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90% blogs in Madagascar view China in a negative way

Author:Gregory Veeck, Sokhna H. A. Diop
Source:Eurasian Geography and Economics
Source Date:2012
Publish Date:2012-10-22 22:04:33
Times Read:10849 reads
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Editor's notes: This article is quoted from a part of Professor Gregory Veeck and Sokhna H. A. Diop's paper: Chinese Engagement with Africa:The Case of Madagascar. The paper is originally published on Eurasian Geography and Economics, 2012, 53, No. 3, pp. 400~418)。


Looking for a means to identify underlying sentiments about the growing influx of the Chinese in Madagascar, we decided to monitor French-language "blogs" associated with several of the most popular print and online newspapers. The second author of this article is a native French-speaker and for more than four months, she sought out blog entries related to ethnic Chinese living in Madagascar, Chinese business activities in Madagascar, and Chinese foreign aid. The main sources were the blogs from the Madagascar Tribune (MadagascarTribune.com).7 The editorials or stories from the online version of the Madagascar Tribune were written by many authors. We identified editorials or commentaries by 18 different writers, often with multiple stories over time, in the Tribune. We did not collect traditional news stories, such as reports of official visits, trade agreements, or cultural exchanges. Again, our goal was to "listen" to the blogs to determine how non-Chinese Malagasy citizens view emerging relations with China and the actions and implications of the increasing number of Chinese living in the country.

Generally, Malagasy culture requires very polite behavior with all strangers, extending to face-to-face comments on Chinese actions in Madagascar and on Chinese who live in the country. At the outset, it must be noted that there are clear and growing frictions represented by the blog comments, but no one we met conveyed any direct criticism; harsh words reflect most on the character of the speaker. Simply put, the vast majority of the blogs reflect anger and frustration directed either toward the Chinese government, Chinese businesses, or the "new" (recent arrivals) Chinese residents of Madagascar. While it is very important to point out that our sample again is merely a convenience sample, we made every effort to find as many stories and responses to these stories as we could from these five most popular blog sources, beginning with a rare commentary on "Chinese economic imperialism" published in May 2007, to a final flurry of commentaries or editorials when we completed the exercise in November 2011. In all, we accessed and translated 41 different editorials or commentaries, which collectively elicited at least 331 "blog" responses focused on China's government, Chinese businesses, or the Chinese living in Madagascar. The major concerns expressed can be assigned to eight general topics listed in Table 2, namely (1) concerns about China's growing control of mineral resources and, related to this theme; (2) illegal exports by Chinese firms of precious hardwoods such as rosewood; (3) growing Chinese control of retail and wholesale trade, but also of services such as hotels and restaurants; (4) the growing political influence of China and Chinese companies; (5) social conflicts between Chinese and Malagasy workers and management; (6) the belief that counterfeit/low-quality products are "dumped" into the Madagascar market; (7) furor over land “grabs”/long term arable land contracts by Chinese investors; and (8) some very general charges of Chinese “cultural imperialism.”

There were also some comments that we did not assign to any of the above categories, which were related to pro-Chinese comments, references to general food and culture, and discussions about Chinese martial arts. It is interesting to note, however, that politically active students are often closely associated with the formal and informal clubs that teach forms of Chinese martial arts or exercise such as Wushu and Qigong. Prior to the university-centered protests in 2010 and 2011,8 these clubs and public gatherings of martial arts enthusiasts were banned by the government. No matter how they might be classified, “pro-Chinese comments” accounted for less that 10 of the 331 translated blogs.

It is clear that concerns about undue political influence and “backroom” deals elicit the greatest number of blogs (n = 137), but this is followed closely by categories two and three. Illegal or ecologically unsound natural resource use, exports, and related environmental concerns, when combined, result in 96 blog comments. The next most prevalent type of comment includes worries about social conflicts between Chinese and Malagasy and what might be called accusations of cultural insensitivity. Examples include an oft-cited (even three years later) event at a sugar mill where a Chinese manager kicked over the pot in which workers were cooking their lunch, which was taking too long, and the slapping of a young Malagasy woman employee by her manager. These are hardly momentous events in a factory in China where workers have few rights, but very inflammatory in contemporary Madagascar. The factory manager was deported, and compensation paid, but unfortunately these two events have come to represent Sino-Malagasy intercultural relations “on the ground.”

The next two sets of complaints are common for all nations exporting a significant number of goods, namely about charges of illegal trading practices, and sales of “fake” or shoddy products. The next category, associated with Chinese long-term rental agreements for arable land, are more often reported in the mainstream Malagasy press, but many comments we assigned to the first group related to political influence could have also been assigned to this category.10 Despite the limited number of exclusive blogs on this topic, land rents appear to be a fairly important source of discord.

There is something akin to David and Goliath in most of these commentaries for all of the above groups. While some point out that Madagascar has benefitted from many of the economic and political exchanges—really the constant party line of the acting government formed after a government reorganization in 2011— it must be recognized that many Malagasy are very concerned about the negative effects of greater Chinese involvement in their nation. Correct or not, the blogs consistently share thoughts related to a Madagascar that is being overwhelmed by the Chinese economically, outmaneuvered diplomatically, and potentially no longer capable of self-realization if the Chinese continue to invest and immigrate to the island as they have in the past decade. At the least, this represents the tone of the blogs. As noted earlier, this is rather unfortunate for Madagascar has been the recipient of many Chinese government-led humanitarian efforts that appear to be lost on people who are often agitated as they formulate their comments online. The sentiments reflected in our convenience sample of blog postings appear to be writings of people who are clearly agitated and anxious as they write, which may explain some of the vitriol in their comments.

To read the original paper on Eurasian Geography and Economics

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