Mallaby and Kristof re: China and Sudan by mattsteinglass
February 6, 2007, 10:35 am
Filed under: Africa, China, United States

Sebastian Mallaby’s piece in yesterday’s Washington Post was interesting, with a slightly off-base self-righteous feel and a few inchoherencies in its basic thesis. Mallaby’s trying to claim that China’s policy towards Sudan doesn’t just condone genocide, but repudiates the whole shift in thinking about development aid that’s taken place in the west over the last few decades. Mallaby characterizes this as the insight that good government is crucial in implementing aid and effecting development change. He then goes on to argue that China itself is an unsettling warning that development may not lead to good governance.

Thing is, Mallaby seems to be characterizing “good governance” as rule of law plus democratic accountability. And it’s by no means clear that these two factors really are crucial in the initial phase of development takeoff. Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea were fairly corrupt dictatorships while their development takeoffs took place. Ditto for China. Vietnam has certain kinds of accountability that may serve to limit corruption and ensure efficiency, but they seem perhaps culturally rather than institutionally rooted and thus hard for foreign donors to quantify or improve. In Africa, meanwhile, the countries that have been held up as examples of good governance and effective aid for development – Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania perhaps – are still in the baby stages, in economic terms. They haven’t had the kinds of sustained Asian Tiger-style takeoffs that would prove, once and for all, that there is a development strategy that works in Africa.

And of course if Mallaby is saying that good governance (meaning rule of law, democratic accountability) is necessary for development in the Western view, and that China disagrees, and then in his last paragraph implying that the example of China may show that development doesn’t LEAD TO good governance (rule of law, democratic accountability)…then how did China successfully develop? If it didn’t have good governance? Isn’t it true that Africa is eager to learn from China partly because it may be proof that “good governance” as enforced by Western aid organizations ISN’T necessary for development? Or that there is something about good governance which could be defined differently from the way the West defines it? I don’t think many African countries will have a lot of luck trying to imitate China or Vietnam, but I don’t think the reasons have much to do with “good governance” as defined by the West.

That said, China’s role in Sudan seems pretty gross. That’s Nick Kristof’s topic on his blog today – he got some emails from Western aid workers who were beaten up and sexually assaulted by Sudanese gov’t last week, and they want to organize something like a boycott of Chinese goods or some kind of publicity action around the 2008 Olympics over the issue. That actually seems to me like it might be productive – just a voluntary citizen action that shows Western outrage and makes it clear their Sudan policy is smearing China’s international brand, which they’re obviously investing A LOT in promoting right now.

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