To a degree this relationship is chartering new territory in the RTD and one could argue, already presenting an alternative (non-legal) approach to securing the RTD. Already we see a progression in China's dealings with Africa, for example in its realization that total noninterference is not necessarily feasible and/or beneficial. The development of China's changing role in Sudan is exemplary of this positive transition. The philosophy of 'crossing the river by feeling the stones' remains a fundamental cornerstone in this relationship; a gradual, step-by-step process which characterizes this relationship. Unfortunately there does not exist a full-proof method of development (yet at least), and the road to development remains a vastly dynamic one which differs from context to context. To label the relationship as inimical to the RTD as a human right, is therefore premature, assumptive and most of all not constructive. Of course there remain elements for improving and increased transparency and collaboration. However, it is precisely this kind of innovative conceptualization and relationship that can provide us with potentially feasible frameworks for development. Negating them because of the limits of traditional conceptualizations and constrained conceptualizations of the RTD is not particularly useful and in fact has the potential to hinder the safeguarding of the right.
 
(The author is Doctoral Researcher at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, and a member of the Netherlands School of Human Rights Research.)