Much has ground to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not the march of Sino-Congolese friendship, or so the Chinese embassy in Kinshasha is keen to show, amid growing scrutiny of Beijing’s activities in the mineral-rich nation.
On the Boulevard Triomphal in Kinshasa, opposite the People’s Palace, work is still under way on the gigantic Central African Cultural and Arts Centre — a fact that the Chinese embassy took to social media to highlight.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has stopped many things, but not the construction” of this China-funded center, “a new symbol of Chinese-Congolese cooperation,” the embassy wrote on Twitter on Thursday, with photographs to back it up.
For a number of weeks, China’s diplomats have been responding to the wave of government decisions and positions seen as hostile to China’s very visible presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), to negative publicity about its operations in the crucial mining sector and to criticism about failure to follow through on its commitments.
The marked change in tone was set in May when Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi announced his intention to review what he said are badly negotiated mining contracts agreed by former Congolese president Joseph Kabila.
Kabila was in power from 2001 to early 2019, but his influence only really disappeared two years later, when Tshisekedi ended a cumbersome coalition agreement.
“It is not normal that those with whom the country has signed exploitation contracts get rich while our people remain poor,” Tshisekedi said in May.
The DR Congo’s enormous mineral reserves are critical to global supplies of lithium and cobalt, used in cell batteries and electric vehicles, tantalum, tin and gold in electronic devices, and copper for power lines and uranium.
Yet despite its huge trove of wealth, 73 percent of the nation’s 80 million people lived on less than US$1.90 a day, the World Bank estimated in 2018.
The effects of COVID-19 are believed to have made the situation even worse.
With Chinese firms the dominant players in the DR Congo’s resources sector, many saw Tshisekedi’s remarks as heralding a showdown with Beijing, just as Kinshasa was drawing closer to Washington.
However, others see the move as more of a negotiating tactic.
Last month, the US agreed to a US$1.6 billion aid package for the DR Congo aimed at reinforcing public institutions, improving access to water and electricity, and promoting small businesses and agriculture.
China has long been criticized for attaching strings to its aid for developing nations.
In the wake of Tshisekedi’s speech, announcements have accelerated since early last month.
In particular, the president ordered a review of the shareholding of state-owned mining company Gecamines in a major copper and cobalt deposit majority owned by Hong Kong-listed China Molybdenum.
A commission is to assess the extent of Tenke Fungurume Mining’s reserves to allow the state to regain a fair share of its rights, the government has said.
Even more dramatically, Tshisekedi called for a review of a 2008 deal under which China secured rights to crucial minerals, including cobalt and copper, in return for building infrastructure.
After years of delays, complaints over poor quality, and environmental and rights issues, it seems that the Congolese government believes the deal has not lived up to its promise.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) has defended the “strategic partnership,” which he said has made it possible to promote “the development of the local mining industry, contribute to the financing of local communities and develop employment.”
However, China’s words appear to hold little sway with Congolese public opinion, which seems increasingly inclined to listen to criticism from on the ground where Chinese firms are operating.
The governor of South Kivu province has suspended the gold mining activities of Chinese companies which, he said, do not respect the rules of the mining code, the environment or human rights.
China’s embassy has vowed to crack down on such abuses.
A documentary accusing China of colonizing the DR Congo has also added to the problem. In the film, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege likens the Chinese’s treatment of local workers to “a form of slavery.”
An uncrewed Chinese spacecraft has acquired imagery data covering all of Mars, including visuals of its south pole, after circling the planet more than 1,300 times since early last year, state media reported yesterday. The Tianwen-1 successfully reached the Red Planet in February last year on the country’s inaugural mission there. A robotic rover has since been deployed on the surface as an orbiter surveyed the planet from space. Among the images taken from space were China’s first photographs of the Martian south pole, where almost all of the planet’s water resources are locked. In 2018, an orbiting probe operated by the European
FEELING THREATENED: The first military commission under Kim Jong-un’s leadership to last longer than a day is a sign of a growing escalatory doctrine, an analyst said North Korea discussed assigning additional duties to its frontline army units at a key military meeting, state media said yesterday, suggesting that the country might deploy battlefield nuclear weapons targeting South Korea along the rivals’ tense border. The discussion comes as South Korean officials said North Korea has finished preparations for its first nuclear test in five years, as part of possible efforts to build a warhead to be mounted on short-range weapons capable of hitting targets in South Korea. During an ongoing meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party on Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and
TRADE TALK: Xiao Qian said that Australia had fired the ‘first shot’ in deteriorating trade relations with China, but improvements were possible if Canberra takes action China’s new ambassador to Australia chided protesters who heckled him yesterday during a speech about the future of relations between the two countries. Xiao Qian (肖千), who has only been in the role since January, had just begun his speech at the University of Technology Sydney when the first protesters interjected, calling for freedom for Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. The ambassador was repeatedly interrupted by sign-wielding protesters, some criticizing China’s treatment of the Uighur people as well as the university for inviting Xiao to speak. “People who are coming again and again to interrupt the process, that’s not expression of freedom of
A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine said it would have been a “crime” not to use his skills to help. Ken Rhee, a former special warfare officer, signed up at the Ukrainian embassy in Seoul the moment Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked for global volunteers and was fighting on the front lines near Kyiv by early March. To get there, he had to break South Korean law — Seoul banned its citizens from traveling to Ukraine, and Rhee, who was injured in a fall while leading a special operations