Friday, October 24, 2014

China and Conflict Minerals: Constructive Cooperation

Implementation of supply chain checks, as set out in the Chinese guidelines, have the potential to benefit overseas communities as well as implementing Chinese companies. The companies can earn recognition as responsible global players and, in so doing, demonstrate they have no association with the violent groups that for too long have devastated eastern DRC and other conflict-affected areas.
Conflict and minerals in the DRC. copyright Mark Craemer
China is still a relatively new player in African resource investments. Given the poor social and environmental record of Chinese mining and oil companies at home -- and the challenges that face most companies operating in these sectors in Africa (think: Shell in the Niger Delta) or even off the shores of the United States (think: BP in the Gulf of Mexico) Chinese companies have had a steep learning curve about the risks of "going global". Global Witness has come out with a helpful new report on one aspect of these risks: complicated new laws that prohibit the import of minerals from conflict zones, and require source tracing: "Tackling Conflict Minerals: How a New Chinese Initiative Can Address Companies' Risks."

The report is timed to coincide with the launch of (un)official new guidelines on responsible supply chain management in conflict-affected countries put together by the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters (CCCMC) the major Chinese business association grouping mineral import/export companies. It uses the DRC as a case study.

The guidelines themselves are being released today and I will provide a link when available. They were developed with assistance from the German development agency, GIZ. Bravo to GIZ and Global Witness for good, practical work. I hope you plan to translate the report into Chinese so it can have impact in the right places!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Praise for FAOSTAT 3: Great Interface, Great Data

Photo credit: limaoscarjuliet. 
As many readers know, I am writing a book on China's agricultural investments in Africa. One of pieces of conventional wisdom I am questioning is the assumption that China wants to source its food in Africa. It's clear from detailed COMTRADE trade data that China actually exports far more food to Africa than the reverse. But that database is a pain to use.

Over the past few days I've been playing with the quick and easy FAOSTAT version 3, and I am really thrilled with its interface, and the range of data it provides. I hope it's good data -- it seems to match with other sources I'm using -- but what I especially love about it is the ease of queries on production and trade. Want to know where the Chinese sugar project in Benin exports its sugar? Bingo! (Portugal, France -- not China). Want to know if China exports rice to Mozambique? Bingo! (yes).

I know, this is all impossibly nerdy, but what a great job FAO is doing with making their data on food accessible. UN-COMTRADE: "eat" your heart out. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Title for My New Book?

OK, here is where I really need some help from readers. I am down to the wire on a title for my new book on Chinese agricultural investment (or not) in Africa. I had what I thought was a great title, Feeding Frenzy, which would play off of the general perception that the Chinese are leading the land grab in Africa, to grow food to ship back to China. (There is little evidence of any grand strategy to do this, let alone of Chinese farms in Africa growing food for China -- at least for now). Then, a few months ago, someone else published a book with that title. It's about the global food crisis and not about China and Africa, but my publisher (Oxford again), emailed me on Friday: "Ok - we're at the finish line for titles. We need one asap (for the catalog). Feeding Frenzy is taken and doesn't work." They proposed The African Rice Bowl: China, [Global] Food Security, and the Agricultural Revolution in Africa [or African Agricultural Revolution].
Hmmmm ... this doesn't work for me. It's too much of an echo of other writers who have argued the thesis I am going to dispute, i.e. that China does want to make Africa into its rice bowl.
Here are a few other thoughts:
1. Green Dreams: Myths and Realities of China's Agricultural Engagement in Africa
2. Mandarin Harvest: Fact and Fiction of Chinese "Land Grabs" in Africa
3. No Easy Harvest: Chinese Farms in Africa
4. Will Africa Feed China? Investigating land grabs and food security ...
5. The Dragon's Harvest: Chinese Agribusiness in Africa
Feedback? Other ideas?

Update, October 10: Oxford has decided to go with Will Africa Feed China? -- no subtitle, but the cover will have a blurb or other written material that makes the point about the myths and realities. They liked the link with Lester Brown's famous 1995 book: "Who Will Feed China?" and the simplicity of the title which, they said, "says it all."  So there we are. If anyone thinks this is really a problem title, please post! I still shudder to recall the original title selected by my last editor for The Dragon's Gift. They wanted to call it Rogue Donor? The book will be published at some point next year, probably in the summer.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ph.D. candidates, China-Africa Economic Engagement

I am again looking for an excellent candidate to undertake Ph.D. research on China-Africa economic engagement under my supervision, to enter in the Fall of 2015. SAIS offers fully funded Ph.D. fellowships. Candidates must already have an MA degree, ideally in development studies, economics, or international relations.

The ideal candidate will have some background in China-Africa relations, fluency in Chinese including the ability to read Chinese, field experience, and excellent English. Admission will depend on academic excellence (high GPA, excellent GRE scores), and a convincing statement of research interests that includes China's going-out engagement in Africa, broadly defined. This year I am particularly interested in candidates with interests in infrastructure, mining, and development finance. Quantitative skills (econometrics), Portuguese or French would be assets, but not required.

The deadline for applications is December 15. For more information, and to apply, consult the SAIS Ph.D. program website here.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Missing: Chinese Farm in Togo

aboutppp.jpg Demonstration plot, Togo
Over the past couple of years I have been hard at work on a new book focused on China's agricultural investments in Africa. Some are very hard to track down. China State Farm Agribusiness Corporation (中国农垦)'s Togo Agriculture Development Company Ltd. for example. They reportedly developed a small-scale mixed farm offering demonstration and technical services in modern aquaculture, poultry, and pigs in an alluvial area 30 kilometers north of Lomé, according to a paper by J. R. Chaponniere and Zheng Qi, but as of 2014, we have not been able to find a trace of it.
Readers with Togo experience: do you know anything about this CSFAC investment? (It's not the same as the Anie Sugar Complex.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

China in Zambia: "On-Par with Industry Averages"?

