A backlash against Chinese investment in Africa took place in Algiers earlier this week. A dispute between migrant Chinese workers and locals over parking in the city’s ‘Chinatown’ turned ugly with about 100 people involved in a street brawl. Ten Chinese were reported injured and five Chinese-owned shops were looted. It was an outbreak of resentment waiting to happen. Algeria has a high unemployment rate — seven in ten adults under 30 are jobless — while China has sent thousands of laborers to work on construction and other projects it is funding. Some 50,000 Chinese are now resident in Algeria.
This is not the first such incident on the continent. We have heard of others in Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia. When President Hu Jintao visited Zambia a couple of years back, we remember, he was greeted by protesting workers from a Chinese-owned textile mill and a mine. There are an estimated 750,000 to 1 million Chinese migrants now working in Africa, and rising as Beijing expands its economic ties to Africa. That would make them among Africa’s biggest foreign communities. Making matters worse, many are doing low-end manual jobs for lower wages than locals and they tend to be concentrated in self-contained communities in downtown areas of African cities where local unemployment is usually high.
Though Xinhua has played down the Algiers fight as an isolated incident, dealing with this social aspect of strengthening economic ties with Africa is becoming an increasing worry for Beijing. It has has also warned its citizens in Muslim African countries to be prepared for possible attacks by al-Qaeda’s North African wing in retribution for the crackdown on the Muslim minority Uighurs in Xinjiang. Xinhua reported that one Chinese worker from China State Engineering Corp. was killed and seven injured in a car bombing of UN refugee agency Algiers the day after the street brawl, though there is no indication that they were specific targets.