The Roles of Aid in Politics Putting China in Perspective



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Muekalia, Domingos Jardo (2004), “Africa and China’s Strategic Partnership,” African Security Review 13, 1 : 5–11.

While the practical implementation of this programme is an open question, there is no doubt that it represents a forward-looking, bold and comprehensive initiative inspired by a long-term strategic vision. The events following 9/11 have certainly affected the momentum of this initiative. However, the trade volume has increased and the foundation for this co-operation has solidified. The second China-Africa Forum conference took place in Addis Ababa from 15–17 December 2003. The conference reviewed the implementation of the two documents adopted at the first meeting and explored new initiatives and measures to move forward. Premier Wen delivered a speech at the opening ceremony making a positive assessment of the past three years. He pointed out that two-way trade had increased by 20%, 117 new China-invested enterprises were up and running in Africa, 7,000 African personnel were trained in a wide variety of professions, and that bilateral cooperation in energy development and high-tech was getting off the ground. Premier Wen went on to say that the people of the world share aspirations for peace, stability and development, but “hegemonism is raising its ugly head”.12

China’s geopolitical benefits from this cooperation include the affirmation of the One China Policy, increased support for its world vision of multi-polarity and the ability to compete for markets, alternative energy sources and strategic space against equally increasing US engagement. By positioning itself at the helm of a coalition of African developing countries China will leverage its position on the UN Security Council and improve its bargaining power in other international institutions. The constant references to the need to create a new, equitable political and economic order reflect China’s competitive instinct against the US in the international arena.

As far as energy is concerned China, according to the CSIS report, is expected to depend on imports for 45% of its oil consumption in 2010. To cope with this growing demand it needs to secure such sources, and the volatility of the Middle East security situation increases Africa’s importance in this regard. In addition, “China is poor in natural resources and raw materials are well-abundant in Africa”.13

China’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Li Zhaoxing, announced on 28 September 2002 that “China will make agricultural co-operation with Africa a key area of co-operation in the coming years”.14 There is no doubt that Chinese technologies in this field will help increase productivity in Africa, reduce hunger and create jobs. However, for China this is not a mere commercial venture. According to China Development Gateway, “many Chinese officials and farmers thought of investing in Africa when they consider ways to cope with the challenges brought by the WTO entry”.15 Government sponsored seminars have been held in different provinces of China to brief farmers about conditions in Africa and related government incentive policies for investment. In addition, factories, roads, warehouses and the modernization of transportation take up land.

Rapid industrialisation is already taking a toll, as grain area has dropped from 90.8 million hectares in 1990 to an estimated 85.7 million hectares in 1994. This annual drop of 1.4% is likely to endure as long as rapid economic growth continues.16

This loss of cropland against the unavoidable population growth means that China will have to rely heavily on grain imports in the future. China’s current grain yield per hectare is already considered quite high by international standards, ruling out its increase.

As China pursues its global strategy, Chinese military leaders are likely to increase relations with their counterparts on the continent. As reported by China Information Centre in late 2000:

To express the common aspirations of the China and African peoples for peace, the marine fleet of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) paid a friendly visit to Tanzania on 28–29 July 2000, the first of its kind since 1949.17

In other words, since the founding of the People’s Republic of China this was the first time that a PLA fleet called on an African port. A global military vision would be flawed if China overlooks Africa as a strategic space.

China has some advantages over the US including its identity as a developing country, its centralised political system—which makes decisions easier to take without regard to social or political considerations—the growing economy, low-cost technology and the willingness of its people to work in inhospitable places. It certainly also has disadvantages, but we will not go into those here. On their part, African leaders seem to welcome economic aid not attached to political conditions or transparency requirements.

China-Africa co-operation will surely go through highs and lows, but it would not be far-fetched to conclude that China is engaging Africa in a long-term strategic partnership for international leadership, markets, energy and space.

OECD (2008), “China: Encouraging Responsible Business Conduct,” OECD Investment Policy Reviews, France: OECD Publishing.



China’s regulatory framework for investment has been developed further since 2006

The OECD reviews the five landmark laws and sets of regulations promulgated since the publication of the 2006 OECD Investment Policy Review of China. It finds that these changes improve the tax and competition elements of the regulatory environment within which businesses, including foreign-owned enterprises (FIEs), operate in China, but tighten restrictions on inward direct investment, including cross-border mergers and acquisitions. The review also takes stock of developments in China’s inward and outward FDI statistics methodology.