CIFOR -- The Center for International Forestry Research -- has just published another paper in its series on Chinese investment in Africa: George Schoneveld, Laura German, and Davison Gumbo, "The developmental implications of SinoAfrican economic and political relations: A preliminary assessment for the case of Zambia." CIFOR does great, very solid work, and this team is particularly good. I have enjoyed and profited from their studies for years. 

Highlights from the abstract:
  • contrary to popular perception, China’'s direct participation in other primary sectors, such as forestry and agriculture, is negligible.
  • Chinese investments have ...led to a rehabilitation of dilapidated mining infrastructure, while enhancing the country'’s production capacity through the construction of new processing facilities and the development of greenfield mines.
  • These investments have proven to be more stable and less subject to commodity price fluctuations than their Western counterparts.
  • Moreover, while Chinese investors are widely criticized for their poor corporate performance, on most labor-related and environmental dimensions, Chinese mines perform on-par with industry averages.

"Early evidence appears to contradict many of the long-held assumptions about Chinese economic and political participation in resource-rich countries." 

Although the CIFOR report does not cite the Human Rights Watch study of Chinese mining in Zambia, it will be interesting to compare the two. I predict that CIFOR will get little publicity for their report -- compared with HRW.

A h/t to Christian Straube.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Will China Be Buying African Rice?

Chinese rice imports at the port of Dakar, Senegal. China is exploring ways to feed its growing population using food grown in Africa. Photo by: vredeseilanden / CC BY-NC
Recently colleagues at Devex published a story about what China's move away from grain self-sufficiency means for African agriculture.  Curiously, they illustrated this story with the photo and caption above, of a pile of 50kg bags of rice ... coming INTO Senegal. Devex said these imports are from China. As the Ameropa label shows, this is unlikely. Ameropa is a Swiss multinational with a branch that specializes in importing Asian rice for African markets. The rice in this photo was probably sourced in Vietnam or Thailand, not China. As our recent SAIS-CARI conference on Chinese agricultural investment in Africa pointed out, China is not exploring ways to feed its growing population using food grown in Africa. At least, not yet.

I wrote my first book analyzing the problems and challenges faced by Chinese rice projects in West Africa (Chinese Aid and African Development, 1998), so this is a special interest of mine. Here's what is going on in Senegal -- excerpted from an excellent analysis by Adama Wade at
Senegal, with 13 million inhabitants, is the world’s tenth biggest importer with 700,000  to 900,000 tonnes per year. ... « It is strange that the rice produced in central Vietnam, transported to Ho Chi Min Port, loaded in bulk and shipped to the ports of Abidjan or Dakar, landed and then transported by road to Bobo Dioulasso or St. Louis is preferred by the population and is cheaper than local rice», wonders aloud an operator, formerly shareholder of Glencore International. ... Local production accounts for 200,000 tonnes of paddy rice, the equivalent of 140,000 tonnes of local rice. The Government’s goal is to reach 1 million tonnes by 2015, including 800,000 tonnes produced through irrigated rice. The Senegalese Government has made ​​food self-sufficiency its key priority. But, there are still some inconsistencies. More tax incentives are given to investors who make 80% of their turnover from exports. Amazing! This is just the tip of the iceberg- while Asian producers receive subsidies on energy, water and fertilizers, in the Senegal River Valley, support mechanisms remain elusive. So, there are no energy subsidies for rice production and development (offset). Urea, which was subsidised by 50% between 2006 and 2011 and sold at CFAF 6,000 now costs CFAF 9,000. Although the price of DAP actually decreased, the quantity available barely covers half of the requirements. There is an energy challenge in the processing of local rice.«There are fixed monthly electricity costs. Whether you work or not, you pay CFAF 250,000 a month.» Under such conditions, can local rice sold at CFA 12,500 mill price (12,500 for whole grain rice) be competitive and generate enough income for a quantitative and qualitative leap?
Adama's analysis makes it clear why the Chinese are not likely to be coming to Senegal for their rice. When it comes to that -- if it does -- they will go to Vietnam. Just as the Senegalese do.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

China's second foreign aid white paper published -- finally!

Last summer, we started hearing that Chinese analysts were working on the second white paper on foreign aid. It has been many months in the works, and unexplicably delayed for months, but now, at last, the second White Paper on Foreign Aid has been published. It is much less detailed than the first, and perhaps that reflects the triumph of whatever concerns delayed it. Here's what's interesting.

In the three years (2010-2012) since the last report, China provided (committed? disbursed?) $14.41 bn in official development assistance (ODA), or an average of $4.8 bn per year:
  • 7.26 billion yuan ($1.17 bn) of interest-free loans
  • 32.32 billion yuan ($5.21 bn) of grants
  • 49.76 billion yuan ($8.03 bn) in concessional loans (you hui dai kuan)
These figures do not include additional funding (over $1.3 billion) provided through the UN and multilateral and regional development banks over this period.

China is also still providing debt relief in Africa. Nine countries: Tanzania, Zambia, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Togo, Benin, Cote d'Ivoire and Sudan, had 16 mature interest-free loans cancelled, for a total of 1.42 billion yuan ($229 mn). This continues the practice begun more than a decade ago of loan cancellation only for the interest-free loans. Countries thinking they might have their concessional loans cancelled need to think again: concessional loans have never been included in the loan forgiveness program.

