Xinhua sees “great potential in Sino-Africa non-governmental cooperation”

December 2, 2009

According to a Xinhua report dated 14 October, which has only now been circulated on International Rivers’ mailing list, a “China-Africa NGO seminar” has been organised within the FOCAC framework, to which “20 persons in charge of NGOs and ambassadors from eight African countries and more than ten Chinese NGOs” had been invited. (According to People’s Daily, only diplomats from Ethiopia and Sudan actually attended, but there were officials from NGO councils of Botswana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia.)

The non-governmental communication is expected to be an important part of the Sino-African relations, and contribute to building the strategic partnership between the two sides, said Li Jinjun 李进军 [“Li March-in-the troops”], secretary-general of China NGO network for International Exchanges (CNIE), the organizer of the seminar.

The event confirms the shift towards greater social engagement in China’s African activities (whether cosmetic or substantive) that several authors — such as Chris Alden — have commented on. A number of international NGOs, such as Oxfam, have been banking on the strategy of bringing NGOs from China and the investment recipient countries together with the idea of sharing the latters’ concerns with the former.  The prominent liberal economist Qin Hui has similarly expressed hope that Chinese civil activists might learn from their counterparts in Africa and Southeast Asia, and press Chinese companies to operate more responsibly at home as well as abroad.

This was not quite the idea of the organisers of this seminar, though. On the contrary,

“I found the African NGOs have a strong will to learn from China,” said Jiang Bo, secretary-general of China Education Association for International Exchanges.

His view was echoed by Ntobeko Melvin Gotyana, president of South Africa National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO). (…)

Peter Oloishura Nkuraiyia, executive director of NGO Co-ordination Board of Kenya, said that both Kenya and China are developing countries and China is more developed so that Kenya NGOs would like to learn from China from many aspects, especially on how to regulate the funds and how to seek help from the governments.

A book named Africa NGOs Studies and Sino-African Relations [非洲非政府组织与中非关系] was launched at the seminar. The book was written by experts of Zhejiang Normal University [沈蓓莉  and 刘鸿武, apparently CNIE staff] as a result of a project launched by the Chinese government.

These individuals sound like important people within Africa’s NGO circles. I wonder whether this account does reflect the sentiments of African NGOs, which have so far been largely negative on the Chinese presence (if one is to go by Western reports, that is). I am also very curious about this new publication.

Yet another China in Africa book

September 4, 2009

Oh no… Amsterdam University Press has published yet another China in Africa book, The New Presence of China in Africa. The book is being launched at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Hague at 4 pm on 16 September.

According to the blurb, the book concludes

that China is in Africa for its own interests: selling Chinese products, assuring its supply of oil and other raw materials and enhancing its status as superpower. Interesting enough, most Africans appreciate China’s presence which they consider to be additional and an alternative for their dependency on Europa and the US.


I hope this really is the last book with this kind of title.

China in Latin America book out

July 18, 2009

Finally, after a dozen China in Africas, here is a China in Latin America, written by R. Evan Ellis. His post as “professor at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies” made me wary, but, even though the book is based on the usual combination of newspaper accounts and interviews, it is in fact good. It has a wealth of country-by-country information that is exceedingly difficult to obtain elsewhere (unlike the now-considerable overlap of sources about Africa), which includes very useful brief descriptions of Chinese immigration and everything else you would expect (from trade and infrastructural projects to military cooperation and what he calls “intellectual infrastructure,” which includes the teaching of Chinese). One shortcoming here is that there is no separate discussion of development aid, even though Ellis does mention low-interest loans.

The book really does fill a gap. For instance, I have long known about the large and new Fujianese immigration to Argentina and the fact that these migrants run a lot of groceries, and have wanted to know whether this group has anything to do with infrastructure investments from China. Ellis tells me that it does not, yet. He also confirms that although Brazil has the largest number of Chinese, Chinese megaprojects here have been relatively insignficant (partly because of a lack of excitement about Chinese loans and labour) and there is no rush on the Chinese language, unlike in Chile (though this section is made less reliable by the fact that Ellis uses only Spanish and English sources, no Portuguese ones). His data in some cases go up to December 2008, so that he is already able to account for some of the effects of the recession. As of that date, it appears that the ambitious transcontinental rail and road projects in which Chinese companies and banks have been mooted as investors and contractors have not yet taken off.

