China and the European Union in Africa: Partners or Competitors?

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Jing Men and Benjamin Barton, eds. China and the European Union in Africa: Partners or Competitors? Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2011. xxi + 279 pp. Tables. Graphs. Notes on Contributors. Acknowledgments. Abbreviations. Index. $114.95. Cloth.

China and the European Union in Africa sets out the ambitious, interesting agenda of examining dynamics among three distinct, disparate players in contexts of economic investment, political diplomacy, socioeconomic development, and conflict management in twenty-first century Africa. As a collection, the volume makes an important contribution to understanding the historical contexts of politics, economics, and ideology that enter into triangular engagements among China, the EU (European Union), and Africa, underscoring the evolving and contested nature of these unfolding relationships.

Several chapters stand out for their strong contributions to the field of China-Africa studies. Early in the volume, two Chinese contributors emphasize the historical evolution and continued adaptation of China's Africa policies. Bo Zhiyue provides a detailed historical account of how China's policies toward Africa fit into the larger picture of China's political development. Zhao Suisheng suggests that while China's immediate objectives in Africa have continued to be economic, China has also responded progressively to Western criticism of its policies and practices in Africa. Taken together, these chapters emphasize that there is not one static or monolithic entity, "China," that engages "Africa," but rather that China's policies are historically contingent and continue to evolve today.

Interestingly, these two chapters arrive at contradictory conclusions about the nature of China's Africa policy: whereas Bo indicates that China's Africa policy is "comprehensive and strategic" (36), Zhao argues that "China has failed to design a grand strategy towards the continent" (61). Rather than insisting on one overriding analysis of China-EU-Africa engagement, the editors allow such inconsistencies within the collection to persist. It is vital to maintain such diversity of analysis: such divergences reflect the very real tension and variegation in China-Africa dynamics. The volume would have been strengthened, however, if the editors had addressed such contradictions head-on, providing a unique and engaging space for creative, critical analysis of issues at the core of EU-China-Africa policy and scholarship.

Also valuable are the two chapters in part 2 which highlight transnational security issues that face the EU, China, and Africa collectively and explore the potential for international cooperation in combating significant security threats in Africa. The chapter by Larik and Weiler astutely discusses the pressing international issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia, and suggests ways that the EU and China could collaborate more effectively in antipiracy missions. It would have provided a more balanced analysis, however, if it had addressed the political, economic, environmental, and social contexts of contemporary Somalia more robustly. Wheeler's chapter addresses the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, analyzing the role that China and the EU might play to reduce the illicit spread of weapons throughout the continent. Wheeler argues that increased control over small arms in Africa constitutes another crucial issue for collaboration among the European Union, China, and African nations.

While much of the volume treats Africa as merely the backdrop-the context-for engagement between China and the European Union, the chapters by Ogunleye and Wissenbach in part 3 of the book present African states as active participants. The final section of Ogunleye's chapter has the subtitle "The Role of Africa" and offers the volume's sole commentary about what African nations and their leaders should consider doing to engage the European Union and China more effectively. With concrete suggestions for political integration, economic development, and capacity building, Ogunleye argues that African nations need to coordinate their interests and strategies both regionally and continentally. …