China’s increasing outward investment is prompting calls for responsible behavior

China has been rapidly becoming an important source of outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) in recent years. Government policy was initially the main determinant of OFDI, but it is now increasingly driven by commercial motivations. In the context of China’s growing role as an investor in Africa in particular, concerns over China’s investment behaviour are being raised and Chinese enterprises are under increasing pressure to be more responsible global players.



China is adopting policies to encourage responsible business conduct (RBC)

The OECD supports the Chinese government’s efforts to promote high standards of corporate behaviour and develop further the framework conditions that enable responsible business conduct (RBC). The Chinese authorities are striving to ensure corporate compliance with laws relating to RBC and are also promoting RBC in overseas operations of Chinese enterprises. China has signed and ratified international agreements relevant to promoting RBC. Chinese companies are seeking to learn about RBC standards.



More can be done to encourage RBC

While the Chinese government has made efforts to encourage responsible business conduct, many Chinese enterprises are still largely unaware of what RBC entails and have not organised themselves to promote it. The lack of coordination of government agencies’ approaches hinders communication of the government’s expectations to Chinese companies. The OECD offers policy options to help implement at local level legislation and regulations establishing framework conditions for responsible business conduct.



China has made progress, but still faces challenges, in encouraging environmental RBC

China’s rapid economic growth has been accompanied by negative environmental impacts. The Chinese government has accelerated its efforts to develop the legal framework and standards for environmental protection. The OECD offers policy options to meet the formidable challenges faced by the Chinese authorities in enforcing and implementing these.

Perret, Christophe and Bosshard, Laurent (2006), “Africa and China,” in Atlas on Regional Integration, ECOWAS-SWAC/OECD.

Oil and cotton will remain key issues at the core of Sino-African relations in the coming decades. However, they will not be the only issues at play. It is already possible to discern tension on the world steel and aluminium (bauxite) market.

More generally, the African continent will undoubtedly remain an attractive market showing constant growth (if only in demographic terms) for Chinese manufactured products. The risk of a growing “invasion” of competing imports or imports preventing the development of local industry should therefore be taken into account. To balance this, two factors could encourage Chinese investors to finance West African industry: firstly, the increase in sea transportation costs should progressively favour the creation of primary processing units in particular (iron, bauxite). Secondly, the prospect of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between African regions and the European Union should encourage Chinese industrialists (but also Indian, Brazilian, etc.) to produce within these regions in order to gain access to the European market. The ECOWAS zone is, from this perspective, particularly well-positioned as it offers three advantages: geographic proximity to Europe, availability of raw materials (cotton, iron, bauxite, etc.) and a more available, abundant and low-cost workforce than in North Africa, for example. If this hypothesis is proven, it is probable that countries with non-convertible currency (Ghana, Nigeria, etc.) will be more attractive than countries in the franc/euro zone where production costs are higher. Political and geo-strategic considerations will undoubtedly continue to have an impact and will probably partly compensate for this bias. Whatever happens, many African leaders see the Chinese irruption on their continent as an economic opportunity – “what if development came from the East?”-, doubled by a political opportunity – “What if Africa became a strategic issue, it could leave the era of submission to go forward into the era of negotiation.”

Ravallion, Martin (2008), “Are There Lessons for Africa from China’s Success Against Poverty?” Policy Research Working Paper 4463, Washington DC: Development Research Group, World Bank.



