In his May article on China’s growing investment and influence in Africa (“The Next Empire?”), Howard W. French does a good job of presenting the expanding role of China in the region. However, he makes only passing reference to the Chinese government’s proxy oil companies, CNPC/PetroChina and Sinopec. These companies are recognized as critical enablers of the Sudanese government’s war against its people in Darfur, which is all the more infamous when properly labeled as the 21st century’s first genocide. Only when investors, Africa, and the rest of the international community hold China and its companies to at least minimal human-rights standards will China begin to play a positive role on that continent.
William Rosenfeld Investors Against Genocide
Howard W. French replies:
I am as sensitive as anyone to the prospect of China or its state companies conducting business in Africa with no regard for democracy, human rights, or the environment. It was my 2004 interview with China’s then–deputy foreign minister, Zhou Wenzhong, that produced the famous quote that defines his country’s approach to Africa: “Business is business,” he told me.
That said, the label of “genocide” that William Rosenfeld applies to the violence in Sudan is debatable. I believe that when the United States and Europe, who themselves have much to answer for in this matter, promulgate and consistently observe at least minimal human-rights and anti-corruption standards in their dealings with Africa, they will stand a much better chance of obtaining China’s cooperation.
Meanwhile, China has no political control of any African country, certainly none direct. Indirect influence, however, is often wielded powerfully by an economic superior. Not so long ago, this was fashionably known as neo-colonialism.
The days of making millions by recording music are over (“The Freeloaders,” May Atlantic), and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Megan McArdle alludes to the idea that all we’ll be left with is a large inventory of substandard music. It may seem that way, but only because we’ve become accustomed to the highly polished, watered-down, mainstream music that has been pumped out by major record labels for the past 40 years.
I think that what we’re seeing now is music in its purest, rawest form, by actual musicians who aren’t influenced by the potential to make millions. This is not bad music, or substandard music, it’s just different from what we’ve been used to hearing; it’s what was there all along before it became bastardized by the record labels. The industry doesn’t need to change—there’s more good music being made now than ever before—we just need more ways to filter, discover, and share all the small unknowns out there.
As Megan McArdle notes, it is the abstract nature of digitized intellectual property that makes this debate so confused and confusing. Freeloaders trick themselves into thinking there’s nothing wrong with their actions, simply because they “feel okay.” But if consumers of the digital era eschew their responsibilities and refuse to pay for content, our culture will become more and more beholden to broad corporate branding and sponsorship. Music will no longer be made for fans; it will increasingly be marketed for use in bank commercials. Freeloaders who claim an anti-corporate posture are actually building a future in which desperate artists accept corporate patronage, and this is the tragic irony of the debate.