The book is not led by a preconception of what China is doing in Latin America — perhaps because it is not so easy to have such preconceptions, unlike in Africa. This makes the continent all the more interesting as a case study. Indeed, Ellis details how the resource-shopping of Chinese mining and metallurgy companies in South America often takes the form of joint ventures that are not unidirectional; thus, Chilean-Chinese and Chilean-Brazilian joint ventures have announced plans to open smelters and fertilizer plants in China, a Brazilian company owns Chinese nickel mines, and a Chilean wine makers has invested in wine production in Xinjiang. While nearly all current South American administrations are keen on contacts with China, this has not prevented them from taking measures such as Chile’s ban on Chinese fishing vessels using port facilities as retaliation for what they say is Chinese overfishing of the sea outside Chile’s territorial waters.

Ellis also notes that despite all the attention of China’s “strategic partnership” with Venezuela and its warm welcome by leftist Andean presidents, Chinese investors, like all others, prize political stability, transparency, and developed infrastructure. This means that they have been far keener to provide loans to Chile, Argentina and Brazil than, say, Venezuela. Like in Africa, Chinese companies (and presumably politicians) are keen to leverage their comparative advantage in unstable places shunned by Western investors (or where Western investors are unwelcome), but they are equally intent to enter larger, stabler countries and play by the rules if they have to.

New China in Africa book launch

May 15, 2009

Less than three months after the  last China-in-Africa book launch, Washington, D.C., is hosting another, this one at the Jamestown Foundation. This China in Africa, released  last December, is edited by the respected China historian Arthur Waldron,  and the launch event features other well-known participants who are new to this debate, including the veteran Hong Kong journalist Willy Lam, the political scientists Edward Friedman and Yitzhak Shichor, two U.S. military analysts, and the keynote speaker, Victor Gao, Director of the China National Association of International Studies and former vice president at the China National Oil Corporation (interesting combination!)

VU student’s critical book on development aid in Cambodia

March 2, 2009

In her new book, somewhat mysteriously titled Swimming in a New Aquarium, Gea Wijders, a PhD student at the Culture, Organisation and Management department of the VU and until recently an advisor to Cambodia’s Ministry of the Environment, concludes that Western development aid to the country has failed. More generally, it is a critique of the idea of “doing good” in a “different culture” (or a new aquarium, in her metaphor). Gea is now engaged in a project looking at the role of Cambodian returnee migrants, most of them Sino-Khmer. I am looking forward to discussions with her about China’s position in the process.

A review of China Returns to Africa

February 12, 2009

In the last three years, I reckon there have been at least half a dozen publications with titles like this. Still, China Returns to Africa (Chris Alden, Daniel Large and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, eds.; Columbia University Press, 2008) somehow marks a new stage in the academic preoccupation with the topic: it has been published by a major university press and its chapters are of a more even quality than those of previous similar collections (Chris Alden’s small but very well written singly authored book China in Africa is another matter). This book focuses on analysis, not on uncovering yet more empirical evidence of China’s presence in Africa. At the same time, it continues to reflect a relative paucity of ethnographic studies to date: of the 19 chapters, only four can be said to be ethnographic, those on Chinese shopkeepers in Namibia (by Gregor Dobler) and Cape Verde (by Joergen Carling and Heidi Oestboe Haugen), Chinese doctors in Tanzania (by Elizabeth Hsu) and on Tanzanian workers’ memories of building the Tazara railway in the ’70s (by Jamie Monson).  Although these chapters are based on earlier research,  the follow-up is interesting: in Cape Verde, locals are still enthusiastic about the Chinese, whom more consider to be contributing to development than Europeans; but in Namibia, where Dobler earlier reported positive attitudes, anti-Chinese sentiments are on the rise despite (or perhaps because) restrictive immigration measures. It is noteworthy, too, that none of these ethnographies concern today’s large infrastructure and agriculture projects.

The editors note that since the “China in Africa” craze began a couple of years ago, China’s Africa policy has already shifted:

It moved beyond its primary focus on resource acquisition into areas like financial services and an expansion of acticity related to agriculture. It attempted to build islands of Chinese investment in the form of Economic Cooperation Zones in selected African countries; and it modified its conventional investment packages to include greater emphasis on social and community outreach (22).

Inevitably considering the length of the production process, this book does not yet reflect these shifts, which clearly present an even greater need for ethnography.