Policy Lesson from China’s Success

While successful reforms need not conform closely to orthodox “neo-liberal” recommendations, China’s success against poverty illustrates well the generic point that freer markets can serve the interests of poor people. China’s farmers responded dramatically to market incentives when the institutional reforms gave them the chance to do so. African farmers are not likely to be any different in this respect.32

But China’s success was not just a matter of letting markets do their work. That success would not have been possible without strong state institutions implementing supportive policies and public investments. China has had a tradition of building and maintaining the administrative capacities of government at all levels, including in countless villages that were the front line for implementing the crucial rural reforms that started in the late 1970s. (Indeed, the tradition of a strong public administration goes back so far that China should probably get credit for invented the idea.) The leadership of a township or administrative village in rural China is typically accountable to higher levels of government and its own citizens for economic development within its borders. By contrast, political scientists have pointed to the persistent incapacities of Africa’s state institutions (Herbst, 2000; Clapham, 2001; van de Walle, 2001). Granted, some “normal states” (as Clapham, 2001, calls them) have emerged.33 However, judged by almost any standards, but certainly when assessed against China’s tradition of strong state institutions, Africa is clearly lagging in this repect [sic]. The capacity to implement policies is necessary for success, but that capacity must be developed.

Of course, state capacity must be used to implement good policies, and to avoid or drop bad ones. An obvious, though nonetheless important, lesson that is well illustrated by China’s experience is the need for governments to avoid doing harm to poor people. One way is to reduce the (explicit and implicit) taxes they face. In China’s case, the government operated (for many years) an extensive foodgrain-procurement system that effectively taxed farmers by setting quotas and fixing procurement prices below market levels (to assure cheap food for far less poor urban consumers). This gave the government a powerful anti-poverty lever in the short-term, by raising the procurement price as happened in the mid-1990s, helping to bring both poverty and inequality down. Again, this reform is rather specific to China. But it would be a safe bet that every country in SSA can find its own examples of taxes and regulations that are biased against the poor. Research on Africa has pointed to ways in which past policies have placed a heavy burden on the poor, notably through urban biases in exchange rate and spending/taxing policies.34

Another robust lesson concerns macroeconomic stabilization policy. China’s experience suggests that avoiding inflationary shocks has been good for poverty reduction. Higher inflation meant higher poverty.35 (The reversals for China’s poor during the late 1980s evident in Figure 1 reflect in part the macroeconomic instability of that time. Low rural economic growth was another factor.) The importance of macroeconomic stability to sustained poverty reduction in China echoes findings in other developing countries.36

Greater internal market integration has played a role in China’s success, although this is not a policy area in which China made particularly rapid progress. The impediments to migration within China have been noted already. There have also been frictions to internal trade, though declining in importance over time. However, there is nothing comparable in China today, or even 20 years ago I suspect, to the impediments to internal market integration faced in SSA. For example, you still can't drive a vehicle between some important commercial cities of Africa — large cities in relatively close proximity but in different countries (such as Douala, the commercial capital and largest city of Cameroon, and Lagos, the commercial capital of neighboring Nigeria, and most populous city in SSA). Poor internal integration means that the typical African country faces a tiny domestic market compared to the typical Chinese province.

An important lesson from China’s experience is that growth-promoting economic reforms are not sufficient for rapid and sustained poverty reduction. Persistent inequalities in key assets and access to essential infrastructure impede the prospects for poor people to share in the economic gains spurred by reforms. On breaking up the collective farms it was possible to assure that land within communes was fairly equally allocated. (Although marked inter-commune inequality remained, given that mobility was restricted.) With a relatively equal allocation of land holdings—land-use rights rather than ownership—the agricultural growth unleashed by the rural economic reforms of the early 1980s could bring the rapid poverty reduction seen in Figure 1. Similarly, a positive legacy of socialism and the Confucion ethic was the relatively low inequality in health and schooling at the outset of the reform period. The low inequality in education attainments is likely to have helped in assuring that farm and non-farm growth was poverty reducing.

The importance of the pattern of growth to China’s progress against poverty carries a lesson for Africa. When so much of a country’s poverty is found in its rural areas it is not surprising that agricultural growth plays an important role in poverty reduction. Granted, the past efficacy of agricultural growth in reducing poverty in China reflects (at least in part) an unusual historical circumstance, namely the relatively equitable land allocation that could be achieved at the time of breaking up the collectives. However, China’s experience is consistent with the view that promoting agricultural and rural development is crucial to pro-poor growth, particularly at the early stages, given the potential for small-holder farming to rapidly absorb unskilled labor.