The "Chinese Peace Corps" is still alive, with some 7000 volunteers sent abroad over the past three years. Why do we hear almost nothing about this program? Has anyone run across a volunteer in Africa?

Another interesting development: China is providing some assistance to Burkina Faso, a country that recognizes Taiwan. This is done as part of a WTO-related program, where Benin, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso -- the Cotton-4 countries -- receive cotton seeds, farm machinery and fertilizers, technology transfer and training, and support for other aspects of their cotton value chain. Cotton is probably the top agricutural export from Africa to China, so this clearly shows economics trumping politics.

For official figures on foreign aid expenditures since 2000, click <here>

A hat tip to Winslow Robertson who was even faster than my google alert to pick up news of the White Paper!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

World Bank "Learning Event" on China-Africa

On May 20th I spoke at a World Bank event "China in the World Economy: New Partnerships in Africa." Some of the people speaking (and attending) have been following this topic for a few years now, and they had interesting things to say. Here are a few of them:

On debt sustainability, an official from the IMF confirmed: "The Chinese look at debt very differently [from the IMF]. It's a function of the project investment." He noted that the IMF Board has had "intense debate" on the debt limits policy (a post-HIPC innovation). "The debate has been heavily influenced by the way China has been approaching Africa. And that's all to the good."

A World Bank official working on the China-Africa relationship noted that the World Bank signed an MOU with China Eximbank in 2007, but nothing really resulted. Now, the World Bank has two new MOUs, one with China Eximbank signed in September 2013, and the other with China Development Bank, signed in June 2013. They may co-finance a project in South Sudan using World Bank standards [DB: we'll see about that, given the fighting there...].

An official from Kenya noted, "It's still early days" in this relationship, but "China is the most pragmatic development partner operating in Africa today." Someone related a story about Chinese pragmatism. A delegation from Tanzania went to Beijing with a list of vague ideas amounting to $10 bn. The Chinese looked at the list and said: "There are no bankable projects here."

Our panel had many of the same old questions about neo-colonialism, do Chinese import all their own workers, are they the largest investor, positive/negative influence, African opinion, and so on. An important point concerned procurement practices. Many Chinese companies are getting contracts on a no-bid basis. This tends to inflate costs. Competition is good. Transparency is good.

Monday, June 9, 2014

JICA: Excellent New Estimates for Chinese Aid

At last, a team of experienced researchers with extensive experience on official development assistance (and foreign aid), and with deep background on China, the OECD, and the Asian approach to aid and cooperation more generally, has come up with an estimate of China's total annual official development assistance (ODA) in 2013 of $7.1 billion. This fits well with the latest glimpse into official figures, when a Chinese official let slip in April 2013 that China's official aid was about $6.35 billion, and with my own estimates.

I highly recommend their paper: "Estimating China's Foreign Aid, 2001-2013 JICA-RI Working Paper No. 78, June 2014. Lead author Naohiro Kitano and his colleague Yukinori Harada have done a superb job. The methodology is carefully worked out and fully explicated.

One of the gnarly questions in estimating Chinese aid is how to treat subsidized (preferential) export credits, which like everything else out of the Chinese policy banks, seem to be growing rapidly. Kitano and Harada follow the method required by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which states that export credits, no matter how concessional, cannot be considered -- by definition -- official development assistance for DAC members, as their main purpose is the promotion of a country's exports. Of course they can be counted as foreign aid, just a military aid is foreign aid. But to be comparable with the OECD countries, neither of those two should be mixed up with ODA.

From what I can see, the Chinese also follow this recommendation. Though many in China do not understand the difference between the two (this is also true for many in the OECD), the budget lines that subsidize the two different loans (concessional foreign aid loan, or "you hui dai kuan" and preferential export buyer's credits, or "you hui mai fan xin dai") are also separate, and only one, concessional foreign aid loan, is included in Chinese announcements of their foreign aid.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Chinese Doctors Criticize Chinese Quacks in Africa

Kampala store
Pyramid Scheme Shop  credit: James Wan
Interesting, detailed, and alarming story on a Chinese quack and the profitable, deadly pyramid scheme he has rolled out in Uganda:
"200,000 Ugandans have signed up to a company believing it will cure all their illnesses and help them make a fortune. But it is more likely to do the opposite."
This is the kind of balanced, important, deeply researched reporting that China Africa specialists long for. I particularly like the interview with an authentic Chinese doctor who is at first amused by the claims being made and then, as he learns more, genuinely alarmed by their implications.

Reported by James Wan. Another great effort supported by South African Wits University's China-Africa Reporting Project.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

China: Exempt from Zimbabwe's Indigenization Policy?

