One of the latest additions to the China-Africa literature is Sarah Raine’s China’s African Challenges, which was published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies last year. Although it breaks no new ground — it would be difficult to do so with the sudden explosion of books on the subject — it is a good, balanced book, and it is novel in that it focuses on the Chinese state actors involved in the China game. Ultimately, like Qin Hui, Raine is more interested in how this engagement might affect China and its government structures than in how it is affecting Africa. She points out the diversity and internal conflicts of the various Chinese actors on the continent, but warns against falling into the other extreme and denying all ability of the Chinese state to act as a concerted entity.
Raine also gives one of the best assessments so far of the various criticisms leveled at Chinese investment in Africa, examining themone by one by one and in a number of cases adding information that was new to me. The section “Facing the Challenges Ahead” (pp. 129-137) is a cogent attempt to speculate on how larger and smaller Chinese businesses will react to the changing environment, which includes the central Chinese government’s increasing promotion of “corporate social responsibility”. She warns that it is hard to predict whether “competition with other resource-hungry powers [will] encourage more — or less — responsible engagement,” and that attempts to enforce better practices may easily unravel under the pressure of economic exigencies, as they periodically do in China. “The challenge for China,” she notes further, will be … to regulate more tightly its companies’ activities in some instances, while also learning to relinquish control” in others (p. 137). She argues that garnering more popular support in Africa would make it easier for Chinese investments to cope with the likely wave of discontent in the case of an economic downturn, and suggests that the Chinese government should begin talking to NGOs (this has since taken place, as in International Rivers’ invitation to assess Sinohydro’s environmental policy or the lopsided NGO summit that I have written about earlier).