The need to give higher priority to agricultural growth rather than industrialization at the early stages of economic development echoes longstanding arguments (and debates) in the literature.37 By this view, only when agricultural output has risen sufficiently will it be possible to release labor from agriculture for the infant non-farm sectors. In a relatively closed economy (or one in which the foodstaples are largely non-tradable) higher domestic food output will also entail lower food prices and hence allow new manufacturing enterprises to pay low wages, further stimulating growth in the non-farm economy. China’s success in labor-intensive manufacturing clearly rested in part at least on the availability of cheap wage goods.

There is also evidence for China that the agricultural sector is an important generator of positive externalities favoring non-farm development. Using farm-household level panel data from four provinces of post-reform rural China, Ravallion (2005) finds evidence of strong geographic externalities, stemming from spillover effects of the level and composition of local economic activity and private returns to local human and physical infrastructure endowments. This suggests an explanation for rural underdevelopment arising from under-investment in certain externality-generating activities, of which agricultural development emerges as the most important.

Developing countries keen to industrialize have tried often to accelerate the process. Indeed, even China may well have switched its sectoral attention out of agriculture too quickly. It seems that after attaining a degree of food security, and higher incomes for the peasant class, the political economy demanded higher living standards for the relatively better off middle- and upper-income groups. The associated shift in the sectoral and geographic pattern of China’s growth fuelled rising inequality and dulled the impact of subsequent growth on aggregate poverty incidence. (In this respect, Africa might actually learn more from Vietnam, which appears to have maintained its sectoral emphasis on agriculture and rural development for a longer period than China did at a comparable point in time.)

This lesson appears to be highly relevant to SSA today. Christianson and Demery (2007) have argued convincingly that development strategy for Africa that is firmly grounded in agricultural and rural development can bring a larger and more sustained impact on poverty.38 Just as has happened in China, there will be a time when the emphasis in Africa will naturally shift to secondary and tertiary sectors. But with the levels of poverty prevailing in SSA today, and the sub-continent’s (still) relatively abundant supply of (not too unequally distributed) land, an agriculture-based strategy must for now be at the center of any effective route out of poverty, just as it was in China during the early 1980s.

Achieving that growth will not be easy.39 It will require investments in agricultural research and development (R & D), tailored to African (often rain-fed) conditions, and efforts to bring research results to African farmers. China would seem to be in a good position to help African countries build up their agricultural research and extension systems. (SSA’s total public spending on agricultural R & D increased by barely 20% in real terms over 1981-2000; over the same period it increased three fold in China; See World Bank, 2007, Table 7.1.) Higher agricultural growth will also require investments in rural infrastructure, which is worse now in many African countries than it was around 1980 in China, when the rural reforms began.40 Provided that Africa makes the right investments in supporting agricultural growth there should be no difficulty finding the market for its produce, including in China, which is now more open to agricultural imports (after its entry into the WTO).

African observers of China’s success might be tempted to conclude that rising inequality is the inevitable price of lower absolute poverty. Looking forward, that would be worrying in Africa, where inequality is already rather high, with many countries having levels of inequality reaching (and in a few cases exceeding) the levels found in Latin American, where inequality measures tend to be the highest of any region of the world.41

However, it should not be presumed that poor countries necessarily face an aggregate growth-equity trade off. Upward pressures on inequality can certainly be generated by the growth process, such as stemming from skill shortages and higher returns to schooling in the labor market. On the other hand, to the extent that the growth comes from relaxing the constraints facing poor people in access to key markets, it may help put downward pressure on inequality. The net outcome is an empirical issue, and will vary from country to country, as is indeed found to be the case in cross-country comparisons of growth rates and changes in inequality (Ravallion, 2007).

So Africa should be wary of drawing the lesson from China that rising inequality is the inevitable price of higher growth and less poverty. Indeed, as noted above, China’s experience actually provides counterexamples (in some time periods and some provinces) to the view that rising inequality is the unavoidable by-product of sustained economic growth in a poor country.



What are the Key Messages for Africa?

Africa has seen a significant political change in recent times with the rise in more democratic forms of central government. This has ushered in a period of greater stability and peace, and started to create the sorts of institutional constraints on the abuse of power by leaders that one takes for granted elsewhere. However, it is unlikely that the implied shift in the empowerment of Africa’s poor that can be achieved through such political changes will be sufficient to reach the pro-poor “high equilibrium” of the political economy without two additional ingredients: significant changes in economic policies and greater efficacy of state institutions for implementing those policies.