In southern Africa, many people believe that Chinese companies are exempt from the indigenization policy in Zimbabwe -- a requirement that firms submit plans as to how they will achieve 51 percent Zimbabwean ownership over a set period. I don't think Chinese firms have a blanket exemption. True,  I have read that the tobacco buyer Tian Ze -- which has been working with indigenous Zimbabwean tobacco farmers in a contract farming arrangement, supplying inputs and credit, and purchasing their crop -- was given an exemption. There may be some other Chinese companies that have negotiated exceptions just as some other foreign firms have been trying to do, but despite the oft-stated "Chinese are exempt" belief, the evidence suggests that Chinese firm have no blanket exemption. 
In fact, a Chinese language website, "Zimbabwe Forum for Chinese," reprints several notices from the Chinese embassy, reminding Chinese readers about the indigenization policy, which they have translated into Chinese. The policy covers a number of economic sectors. To summarize one of the notices, which refers only to a set of 14 sectors reserved for Zimbabwe citizens: the embassy states:
"Zimbabwe's Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act "(2010 Amendment) and Localization and Economic Empowerment Ministry No. 66 File 2013" provide that commercial activities in the reserved sectors must obtain localization certificates before January 1, 2014. Businesses are required to submit proof of localization options or plans. Failure to comply will be punishable by a fine, 3 to 4 months imprisonment, or both. The Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe reminds those Chinese citizens engaged in reserved sectors, including retail and wholesale, to fully understand and comply with the relevant laws and regulations in time, in order to avoid unnecessary trouble and losses. The 14 sectors include: 1. Agriculture: food and cash crops of primary products; 2. Transportation: passenger buses, taxis and car rental services; 3. retail and wholesale; 4. barber shop, a hairdresser and a beauty salon; 5. Employment Agencies; 6. Real estate agent; 7. valet service; 8. grain milling; 9. bakery; 10. tobacco grading and packaging; 11. tobacco processing; 12. advertising agency; 13. milk processing; 14. The local art and handmade products marketing and distribution.
Comments on the website reveal a lot of confusion about the policy and how it will be implemented, but the message from the embassy is consistent: obtain your localization certificate in time or risk fines and imprisonment.

Friday, May 23, 2014

US-China-Africa Cooperation Case Studies

Here in Washington, I am asked a lot by people at USAID and the World Bank: why is it so hard to cooperate with China in Africa? Usually the person asking the question has in mind doing a foreign aid/development project together. It's not always clear exactly what the purpose of such cooperation is -- and I suspect that usually the subtext is "we need to teach the Chinese how to be better donors." I am collecting examples of US-China-Africa cooperation that already exist. Usually these are commercial deals where cooperation has a business rationale. This is an excellent, and more sustainable way to go.

Here's the kind of example I'm looking for:
China, Ethiopian Airlines to finance purchase of Boeing Aircraft by reporter Kaleyesus Bekele: This deal is still at an early MOU stage, but as the article notes, if it goes forward, it would involve a financing facility of $500 million from China's largest bank, ICBC, provided through a leasing vehicle, to Ethiopian Airlines, so that they could buy Boeing aircraft. Boeing, a US company, and China are "old friends". According to Boeing, more than 50 percent of the commercial jetliners operating in China are Boeing airplanes. Apparently ICBC has already been involved as a junior partner in another aircraft financing deal for the B777-200LR freighter in Ethiopia. This marks additional maturing of the China-Africa financial relationship. And it's the kind of tripartite cooperation that's likely to endure.

If anyone knows of other examples like this, please contribute.

A h/t to the Centre for Chinese Studies, Stellenbosch University.
ICBC was already a junior loan partner in the B777-200LR freighter deal - See more at:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Visiting Faculty Position in International Development

My program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) is seeking a visiting professor of international development for a one year position, beginning in September. We are accepting applications now and will begin reviewing them in June. Position description follows:
SAIS seeks to appoint a one year visiting professor of international development at the assistant or associate level. The faculty member will teach courses and advise students in the International Development Program. Candidates should be excellent scholars and also have practical experience in international development. Field and discipline are open although the candidate should be able to teach an interdisciplinary survey course in international development. A Ph.D. degree is welcome but not mandatory if  commensurate professional experience exists.The ideal candidate will have experience teaching on the post-graduate level and demonstrated management skills would be an advantage. Please send curriculum vitae, copies of syllabi and student evaluations if available, a cover letter explaining why you might be a good fit, and contact information for three possible references. Review of files will begin on June 1 and will continue until the position is filled. Applicants should submit their materials by email to Prof. Deborah Brautigam,

Monday, May 19, 2014

New $2 bn fund, China & Africa Development Bank to the Financial Times, the Chinese and the Africa Development Bank will soon announce a contribution of $2 bn to an Africa-wide investment vehicle, "Africa Growing Together Fund." Unlike most Chinese finance on the continent, this would be open to all companies to compete. If it's true (and it is still to be confirmed), this is a huge change and a very welcome one. While the multilateral banks are not immune from corruption and embezzlement challenges, they do have stakeholders that try to hold them accountable in a transparent process. That has not been the case with the Chinese policy banks. I suspect that Chinese firms will still win the majority of contracts but what an excellent tactic by a maturing Chinese leadership to make them compete internationally for their wins. This kind of competition is how companies become excellent, not by having deals handed to them, or by winning through collusion or non-competitive means. I can't wait to learn more.
A hat tip to John Briscoe. Photo credit: (hotel construction in Rwanda)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mysterious Chinese Imports from Africa?

What is Africa exporting to China? A reader asked me: why are 26% of African exports to China reported as "unspecified"? This HS 98 "Special Classification Provisions, Not elsewhere specified" category has grown hugely over the past few years. I've pasted the top four imports in the trade data below (all in millions). In 2007, this category was about 1% of total imports. By 2013, it's up to 25%. What is in this category? Readers' insights welcome. (updated to include the Chinese definition for HS 98 -- each country can define their own contents for HS 98)
2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012  2013 
All Commodies 36,229 55,883 43,184 66,896 93,140 113,087 116,993
Mineral Fuel, Oil Etc.;  25,997 39,489 27,828 41,475 49,073 56,084 54,013
Special Classification Provisions, Nesoi 578 1,551 902 3,401 15,926 28,941 30,275
Ores, Slag And Ash 3,298 7,254 6,049 8,864 12,620 11,320 13,810

UPDATE April 18, 2014:  China's definition of HS 98 from China Customs, below (thank you Bi Hanning). Still not clear why it has grown so large, but I suspect many importers are simply classifying imports as "other unclassified commodities"...

