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China’s selfless quid pro quo 28, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China.
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Chinese President Hu Jintao is currently entertaining a Nigerian delegation in Beijing.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, cooperation and help was promised in the fields of energy, telecommunications,  agriculture, and manufacturing. Yet more unsurprisingly, the Nigerian delegation maintained that they were “sticking to the one-China policy, and support[ed] China’s peaceful reunification process.” And just in case anyone has any nefarious or cynical ideas as to why China are engaging with Nigeria, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier told the Nigerians that “China’s assistance to Africa was purely selfless, and only aimed to help Africa accelerate its independence.” The Chinese: such humanitarians.

Altruism in the Gulf? 28, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Middle East.
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A recent Economist article entitled “Cash is going to the poor, too” did its best to combat the idea that all Gulf money is spent on are tall buildings, taller hotels, massive middle class housing developments, gargantuan malls, indoor skiing pistes, and the creation of artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree or indeed, the world. The article started off reasonably enough, much the same way that I have: reminding the reader of the largess of the Gulf countries and the glitzy projects that they have engaged in in recent years. It then went on to the iconoclastic element of the article, the ‘you thought this, but actually…’ part, but – alas – it just didn’t make it.

When it said that Gulf money was going to the poor, I suppose that it was technically true. They correctly quote a number of stories where Gulf money did indeed end up in the poorer countries of the Middle East and beyond. Mauritania and Bangladesh were just two of such countries mentioned. However, as with all the examples given in the article, Gulf money didn’t go there for altruistic reasons: they were simply business investments. Needless to say, these examples are a good start and I am sure that Mauritania does not care as to the particular motives of any investment: all is welcome. However, this was not, as I read the article, the tone that the author was trying to convey. By the title alone if nothing else, surely the author was trying to infer the emergence of an altruistic, kind and benevolent type behaviour in the Gulf countries?

Perhaps I am being too harsh (though I doubt it). I am still troubled by an article I read in the Kuwait Times a couple of years ago at the very height of the oil boom when Kuwait’s coffers were bursting at the seams. There was an op-ed in the paper by an MP saying that Kuwait’s largess must not be used to fund development projects or simply used to give aid to poorer countries abroad, but used to wipe out (more) of the Kuwaiti’s personal debt. If anyone knows much about Kuwait, they will already know that Kuwaitis pay no taxes, receive significant amounts of money just for being Kuwaiti, receive even more money for having Kuwaiti children, when married are given plots of land or money to buy a house, are guaranteed a job in ‘a ministry’, pay next to no utility bills, and whose personal loans are periodically forgiven so that they may go out buy the latest model of Humvee. To be Kuwaiti is to be rich. Very rich. They did not need, in my opinion (and that of many Kuwaitis that I talked to), more debt relief at the expense of aid to the third world.

For sure, in recent years many of the richer countries in the Gulf and beyond have escalated their aid contributions. This is, however, often offered with religious strings, but, in many ways, that is exactly the way that Western countries have been operating for years now, and after all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.