The Chinese Are Coming Review: Opportunities, Accusations And Inflatable Chickens…

THE CHINESE ARE COMING: Tuesday February 8th, BBC2, 9pm

“It seems that ‘supposedly communist’ China is bringing capitalism to Africa on a huge scaleâ€? says Justin Rowlatt in tonight’s The Chinese Are Coming, a two part documentary investigating China’s ever increasing industry and their bid to replace America as our cultural overlords.

Tonight’s first part concentrates on the nation’s modern day empire building in Africa (China’s trade in the continent has increased tenfold in the last decade – last year it was valued at over $100 billion.) The programme sees Rowlatt travel across the continent to discover just how the economic powerhouse is dominating African industry, in everything from large scale government agreements (in return for oil, China provides Angola with billions of dollars of loans and cheap finance), to entrepreneurs who have moved thousands of miles to set up businesses in Africa.

Although the programme synopsis intends to ask what the world will be like “if China overtakes America as the world’s economic superpowerâ€? (surely it’s now ‘when’ and not ‘if’?!) certainly tonight’s episode seems more concerned with asking if such trade is helping or hindering the people there.

Rowlatt embarks on a journey across Southern Africa to discover this, and comes across the positive outcomes (Chinese-built railway lines which boost trade and job opportunities), as well as accusations of exploitation of African workers and of the Chinese turning a blind eye to morals in favour of profit (a Zimbabwean who has fled the regime of Mugabe says that China in refusing to condemn the dictator, “is making life easy for Mugabe to continue abusing human rightsâ€?).

Observing the competition in Zambia between local and Chinese farmers, Rowlatt meets a Zambian farmer who – discouraged by a lack of profit since the Chinese became his main competition – insists that the Chinese chickens are fed something to make their flesh inflate. Rowlatt laughs as he says, “you’re telling me the Chinese are selling inflatable chickens?â€? Carrying out a ‘taste test’, he admits the Zambian chicken is more tender, but tactfully suggests that perhaps the farmer didn’t fairly pick out the nicest Chinese chicken…

In parts, Rowlatt comes across like an overly keen observer, from the obligatory – but stiffly unconvincing and very emphasised “awwwâ€? when he asks a Chinese wife over a web chat if she misses her construction worker husband (who has been working – and sending money – from Africa for two years), to his genuine joy at feeding a baby elephant orphaned by the Chinese dominated poacher trade.

In other parts, there are genuine attempts at investigative journalism, including Rowlatt confronting the daughter of a Chinese owner of a plant that has received employee abuse allegations. Despite Rowlatt’s insistence, the owner refuses to speak and the cameras are pushed out in a reminder that not everyone is quite so keen to openly discuss the work they are doing. The Chinese Are Coming raises some interesting points and explores both sides of the coin, in its consideration of Chinese migration to Africa. Although the Chinese state is “sensitive about how its increasing involvement is perceivedâ€?, one thing that Rowlett is sure of, is that its presence in Africa is ‘here to stay’.