A number of policy messages worth thinking about in an African context emerge from the literature on how China was so successful in the fight against poverty. A partial list would include widespread access to sound basic education and health care, lower dependency rates through lower fertility, greater internal market integration, and greater external openness to foreign investment and trade, consistent with a country’s comparative advantage. There are some tentative signs of progress in Africa on most of these areas, though there is still much do be done.

An important, but all too often neglected, issue concerns the sectoral priorities for development when one is starting in a situation in which the vast bulk of the poor remain in rural areas. Faced with this reality, China’s growth-promoting reforms starting in the late 1970s sensibly started in the rural economy, where the extent of poverty was as high as one would have found almost anywhere in the world at that time. The initial economic agents of change were countless smallholders increasing their output in response to newly unleashed market incentives. In due course, the policy emphasis naturally switched to the non-farm and urban economy, and the subsequent rural labor absorption was clearly important to continuing progress against poverty. Granted, one can question whether even China got the timing of this switch in sectoral priorities right. However, the key lesson for Sub-Saharan Africa is that to replicate China’s success against poverty in the longer term a much high priority must be given to agriculture and rural development in the near term.

The problem is that many low-income, primarily rural, developing countries (including in Africa) think they can essentially ignore their agricultural sectors and leave the whole task of poverty reduction to labor absorption from non-agricultural sectors. Worse still, they sometimes try to jump-start their economies by rapidly developing a modern, relatively capital-intensive, manufacturing sector. The problems with this development path are magnified in countries with high initial inequality in human resource development, such that there are relatively few rural workers—and very few amongst the poor—who can get these jobs, or even get the relatively less skilled jobs required by a more labor-intensive manufacturing sector. This sort of approach will do little to reduce rural poverty directly and may even harm the rural poor through the financing methods (notable the heavy taxation of agriculture) and price distortions that are needed. Poor, primarily rural, economies cannot reasonably hope to by-pass the key steps in promoting agricultural and rural development that China took from the early stages of its reform process. That is an important message for much of Africa today.

Of course, Africa does not have the same failed collective-farming systems to dismantle as did China. But the generic point on sectoral priorities is still relevant. African countries will have to find their own, tailor-made, versions of the rural reforms and public investments that will be needed to raise the productivity of smallholders—to find Africa’s home-grown version of China’s rural policies early 1980s. Drawing on the literature on Africa, one can point to the importance of physical and human infrastructure development in rural areas and the pressing need for an effective support system for the rapid adoption of known and improved farming technologies; this will require a combination of research, advisory services and financial support for inputs.

While raising agricultural productivity in Africa is hardly going to be sufficient for eliminating poverty in the longer term, it is arguably the most important problem to address at the outset, and may even prove to be necessary for sustained progress in other areas of economic and social policy. Alas, the problem of low farm productivity remains. And research has been scant on the underlying (social and political, as well as economic) reasons for Africa’s (large and widening) gap in agricultural productivity relative to China and most of Asia.

Another likely pre-condition for long-term progress in Africa is more effective state institutions. As this paper has emphasized, China’s experience points to the importance of combining pragmatic, evidence-based, policy making with capable public institutions and a strong leadership that is committed to poverty reduction. Without these conditions, and the right policies, it is difficult to see how any country can make the significant changes that are needed to get out of an equilibrium in which large numbers of poor and powerless people suffer under policies that perpetuate their poverty. Relative to Africa, history and geography have made for stronger state institutions in China, and it has no doubt helped that China did not make the mistake of believing that freer markets called for weakening those institutions. Public administrative and decision-making processes were also crucial to assuring that the state was an effective tool for fighting poverty. Evidence-based policy making has played an important role since the late 1970s. China learnt much from the successes and failures of diverse local initiatives; in effect, the center transmitted the policy lessons from one place to another, backed up by credible research on what was happening on the ground.

It is plain that the combination of sound policy making practices with strong state institutions was a key factor in China’s success against poverty. And it is also clear that the two ingredients are complements, not substitutes. Less ideology helps little if state institutions are weak. China’s lesson for Africa on the importance of “searching for truth from facts” in policy making will bear little fruit if Africa’s state institutions remain weak.

