Given how much we are hearing about China, I find these two chapters giving me a different perspective on what "Made in China" really means for humanity...smh
... The chief of the border post let out another long sigh. “On attend.” The wait had already lasted hours. Not for the first time I was at the mercy of a temperamental fax machine. I was trying to cross the Nigerian border with its northern neighbor, Niger, where the official language changes from English to French. Someone in the visa section of Niger’s embassy in Nigeria had neglected to send some document or other to headquarters to authorize my visa, and faxing it over was proving complicated. I sat on the stoop of the border post, looking out over the scorched terrain that leads up to the Sahara. Goats, the hungry and the maimed shuffled between breezeblock structures, lashed by the swirling dust. Periodically the chief of the border post would make a call on his mobile phone to check whether I should be allowed to pass. Then he would resume his contemplative silence, speaking only to bemoan “this interminable heat.” The sun was melting the horizon to a shimmer. “On attend.”
Whiling away the morning beside the taciturn border chief offered me an opportunity to observe one of the few effective institutions in this part of the world: the smuggling racket.1 Dozens of trucks were queuing to cross from Niger into Nigeria. Their contents seemed harmless enough: many contained textiles and clothing bound for the markets of Kano and Kaduna, northern Nigeria’s two main cities.
Weapons and unwilling human traffic cross Nigeria’s northern border covertly. But the flow of counterfeit Chinese-made textiles has grown so voluminous that it would be impossible to keep it secret even if secrecy were required to ensure its safe passage. All the same, most of the shipments go through under cover of darkness. Those who control the trade engage in highly organized “settling,” or bribing, of the border officials, smoothing the textiles’ transit.....
...When the Chinese caravan embarked for Africa, one ambitious but obscure man in his mid-forties had amassed enough guanxi to hitch a ride.
Sam Pa has many names and many pasts. According to the US Treasury, which would put seven of his names on a sanctions list fifty-six years later, he was born on February 28, 1958.2 There is no authoritative version of Pa’s life, only fragments, some of them conflicting, many unverified. Some accounts place his birth in Guangdong, the Chinese province that abuts the South China Sea, possibly in the port city of Shantou. When he was still young his family relocated to Hong Kong, a short move but one that crossed the frontier between Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China and one of the last outposts of the British empire.
From his start in Hong Kong, Pa traveled far and wide. Today he holds dual, possibly triple citizenship: Chinese and Angolan, as well as, according to the US Treasury, and perhaps on account of his roots in Hong Kong, British.3 He speaks English and, one of his business associates told me, Russian. He is a compact man, short with a middling build. His cheeks are rounded, his black hair is receding, and his chin and upper lip are occasionally decorated with a goatee beard. The fixed gaze of his eyes through rectangular spectacles and the thin smile he wears in photographs hint at steel within. He has an explosive temper but can be charming. “He’s a very serious and intense individual at times,” said Mahmoud Thiam, who met Pa as minister of mines in the west African state of Guinea.4 “He has a very ideological view about the role China should play in the world. But he can joke and be personable.”
Hong Kong company records from the mid-1990s show Pa with a Beijing address as a director of a company called Berlin Limited, which had some Panamanian shareholders. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Pa and his companies were repeatedly sued over unpaid debts.5 Another company filing describes him as a commercial engineer. But Sam Pa was more than just a businessman trying to make his way—he was also a spy.