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China bemoans its people’s behavior in Africa—including undergarment ivory smuggling

China is a major economic presence in Africa, injecting billions of dollars in trade and economic assistance to build out the continent’s infrastructure, but that doesn’t mean that Chinese companies are always on their best behavior. According to Lu Youqing, China’s ambassador to Tanzania, Chinese businesses are constantly causing problems as they fight over contracts and try to bribe local official.

“Our people just cannot shake their bad habits,” Lu said, in an interview (link in Chinese) with the Chinese paper Southern Metropolis News yesterday. “Tanzania hosts ambassadors from about 70 countries, but none of them needs to constantly worry like us about consular protection issues,” Lu added.

China’s growing investment and business ties with African countries has long been a subject of criticism among observers within and outside of Africa. Recently, Chinese leaders have also taken to admitting to problems while describing them as just “growing pains” in Sino-African relations. But rarely have officials been as frank as Lu, especially regarding one of China’s oldest African allies and top foreign investment destinations.

Lu complained about Chinese nationals attempting to smuggle ivory out of Tanzania, one of the world’s main ports for smuggling the banned animal product—hiding the illegal commodity under the hoods of their cars or even inside their undergarments. China is the world’s top destination (pdf, p. 30) for illicit ivory, according to the United Nations, and the thousands of Chinese nationals working in Tanzania have only exacerbated the illegal trade.

These problems don’t appear to have impacted ties too much. After Chinese firms plowed $2.5 billion into Tanzania last year, China has become Tanzania’s largest foreign investor, and Tanzania is currently pushing for ways to attract more Chinese tourists.

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