But it must not be forgotten that Africa is 48 countries not one. There is no African central government to transmit policy lessons from one place to another. Here the international community, including China, can play an important role.

Sautman, Barry and Yan, Hairong (2007), “Friends and Interests: China’s Distinctive Links with Africa,” in African Studies Review, Vol. 50, No. 3, pp. 75-114.

In 2005 a PRC official working on WTO affairs, Wu Jiahuang, made a presentation to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization on industrialization, trade, and poverty alleviation through South–South cooperation (Wu 2005). He argued that China’s high growth rate was fueled by Chinese savings (on average 44 percent of their income) and encouragement of foreign direct investment (half from Hong Kong and Taiwan), which contributed 28 percent of value added to industry in 2004. He said that PRC industrial and trade growth are related, with over half of industrial exports produced by foreign investors. Wu noted that the PRC does not overprotect domestic industry: average PRC tariffs dropped from 43 percent in 1992 to 10 percent in 2005, lower than those of its trading partners.39 Primary agricultural products and textile tariffs averaged 15.5 percent and 12.9 percent, respectively, while those of China’s trading partners averaged 24.5 percent and 17.7 percent. China provides world-class resources and “the cheapest domestic labor,” so its businesses can market the world’s most competitive products, leading to greater incomes, state revenue, and social welfare. Wu called on the WTO to remove trade-distorting subsidies to farmers in the North to enable farmers in the South to sell their products at a higher price. He explained that Chinese farms are very small, averaging .7 hectares of land, compared to Europeans’ 20 ha and U.S. farmers’ 200 ha. Wu noted that PRC agricultural tariffs averaged 15.8 percent, compared to 23 percent in the U.S. and 73 percent in Europe. Meanwhile, state support for China’s farmers was only 1.5 percent of their income, while in the U.S. it was 18 percent and in the E.U. it was 33 percent. China and other developing states were thus in the same boat in terms of needing cuts in developed world agricultural subsidies.

Wu’s presentation summed up a commonly held perception of PRC practices that relates to distinct China–Africa links: China provides a model for developing states based on rapid industrialization fueled by a high level of investment and concentration on exports and, unlike the West, its low-tariff, low-subsidy regime allows other developing countries to export freely to China and compete with China in world markets. The official thus essentially argued that PRC policymakers are more consistent economic liberals than those of the West and that this greater openness fulfills the common needs of Chinese and citizens of other developing countries. Wu did not explain how China’s extraordinary savings rate and its FDI inflow mainly from co-ethnics on its periphery can be duplicated by most developing states. Nor did he recognize that these states are scarcely in a position to take advantage of China’s economic liberal policies by competing with PRC producers, either in their domestic market or the world. Still, one point was doubtless convincing: that China, unlike Western states, is not obstructing development in the world’s poorer countries. That point, whether it relates to the Beijing Consensus or aid and migration, epitomizes the distinctiveness of the China–Africa link for many Africans.

The practices of Western states associated with past colonialism or present imperialism make PRC practices appear particularly distinctive to Africans. Most prominent among these Western practices are (1) impositions of neoliberal SAPs that have resulted in diminished growth, huge debt, declining incomes, and curtailed social welfare; (2) the use of aid to compel compliance with SAPs and the foreign policies of Western powers; (3) protectionism (despite free-trade rhetoric) in developed states that inhibits African exports; and (4) support for authoritarian leaders (despite talk of democracy and human rights) to secure resources and combat “radicals.” In addition, Western disparagement of Africa, through an unremitting negative discourse overlaid with strong implications of African incompetence, remains prevalent (Araya 2007).40 The ideas that on balance colonialism benefited “the natives,” and that Africa’s troubles have all been postcolonial, are popular among elites of the former colonial powers (Sautman & Yan 2007; Nyang 2005).

A positive image of China exists despite the prevalence among the Chinese of racist attitudes, which have been experienced both by Africans in China and Africans working alongside Chinese residents in Africa (Segal 2006).41 The PRC government, with its ideology of Social Darwinism (i.e., the richer, the fitter) and characteristic representations of Africa as uniformly poor bears some responsibility for these attitudes. Still, the PRC is careful to identify Africa’s problems as the legacy of colonialism (Business Day 2004b; Li Xing 2003). PRC leaders have never termed Africa a “hopeless continent” (Economist 2000). They would never state, as a U.S. House Sub-committee on Africa member did to a Rwandan human rights activist during the 1994 genocide, that “America has no friends in Africa, only interests, and it has no interests in Rwanda” (“Ghosts of Rwanda” 2005).

