China into Africa: Trade, Aid, and Influence
Nyíri, Pál, The China Journal
China into Africa: Trade, Aid, and Influence, edited by Robert I. Rotberg. Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2008. ? + 339 pp. US$29.95/£17.99 (paperback).
In the last three years, books with titles like China in Africa have been appearing one after another in response to heightened public interest in China's emergence as an investor and aid donor in Africa. Robert I. Rotberg, China into Africa's editor and a political scientist (he has authored books on "rogue nations" and "battling terrorism"), sees China's African involvement as "rapacious" and "exploitive" (p. viii). For Li Anshan, it is, to the contrary, "characterized by ... equality [and] co-development" and "has brought hope to Africa" (pp. 35-36). Such extremes of opinion are characteristic of "China in Africa" books, most of which are edited volumes. The chapters do not engage with or complement each other; rather, they read like policy briefs essays written for a roundtable on whether "China into Africa" is a good or a bad thing. They go through the nowfamiliar themes: what does China want in Africa (resources and political support); is its engagement a continuation of the "brotherly" aid of the 1960s (yes and no); is it a form of neocolonialism (no and yes); is it different from Western engagement (no or yes); is it welcome (it is by the governments, not so much by the people); are its effects deep-going (yes in some countries, not in others); does it threaten Western interests (yes or no). There is a lot of empirical material, but it tends to be either statistical or anecdotal, often gleaned from newspaper reports, and mostly covering areas of engagement that have been described in more detail elsewhere, sometimes by the same authors. For a first attempt to put together such analysis, the compilation would be laudable; for the fourth or fifth, the reader is justified in expecting more.
This is notably the case for the unproductive debate around the c-word, "colonialism". For example, Stephanie Rupp in her chapter argues that the absence of a "civilizing mission" is one way in which China's contemporary engagement with Africa differs from Europe's colonial one (a point made elsewhere by Chris Alden). Yet while it is factually true that the Chinese state is not trying to make "Chinamen" (sic, p. 77) of Africans in the same way France attempted to make Frenchmen out of them, Chinese investors and managers (like their Japanese and Korean counterparts before them) often claim to be transmitting to local workers a particular set of values, centered on a strict work ethic and bodily discipline, that makes them modern individuals fit to survive in the global marketplace. …