UPDATE April 28, 2014: A paper by Africa trade expert Dr. Ron Sandrey, "Assessing South Africa's Trading Relationship with China," also raises questions about this strange gap in data for South Africa's exports to China. He wonders if perhaps it represents exports of gold (although China is itself one of the largest gold producers in the world). Chinese trade experts, do weigh in!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chinese Investment in African Agriculture: Conference

DB in Liberia, Kpatawee Farm, 1983
The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) SAIS China Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) will hold an inaugural public conference:  Researching China’s Agricultural Investment in Africa:  ‘Land Grabs’ or ‘Friendship Farms’? May 16, 2014 and private research workshop on May 17, 2014, in Washington, DC at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. The goal of the conference is a deeper, comparative understanding of the motives and experiences of Chinese investors; the network of relationships: investors, governments in China (national and provincial) and in Africa, intermediaries and brokers; and the impact of their investments.

We are pleased to welcome an international group of experts from China, Mali, Mozambique, the Netherlands, the UK, South Africa, Spain, Uganda, France, and the US, presenting on a number of cases: Philippe Asanzi, Centre for Chinese Studies, Stellenbosch University (DRC and Mozambique), Deborah Brautigam, Johns Hopkins-SAIS (various), Lila Buckley, International Institute for Environment and Development, London (Senegal tbc), Xiaochen Chen (Tanzania) Sérgio Chichava, Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos, (Mozambique), Solange Guo Chatelard, Max Plank Institute (Zambia), Jiao Yang, University of Florida (Ghana, Nigeria tbc), Josh Maiyo, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Uganda), Margaret Myers, Interamerican Dialogue (China in Latin America), Nama Ouattara, Université Paris-Sud (Mali), George Schoenveld, CIFOR (various), Xiaoyang Tang, Tsinghua University (Malawi), Henry Tugendhat, IDS-Sussex (various), Eckart Woertz, Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (Gulf States in Africa), Xiuli Xu, China Agriculture University (Tanzania), Jinyan Zhou, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Angola), and others still to be confirmed.

Panels will include papers and presentations on:

  • Life histories and/or narratives of Chinese agricultural investors’ experience
  • Data and details: why did the land grab databases get it so wrong?
  • Business Borderlands: China's overseas state-owned agribusiness
  • The business model behind China’s agro-technology demonstration centers.
  • Environmental and social impact of Chinese agricultural investments
  • Subcontracting and the Chinese role in cotton value chains in Malawi
  • The challenges of Chinese Agricultural Investments in Africa: An Institutional Analysis
  • Comparisons with Chinese investment in Latin America and Gulf countries in Africa

The conference is free, and open to the public, although seats are limited. We will open Eventbrite for tickets one month before the conference date -- link will be at the website of the SAIS China Africa Research Initiative SAIS-CARI. To reserve a seat in advance, or to request an invitation to the private researchers workshop, please email:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Chinese-Built Angolan "Ghost Town" Wakes Up?

Kilamba, c. 2012
Anyone who has been to Luanda knows that the city lacks housing. The hotels are extremely expensive, and researchers have been known to rent a room in someone's house for $100 a day. Angolan president Jose dos Santos pledged to build a million new homes, between 2008 and 2012. Kilamba City was part of that promise. The idea of constructing a new town, Kilamba City, 20 km outside Luanda, where flats would be available for purchase, seemed like a good one.

A Frenchman, Pierre Falcon, the famous architect of the "Angola-gate" arms trade and corruption scandal, owns the company that oversaw the project: Pierson Capital GroupThe complex was financed by ICBC, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, allegedly backed by oil-revenues. CITIC built the flats. The state-owned oil Angola was in charge of marketing the apartments (they would use those revenues to repay the loan). Chinese firms built Kilamba. And then the apartments seemed to stand empty. Visiting Western journalists photographed the long, lonely expanses of buildings. Kilamba City was filled, it seemed, by ghosts.
Kilamba: credit Voice of America

Until recently. Or so it seems. According to the official Angolan news agency, some 40,000 people moved into Kilamba after their families took advantage of long-term, low-cost mortgages to buy flats with prices ranging from US$70,000 to US$140,000. One account said people are standing in line for days to buy one (photo left).
The news stories on Kilamba, the "ghost town" mainly date from 2012. If it is actually now becoming a thriving town, why hasn't anyone gone back to report on it?

Readers: have you seen Kilamba? Your comments and stories are very welcome.

Update May 6, 2014: New SAIIA analysis exactly on this topic, by David Benazeraf and Ana Alves, "Oil for Housing: Chinese-Built New Towns in Angola." Highly recommended. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Is China Looking at Africa for Greener Pastures?