PRC leaders, officially at least, celebrate Africa’s culture and achievements, and China’s sixty-five cultural agreements with forty-six African states have led to hundreds of exchanges (Peoples Daily 2004; Daily Trust 2006b). As one scholar has observed, while Africa, to the West, is a “haven for terrorists,” the “cradle of HIV/AIDS,” and a “source of instability,” for China it is a “strategically significant region” and place of opportunity (Gu 2006). China, moreover, acknowledges its political indebtedness to Africa for her support of China’s entry into the U.N. and continued backing in international forums. That contrasts with Western states’ failure to acknowledge their indebtedness to Africa for its contributions to the West’s industrialization and cultural development (see Inikori 2002).

Unlike during the Mao era, China today suggests no radical solutions to Africa’s predicament. The PRC avails itself of the historically determined disadvantages of Africa in trade (Holslag 2006), but much of what it sells to Africa is useful to developing manufacturing and providing affordable consumer goods (Soderbom & Teal 2004). Some of China’s investment in Africa, though apparently directed to non-oil sectors, is nevertheless imbricated with the continent’s harsh labor regimens in places like Zambia’s Copperbelt (Lungu & Mulenga 2005; Times of Zambia 2006). But China is still perceived as different in that it provides some investments of direct benefit beyond elite circles, does not insist that Africa’s political economy steer a required course, and contributes to Africa’s talent pool rather than draining it.

It is not clear whether the differences outlined here will persist over the long term. Among major powers at any given time, there are always differences in approach to subaltern states. The very process of differentiating superordinate and subordinate states and dominant and subaltern peoples tends over time, however, to make the conduct of great powers and their elites more similar than different. In a decade or two we should be able to determine whether that will be the case as well with China in Africa.

Sautman, Barry and Yan, Hairong (2008), “The Forest for the Trees: Trade, Investment and the China-in-Africa Discourse,” in Pacific Affairs, Vol. 81, No. 1, pp. 9-29.

The modalities of trade examined for development implications commonly involve the import and export of goods. However, there is also trade in money and people. Western, but not PRC, banks have traded secrecy and interest to the exporters of 40 percent of Africa’s private wealth.112 Western states trade citizenship for the skills of professionals, especially doctors and nurses, trained in, but now largely lost to Africa.113 These forms of trade likely impinge as much as commodity exchange on Africans’ right to development.

The main problem with the China-in-Africa discourse is not empirical inaccuracies about Chinese activities in Africa,114 but rather the decontextualization of criticisms for ideological reasons. Some analyses positively cast Western actions in Africa compared to China’s activities; others lack comparative perspective in discussing negative aspects of China’s presence, so that discourse consumers see a few trees, but are not given a view of the whole forest. Such analysis reflects Western elite perception of national interests or moral superiority as these impinge on “strategic competition” with China.115 Many analysts scarcely question Western rhetoric of “aiding African development” and “promoting African democracy,” yet are quick to seize on examples of exploitation or oppression by Chinese interests.116

To comprehensively interrogate Chinese and Western activities in Africa is to question a global system that has in many respects de-developed Africa and into which China is increasingly integrated. Failing that, one is left with little more than a binary between a Western-promoted new “civilizing mission” on behalf of Africans, and the activities of the “amoral” Chinese, who refuse to fully endorse that mission by not adopting trade and investment practices wholly compliant with neo-liberalism. China, after all, can and does throw this binary back in the face of its proponents by portraying the West as seeking a new tutelage for Africans and China as eschewing the role of intermeddler, while promoting “win-win” trade and investment. So too do many Africans.117 The popularity of features of China’s presence in Africa, compared with that of the main Western states, goes well beyond elites.118 The 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Survey asked Africans in ten countries to compare the influences of China and the US in their own countries. In nine of the ten countries, by margins of 61 to 91 percent, African respondents said the Chinese influence was good. These percentages substantially exceeded those for the US.119 One important implication of the Chinese presence in Africa then is that Western states and firms may need to engage in greater self-reflection about their own presence in the continent.