I found several of the chapters on politics interesting, for example the one by Ana Cristina Alves on China’s use of Macau and its membership in an organisation of Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries to further its diplomacy in Africa or Roland Marchal’s on the French view of Chinese-African relations. But I think the book’s most important achievement is that it drives home forcefully the kind of nuanced perspective that its editors have represented. Soares de Oliveira argues, for example, that the appearance of Chinese oil industry is likely to have detrimental effects for Africa, but that this is because of the track record of oil industry in Africa rather than because of China’s specificity. Christopher Clapham, too, cautions against exaggerating the exceptionalism of China, pointing out that many African leaders are so happy to welcome Chinese investment not because of a new model it provides, but precisely because “it fits so neatly into the familiar patterns of rentier statehood,”  in the same way as support from European patrons did in the recent past.

Chris Alden’s and Cristopher Clapham’s concluding, conceptual chapters are among the strongest in the book. Alden discusses the “possibility of Chinese imperialism” and concludes that this might arise if, in the future, Chinese involvement moves “away from seeking … spheres of influence based essentially on trade to the need to capture markets … by gaining territorial control,” as evidenced by the planned five Special Economic Zones (of which the one in Zambia has been completed and the ones in Mauritius and Benin are due to open soon). However, he  points out that in the case of Western imperialism, “one of the overriding arguments for territorial control” has been the presence of “salvation merchants'”, an impulse that is lacking from China today (as JJ argued in the previous post). I think that Alden may be underestimating the discursive power of the Chinese civilizing mission, as well as the popularity (on the Chinese Internet, at least) of calls to copy current or former Western practices such as backing the presence of state enterprises by a military presence. Alden’s chapter, “Africa without Europeans,” concludes with the perhaps premature but gripping observation  that the ascent of the “Pacific century” can be best seen in the Asia–Africa relationship, where

a ‘brave new world’ is emerging in which Europe and the United States are merely bystanders. This impotence is felt perhaps most acutely by Western NGOs, in some ways the contemporary version of imperialism’s salvation merchants, for whom the loss of influence over African lives is deeply troubling.

Unfortunately, the “Chinese” contribution to the volume, by He Wenping of the CASS Institute for African and West Asian Studies, remains in the time-honoured position of “the native informant,” presenting as it does “the Chinese perspective”. Nonetheless, if one is to believe those who claim that her institute plays a growing if modest role in the formulation of government policy, it is noteworthy that she calls for the promulgation of a Law on Overseas Investment with appropriate social and environmental guidelines. This would fit into the current trend, though whether it will actually make a difference is not certain. He also argues for a greater involvement of private Chinese enterprises in aid projects.

Upcoming China-Africa events

February 4, 2009

Tomorrow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, there will be a discussion marking the launch of the new, imaginatively titled book China into Africa (Brookings Institution Press). Note the radical departure from China in Africa, which is what all previous volumes have been called! The website says that the event is booked out.

Meanwhile the Africa Asia Centre at SOAS in London is putting up a whole seminar series on the subject. In case anyone is reading us in England, here is the programme (courtesy of Alicia Altorfer-Ong): 

‘Waltz with Bashir: China, Darfur and the International Criminal Court’
Sharath Srinivasan (University of Oxford)
2 February, Room B111, 6pm, SOAS

‘China’s exceptionalism in Africa: the challenges of delivering difference’
Chris Alden (LSE) and Daniel Large (Africa Asia Centre)
16 February, Room B111, 6pm, SOAS

 ‘’The Tenuous Hold of China in Africa: China’s Principal-Agent Dilemma in Africa’
Dr. James Reilly (University of Oxford)
24 February, Room 102, 21-22 Russell Square, 5-7pm.

‘A Just Peace or just peace? Peace-building and rule of law promotion in Africa’
Speakers: Oliver Richmond (University of St. Andrews), Stephen Brown (University of Ottawa), Olga Martin-Ortega and Johanna Herman (University of East London), and Sarah Maguire (independent rule of law expert). Chair: Professor Chandra Lekha Sriram (Chair in Human Rights and Director of the Centre on Human Rights in Conflict, University of East London)
2 March, Room 116, 6-8 pm.

‘Chinese medical teams and a short lived-Chinese medical practice on Pemba, Tanzania: anthropological investigations’
Dr Elisabeth Hsu (University of Oxford)
10 March, Room 116, 5-7 SOAS

‘Learning and change in China’s Africa Policy: the case of Angola’
Ana Cristina Alves (LSE)
19 March, Room 116, SOAS, 6 pm.

“From Post-Washington to Beijing consensus in Africa? Aid, economic policies and policy space.”
Carlos Oya (SOAS)
28 April, Room 116, 5-7pm

New China in Africa book

December 20, 2008

The Jamestown Foundation has just announced the release of the latest in a growing series of books entitled China in Africa. This one is edited by Arthur Waldron and seems mainly to contain writings by international relations specialists.