The LA Times has just published an article on Chinese land investments: “China Looks Abroad for Greener Pastures,” that quotes me. As in so many of these cases, a long interview turns into a tiny sound bite. I wish the sound bite had been extended to capture my warning that websites like Land Matrix are highly unreliable, that there is actually very little new Chinese investment in agriculture in Africa, and that the investment that does exist, so far at least, is not about growing food to send back to China. Alas, I don’t think any of those points came out in the article.

a h/t to Bob Thompson

Friday, March 28, 2014

Why I Blog on China in Africa

Just read a great opinion piece by Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson, bloggers at the London School of Economics, on why blogging is one of the most important things an academic can do today. Their focus is on the quick dissemination -- for public consumption -- of academic research (and I quote):
... a new paradigm of research communications has grown up – one that de-emphasizes the traditional journals route, and re-prioritizes faster, real-time academic communication in which blogs play a critical intermediate role. They link to research reports and articles on the one hand, and they are linked to from Twitter, Facebook and Google+ news-streams and communities.  So in research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.
But in addition, social scientists have an obligation to society to contribute their observations to the wider world – and at the moment that’s often being done in ramshackle and impoverished ways, in pointlessly obscure or charged-for forums, in language where you need to look up every second word in Wikipedia, with acres of ‘dead-on-arrival’ data in unreadable tables, and all delivered over bizarrely long-winded timescales. So the public pay for all our research, and then we shunt back to them a few press releases and a lot of out-of-date academic junk.
Blogging (supported by academic tweeting) helps academics break out of all these loops. It’s quick to do in real time. It taps academic expertise when it’s relevant, and so lets academics look forward and speculate in evidence-based ways. It communicates bottom-line results and ‘take aways’ in clear language, yet with due regard to methods issues and quality of evidence. 
When I started the China in Africa: the Real Story in 2010, I simply wanted to keep doing what I had done in writing The Dragon's Gift:  report on, and analyze, the realities of Chinese engagement in Africa. I didn't guess then that this blog would have over thirty thousand readers a month (we are coming up to a land mark: a million hits). I do continue with all the dry social science writing and publishing (and am trying to have the timescale be less "bizarrely long-winded"). But one thing the LSE academics left out: blogging is far and away the most fun part of my professional life! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Voice of China in Africa

An interesting conference on China and Africa (mainly Mozambique) in Maputo hosted by the Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IESE). Their website has links to some of the presentations and papers. Several are in Portuguese and the others are in English. I haven't read any, but I note that the impressive Sergio Chichava did a presentation on representations of China in the Mozambican press, and there is also a paper by the father of African studies in China, Li Anshan. Well done IESE.
h/t to Lynn Salinger, reporting from Maputo.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Four DC Events for China-Africa Watchers

Four exciting events on the schedule for China-Africa watchers who will be in Washington, DC in the next two months:

1. On Friday, March 28, 9:00 am – 11:00 am at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, the Sister Cities program will report on their China-Africa Initiative, with Lula Chen from Sister Cities, adviser Prof. Tang Xiaoyang from Tsinghua University, and others.

2. Friday evening, 28 March, 4th China-Africa researchers happy hour at Teaism, 400 8th St. NW hosted by Winslow Robertson, who publishes the blog Cowries and Rice, and a newsletter on China-Africa issuesFor more information click here.

3. Prof. Graeme Smith from Australia National University will speak on China's Growing Aid Program in the Pacific: Cooperation or Competition with Australia? April 8, 2014 at 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm Johns Hopkins SAIS, Bernstein-Offit Building, Room 736, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Graeme has been doing fantastic research on China in the South Pacific. Many parallels with Africa.

4. Save the date for the SAIS China Africa Research Initiative conference on China's Agricultural Investment in Africa: 'Land grabs' or 'Friendship farms'? at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Rome Auditorium, 1618 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Friday May 16, 2014, 9:00 to 5:30.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Guest Post: China, Business, & Human Rights: "Inside Out"

Guiding PrinciplesThe following is a guest post by Motoko Aizawa:* 

“Inside out, and outside in, but not inside in.”  According to John Ruggie, now the Berthold Beitz Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, this was the mantra that the Chinese offered as a way to steer Ruggie’s mandate as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.  Cryptic?  Here’s the translation:  It would be OK for Ruggie’s business and human rights mandate to address the behavior of Chinese companies doing business outside China (“inside out”), and it’s OK for foreign companies operating inside China (“outside in”), but it’s not OK for the Chinese companies operating in China, or “inside in,” as that is the exclusive domain of Chinese law and sovereignty.

The output of Ruggie’s mandate (2005 to 2011) was none other than the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the GPs), an influential soft law instrument endorsed unanimously by the Human Rights Council, including China.  As a soft law instrument, the GPs are not binding international agreements.  On the other hand, they address all business activities, domestic and international.  So how does the Chinese mantra on international and domestic trade and investment measure up against the GPs?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

China's Trillions in Aid to Africa

Photo credit: Feng Lei, China Foto Press Gamma
Is China providing trillions in aid to Africa? Apparently Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe thought so, and they were disappointed when their effort to reap a mere $30 billion in budget support fizzled in the face of the reality: Chinese finance is far more modest than this. Official aid is especially limited. And unlike the West, China rarely gives direct budget support. When it does, the amount is generally tiny:  $5 million.

Give us bankable projects to finance, the Chinese told Mugabe's government. This is how Chinese finance operates: project finance, generally for infrastructure, or export credits, which can finance imports from China. Mugabe's government ought to know this. They've taken out Chinese loans for tractors and farming inputs. Our China-Africa loan database shows that the biggest loan from China to Zimbabwe was in 2007:  $200 million for agricultural equipment.

So what about those stories about a "trillion in Chinese finance for Africa" by 2025? Don't believe it. This would entail some $85 billion a year, up from current levels of about $10 billion. The absorptive capacity isn't there, nor are the "bankable projects" of that magnitude. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bonanza: Open Access to Articles on China-Africa Issues

The publishing house Taylor & Francis is giving open access to dozens of journal articles on China-Africa issues (including one of mine, with Zhang Haisen). For people outside of universities, which can access these for free, this could be very useful.  One warning: some of these are fairly dated and the research has moved on considerably since then. And the quality of these articles also varies quite a bit, with some based on very solid empirical foundations and others relying more on news media and secondary sources. Caveat readers.