The China-in-Africa discourse can be expected to become increasingly heated, especially with regard to the effects of PRC trade and investment on development, as its audiences weigh competing claims. Those who follow the discourse as it is played out in Africa itself can already detect that many Africans are wary of attempts to cast it in Manichean terms. Many Africans moreover are now rejecting any effort to use the discourse to distract from the reality of Africa’s continued subordination within a world system that builds in exploitation and other systematic violations of rights.

Sautman, Barry and Yan, Hairong (2009), “African Perspectives on China-Africa Linkages,” in The China Quarterly, Vol. 199, pp. 728-759.

In early 2007, when few surveys of how Africans see China–Africa links were available, a US newspaper carried an article on Africans’ negative views of those links. It quoted Michael Sata, who said “Zambia is becoming a province – no, a district – of China,” and an Africa specialist, who stated “among ordinary [Africans], a very strong resentment, bordering on racism, is emerging against the Chinese. It’s because the Chinese are seen as backing [African] governments in oppressing their own people.”111 Sata’s statement was part of his mobilization strategy and probably taken as such by non-partisans. The article’s author, however, was not necessarily non-partisan: he chose Sata from among legions of African politicians. The scholar’s statement was likely to have been a synecdoche, taking a part for the whole, reflecting what he observed among part of the populace in one or two African states.

Survey research does not bear out claims of strong African resentment. Even in states where politicians play the China card, there is more appreciation than not of China’s role in Africa and China fares well compared to the West. It is also not clear that most Africans distinguish oppressive pro-China ruling elites and China-critical people’s paladins, as do Western media. Surveys thus also tell us something of how the media interpret and seek to mould African perspectives: the media hesitate to acknowledge that Africans may see Chinese practices as more advantageous than those of the West, and imply that if Africans do see it that way, it is due to collusion and obfuscation by “the Chinese” and their African clients.

There are reasons why most Africans may be positive about China–Africa links. As a 2008 World Bank report details, China cheaply and efficiently builds much of Africa’s infrastructure.112 Chinese retailers also sell the Africans goods that many could not previously afford. A scholar has noted: “African consumers benefit from cheap products offered by Chinese firms. For instance, Chinese plastic sandals conquered the whole African continent in the last years. That changed the daily life of African women and children enormously in that way that going shoeless is [in] the past in poor African countries.”113

Additional reasons why Africans may favour links with China exist and can be adumbrated from responses to our open survey questions. There is a boom in primary product exports to China from some African states, while earlier evident harm from Chinese competition with African exports to third countries has largely dissipated.114 China presents for some Africans an example of development fostered by encouraging domestic savings, the factor most likely to sustain growth.115 In contrast to Western aid, China’s is not politically conditioned and, contrary to the prevailing discourse, its non-intervention policy may make China more, rather than less, popular among common Africans, as it obviates political obstacles to the speedy delivery of infrastructure.116 China has no history of colonialism and has not recently invaded other states. It has supported developing country attempts to redress grievances such as subsidies that impair their exports.117 Whether such understandings of Chinese practices are accurate is less significant than their being plausible enough to be found among many Africans we interviewed during seven research trips to nine African countries between 2005 and 2008.

It remains to be seen whether positive African perceptions of China–Africa links persist. Playing the China card has not proved sufficient to smooth a road to power for oppositions, as the Zambia case illustrates. In the future, playing it may not even be feasible, as the fruits of Chinese infrastructure building are realized, fewer Chinese and more Africans retail made-in-China goods, Chinese foster industrial enterprises, and China’s leaders accept that arms sales are a reputational risk. Western media influences in Africa may also decline as other sources gain acceptance.

Research on African perspectives on China–Africa links should take in a wider range of countries and ask more about grassroots concerns, such as contributions to development. Because China–Africa interactions are rapidly evolving, it would be useful to have panel data, with multiple dimensions over time. Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum founder, has said “the world needs Africa as much as Africa needs the world,” but a Chinese scholar observed that “while Africa needs China, China needs Africa more.”118 Knowing African perspectives on China–Africa links has thus become essential to understanding China’s place in the world.


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