Smith hearing exposes China’s exploitation of children in Africa to fuel its own economic and global agenda
Calls out Biden Administration for failure to curb China’s global ambitions and show real interest in strategic importance of Africa
At a human rights hearing this week, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) exposed the Chinese Communist Party for its egregious exploitation of children in Africa—especially the labor trafficking of more than 40,000 children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—to mine cobalt, lithium and various rare earth minerals in order to control this critical part of the global supply chain.
“On the backs of trafficked workers and child laborers, China exploits the vast cobalt resources of the DRC to fuel its economy and global agenda,” said Rep. Smith, who chaired the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) hearing on Thursday entitled “Child Labor and Human Rights Violations in the Mining Industry of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
“The Chinese Communist Party’s quest for cobalt for batteries and lithium for solar panels to power the so-called Green Economy motivates human rapacity as an estimated 40,000 children in Congo toil in non-regulated artisanal mines under hazardous conditions,” said Smith, who also serves as the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa.
The TLHRC hearing featured compelling testimony from Fr. Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, a Catholic priest from the DRC who has helped lead efforts to expose China’s horrific human rights abuses across the country—which produces over 70 percent of the world’s cobalt—as well as Hervé Diakiese Kyungu, a prominent Congolese civil rights attorney who previously represented child soldier victims before the International Criminal Court.
“According to studies, ‘more than 90% of the DRC’s artisanal gold is reported to be informally or illegally mined and between 95% and 98% is estimated to be smuggled out of the country through the eastern neighboring states,’” said Minani, who helped publish a new report on child labor and human rights violations in the DRC’s mining sector.
“The number of artisanal and small-scale mining sites from the Ituri region to Lake Tanganyika is estimated to be 1,000 and the number of artisanal miners to be 200,000 people, among them thousands of children and pregnant women,” Minani said.
Diakiese affirmed the use of child labor, including at the Kasulo deposit—which is owned by Chinese company Dongfang Congo Mining—and noted China’s “new way of colonization,” which uses some very ugly old ways to enforce control at the Chinese COMMUS concession: “Two persons identified as Chinese citizen[s]… instructed two Congolese military officers to whip two Congolese who were found on their site.”
Smith said the artisanal mines “are often no more than narrow shafts dug into the ground, which is why children are recruited—and in many cases forced—to descend into them, using only their hands or rudimentary tools without any protective equipment, to extract cobalt and other minerals.”
“Yet at this critical time, as China and Russia spread their malign influence, the United States’ presence is strangely muted in the region,” said Smith, who called out recent U.S. policies, including and especially those under the Biden Administration, for failing to show a real interest in either the strategic importance or humanitarian needs of Africa.
Also offering expert testimony at the hearing was Eric Shultz, Former U.S. Ambassador to Zambia, who noted that “China uses the same approach in every African country: fueling authoritarianism, corruption, and economic inefficiency.”
“We are in a very real sense at war with China in Africa—and Russia too for that matter. Or rather they are at war with us,” Shultz said. “And Africa is too important, I believe, for the U.S. to not fight back.”
Another expert witness testifying at the hearing, Sasha Lehznev from the Sentry, noted that in any such fight, the U.S. does retain leverage: “[T]here are only about 75 major cobalt smelters worldwide… Although Chinese companies are attempting to break off as an independent group, the reality is that U.S. automotive and electronic companies still have significant leverage on the supply chain.”
Ida Sawyer from Human Rights Watch rounded out the panel, focusing on political instability in the eastern DRC fueled by outside actors such as Rwanda and the need to ensure electoral integrity before the next presidential election, slated to occur in 2023.
PHOTO: Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, meets with hearing witness Hervé Diakiese Kyungu, a prominent Congolese civil rights attorney who offered compelling testimony on China's use of child labor in Africa at Smith’s hearing entitled “Child Labor and Human Rights Violations in the Mining Industry of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”