Here's the publisher's description of this bonanza:
China is increasingly becoming involved in all aspects of development within Africa. From infrastructure building to the investment in aid on the continent. The following articles explore this growing relationship, looking at the impact on US – African relations, the media view on the partnership and China’s aid policies within the region. You can now explore over 35 leading papers on China in Africa entirely for free below.

Monday, February 17, 2014

China, Africa, and "Land-Grabs" Redux

Chinese farm est. in 1992, Zambia
At last, the realities of the lack of evidence on Chinese "land grabs" in Africa seems to be penetrating the world of scholarship. A new article in the French journal Futuribles by Jean-Jacques Gabas uses updated "databases" to make the argument  for a re-think on this issue. My own view is that the databases are still deeply flawed. I am familiar with a number of Chinese investment activities that have not made it into the databases, and several that remain in, although they have never happened. Ah well.

Futuribles n° 398, janvier/février 2014.
La Chine est-elle un accapareur de terres en Afrique ? Retour sur une réalité mal acceptée

With sustained economic and demographic growth, a rising standard of living among its inhabitants and a growing demand for food, China has considerable efforts to make to meet the growing needs of its population. In this context, it has often been criticized by observers who take the view that it is evincing a form of neo-colonialism towards the African continent, not only with regard to mineral resources, but also in the areas of land ownership and agriculture. What is the actual situation? Can China perhaps be seen as a country that is making a massive land-grab in Africa?

In the view of Jean-Jacques Gabas, drawing here on the two most reliable databases on land acquisition across the world, the actual picture is more mixed than it seems. Gabas first re-situates China within world agricultural trade, then provides an insight into global land transactions and a league table of the biggest investors in land, in which China comes sixth, far behind the USA. He then details where these investments have mostly been made and, with regard to the main African countries concerned, indicates the (small) proportion represented by Chinese investment. Lastly, he shows that Africa is not a geographical priority so far as Chinese investment in land is concerned, specifies the nature of Chinese projects on African soil and stresses China’s increasing tendency to focus its activity in Africa on development aid.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Who is San Mao, the romantic chronicler of China-Africa relations?

File:Sanmao (sakka).jpg
San Mao (photo: Wikipedia)

Not long ago, I received an email from Tom Devriendt, an editor of Africa is a Country, "a blog that engages with reporting on Africa". He asked me if I knew of San Mao (三毛):

I recently came across the name of Chinese/Taiwanese writer San Mao. To be honest, I had never heard of her before. She turns out to have been a prolific writer, and -- some claim -- her work remains important (for better or for worse) in shaping a popular image of Africa in China.
Some references I've found on the web include:
- a trailer for a documentary (which never seems to have been finished):

- and a couple of blog features:

Africa is a Country is interested in finding out more about San Mao, and so am I. Do any readers know more? Has anyone heard of her?

Update, February 18: We find, thanks to a tweet from Winslow Robertson @Winslow_R and another from Paul Farrelly @paul_farrelly a fascinating article about San Mao in the journal of East Asian History: "San Mao Makes History" and "San Mao Goes Shopping."  Wow. Twitter as a research tool? 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The China-Comoros malaria eradication experiment

Artemisinin    photo credit: Action Medeor/Brigitte Betzelt
The Economist of January 25, 2014, carried an article by Shannon van Sant -- Malaria eradication: cure all? that analyzes the fascinating and controversial effort by Chinese researchers, a Chinese drug company, and the Government of the Comoros to eradicate malaria across their three islands, and 700,000 people, using several rounds of an malaria treatment: artemisinin, developed from a Chinese herb, for the entire population, one by one. The questions she raises are good ones. Being myself in the middle of an intensive, months-long IRB (Institutional Review Board) process at Johns Hopkins to allow me to move forward on grant-funded research on Chinese agricultural investment, I can say that (no surprise) it appears that China lags behind in imposing rigorous safeguards for ethical research practice.
  • are side-effects being monitored in a systematic way?
  • are people who participate doing so with adequately informed consent?
  • how commercial is the motivation, given the involvement of China's Ministry of Commerce and the Chinese drug company? 
Van Sant concludes with two interesting comments. First, she notes the point made by the Minister of Health in the Comoros, Dr Mhadji, that Western criticism may not be unbiased: "Not that the West is a disinterested party, for Western firms, too, manufacture artemisinin-based malaria therapies. On that point Dr Mhadji has strong views. He dismisses criticism of the experiment as fuelled by competition between Western and Chinese pharmaceutical companies." And she concludes with two great quotes from Nick White and Oscar Wilde:
As Nick White, a malaria researcher at Oxford University’s School of Tropical Medicine who has been working for years on eradicating malaria, says, “This research is radical. It is controversial. It is led by a very famous Chinese physician and investigator. There are lots of very serious questions here and a lot of unknowns.” Or, as Oscar Wilde more succinctly put it, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
A lot of reporting went into this story. It is very well-balanced and insightful, and pulls in informed voices from different sides of the debate. Other islands (Mauritius, for example) eradicated malaria by compulsory spraying of DDT inside people's houses. This option is no longer available and obviously contained its own risks. I'm not a public health expert -- but I'm interested in comments from readers who are: what is your take on this experiment? What is the WHO position on it?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Chinese and Belgian Aid in the Congo

Chinese doctors in the DRC. photo: Global Times
Ignace Pollet, et al, Neither Conflict Nor Comfort: The Co-Habitation of Chinese and Belgian Aid in the Congo. (Leuven, 2011). Somehow I missed this Belgian-Chinese comparative study when it was first published in 2011. A systematic, comparative look at Belgian and Chinese aid in the DRC, with a historical flavor. Done by a team of Belgian, Congolese and Chinese researchers who used a common framework to evaluate pairs of projects. Some points that struck me (all excerpts from the study):

  • Chinese Aid to the DRC is not new, but the study finds that, contrary to the general perception amongst the Western and Congolese public, it is small in terms of volume and scope (only few individual projects in the sectors of road building, health, school building). In contrast, Belgian Aid to the DRC is sizeable, consisting of rather complex projects in the sectors of road infrastructure, agriculture and education.

