China deepens Niger Ties

Niger

China deepens ties with Niger.

NIAMEY, Niger — For China, the transition seems smooth.  Just a few months ago, China was widely derided here as the financial backbone propping up an autocratic president, Mamadou Tandja, giving him the confidence to ignore international condemnation as he chopped away at Niger’s democratic institutions.

But now that Mr. Tandja has been overthrown, China appears to be settling into a new role: business partner to the good-government-preaching military officers who ousted Mr. Tandja under the banner of restoring democracy.

“Our diplomatic relations with China were not affected by the coup d’état,” said Mahaman Laouali Dan Dah, a spokesman for the military junta now running the country.

That was plain to see from the front page of the government newspaper this month. China’s ambassador to Niger, Xia Huang, was prominently shown inspecting the bridge that his country is building here in the capital. About 10 days before, Mr. Xia had proclaimed on state television that China’s extensive oil and uranium interests in Niger had not been “disrupted by the events” — the coup — in February, news agencies reported.

Will most western countries would trend carefully after a  military Junta overthrows a government, the Chinese simply don’t care. Neither does the Junta. The Nigeran junta knows who didn’t harshly critique what they were doing “in the name of democracy”.

But the junta does not seem eager to upset the Chinese — “checking doesn’t mean calling into question,” said Col. Abdoulkarim Goukoye, a junta member — and for now China appears to be proceeding confidently, sealing its reputation here as the continent’s behind-the-scenes force, ready to do business regardless of who is in power or whatever outrage exists about it.

But even Mr. Bazoum did not suggest breaking with China now. In a sign of how desperately Niger needs investment — the nation ranks at the very bottom of the United Nations human development index — Mr. Bazoum said he hoped the old deals would be respected, suggesting how quickly the looming backlash against China here has become an embrace.

“They couldn’t care less” who leads the country, Mohamed Bazoum, a former opposition leader recently appointed by the junta to a civilian council, said of China’s investments in Niger. “The Chinese, they were about to destroy democracy. They were playing a very negative role.”

“When the international community turns its back on you, you’ve got to find money somewhere,” said Sanoussi Tambari Jackou, the senior member of Niger’s Parliament. After all, he said, “it’s the West that threw Tandja into the arms of the Chinese.”

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