The Economist has now entered the debate with a special issue. Better late than never.
There are a whole series of article most of which are worth a read. The quotes include the standard scare stories. There is some truth in these stories but Western companies also fear being frozen out. Is this a race to the bottom taking place? If so the West will find it very hard to compete.
This issue will become increasingly important in years to come and is something I will be working on.
A ravenous dragon [Economist]
But China's sudden global reach is generating as much anxiety as prosperity. In 2005 America's congressmen, citing nebulous national-security concerns, scuppered the proposed takeover of Unocal, an American oil firm, by CNOOC, a state-owned Chinese one. The opposition candidate in Zambia's presidential election in 2006 made a point of attacking the growing Chinese presence in the country. Residents of Russia's far east fear that China is planning to plunder their oil and timber and perhaps even to colonise their empty spaces.
Some non-governmental organisations worry that Chinese firms will ignore basic legal, environmental and labour standards in their rush to secure resources, leaving a trail of corruption, pollution and exploitation in their wake. Western companies fret that the Chinese state-owned firms with which they suddenly find themselves competing have an agenda beyond commercial gain. The Chinese government, they say, is willing to pay over the odds for mining or drilling rights to secure access to physical resources. It also intervenes unfairly on its companies' behalf, they claim, by offering big aid packages to countries that welcome Chinese investment. All this, it is feared, will dent the profits of big oil and mining firms, stoke inflation and imperil the West's access to resources that it needs just as much as China does.
Diplomats and pundits, for their part, fear that the West is “losing” Africa and other resource-rich regions. China's sudden prominence, according to this view, will reduce the clout of America, Europe and other rich democracies in the developing world. China will befriend ostracised regimes and encourage them to defy international norms. Corruption, economic mismanagement, repression and instability will proliferate. If this baleful influence spreads too widely, say the critics, the “Washington consensus” of economic liberalism and democracy will find itself in competition with a “Beijing consensus” of state-led development and despotism.
Such fears are not entirely groundless if the recent conduct of some of Congo's neighbours is anything to go by. Angola, to the south, has been receiving so much aid and investment from China that in 2006 it decided it had no need of the International Monetary Fund's billions and all the tiresome requirements for transparency and sound economic management that come with them. Sudan, to the north, has shrugged off Western threats and sanctions over the continuing atrocities in Darfur, thanks in large part to China's readiness to invest in Sudanese oilfields and buy their output. Farther afield, China's eagerness to do business in Myanmar, and its consequent reluctance to chide the tyrannical generals that run the place, helped to prevent a forceful international response to the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations there last year.