  • Belgian projects generally achieve a strong local involvement because of the participatory nature of the projects and the way they are institutionalised. Chinese projects generate a similar level of involvement by their focus on visible output-oriented projects that are often of direct use to the local population. 

  • Chinese projects that are part of commercial contracts, are often wrongly perceived as Aid by the local population.

  • Chinese Aid lacks the attention for capacity building and institutional integration (of Belgian aid), but still achieves similar levels of sustainability as the Belgian projects, because it focuses mainly on economical infrastructure and tends to follow up the projects for long periods.

  • Although medical cooperation will be continued as a part of China’s diplomacy, China is now actively exploring how it can be fitted into its new cooperation model, featuring the mutual benefit component. This means that Chinese enterprises will be stimulated to enter the recipient country’s market, as a first step in the outward-looking strategy of the Chinese medical industry.
  • Monday, January 6, 2014

    Call for Papers: Conference on China, Africa, and Agricutural Investment

    DB in Liberia, Kpatawee Farm, 1983
    The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) SAIS China Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) announces a call for papers for a Conference on China, Africa, and Agricultural Investment, May 16 and 17, 2014.

    Call for Papers

    The SAIS China Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) will hold an inaugural public conference on May 16, 2014 and private research workshop on May 17, 2014, in Washington, DC at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The theme will be Researching China’s Agricultural Investment in Africa:  ‘Land Grabs’ or ‘Friendship Farms’? The goal will be a deeper, comparative understanding of the motives and experiences of Chinese investors; the network of relationships: investors, governments in China (national and provincial) and in Africa, intermediaries and brokers; and the impact of their investments.

    We are pleased to announce a Call for Papers for this conference and workshop and a Small Grant competition, with funding from the Smith Richardson Foundation. Proposals can be submitted at any time but are due by February 14, 2014.

    Papers are welcome on the following topics:

    • Life histories and/or narratives of Chinese agricultural investors’ experience
    • Studies of the business model behind China’s agro-technology demonstration centers.
    • Environmental and social impact of Chinese agricultural investments
    • Economic and/or financial analysis of specific investments
    • Studies of failed investments that specify what happened and why
    • Comparisons between Chinese investments and those by other investors
    • Comparisons between Chinese investments in Africa and in other regions

    The list is for suggestion only; other topics are also welcome. All papers must be based on fieldwork and focus on case studies of specific investments or projects. Applicants are welcome to discuss their proposed research with the conference organizers before making a proposal. Comparisons between Chinese and other investors would be particularly welcome, or comparisons between Chinese agricultural investments in Africa and in other regions (including China). 

    Prospective authors should submit a two page proposal to by February 14, 2014. Proposals should include a 300 word abstract of the paper, a brief description of the research project and methodology, and a short biography of the author. A limited amount of travel support will be available for selected researchers to attend the conference. Authors should indicate whether they need travel support in order to participate.

    Small research grants

    In addition, approximately five small grants of $3000 will be awarded for researchers (including advanced masters and Ph.D. students) to (a) conduct an initial, scoping visit to a Chinese agricultural investment project in Africa, or (b) pay a return visit to such a project in order to update research carried out previously. Visits should be concluded prior to the conference, although exceptions may be made. Applicants should apply separately for the small grant, providing a one page statement of the specific purpose for which it will be used, and any prior research conducted on this topic. Researchers will be expected to report their findings at the conference.

    Application Deadline:       February 14, 2014
    Notification:                      February 21, 2014
    Deadline for Papers:          April 15, 2014
    Conference:                       May 16-17, 2014

    Papers can be in English, French, Portuguese or Chinese, but applications and presentations must be made in English.

    For further information, please email:

    Thursday, January 2, 2014

    Irene Sun: Chinese Businesses and Corruption in Nigeria

    Irene Yuan Sun's analysis of Chinese Businesses and Corruption in Nigeria as published in The Guardian (Lagos), September 21, 2013. Here, Irene finds herself in a Lagos market, unexpectedly translating the negotiations between Chinese and Nigerian businessmen over the cost of importing a container of contraband blue jeans. She concludes this provocative article with this summary:

    Many Nigerians have the impression that the Chinese are incredibly corrupt. I would make a slight modification: the Chinese in Nigeria are incredibly corrupt, because the Nigerians in Nigeria are incredibly corrupt.
    What I mean is this: on their own, the Chinese are neither devils nor angels. They simply amplify the characteristics of the existing business environment in Nigeria. For now, this means that they aid and abet corrupt practices, because that is what individual Nigerians demand as the price to play in the Nigerian market. Unlike Western businesses or development institutions, the Chinese generally do not speak English fluently, so they cannot read the laws for themselves. Moreover, they are here to make money, not to take a stand for law and order. All of this means that the Chinese have the effect of reinforcing the status quo, and today, that status quo is the corrupt diversion of public monies into private hands.

    As this textile importation example shows, for Nigeria’s business environment to improve, it will require not only passing thoughtful legislation, but also honoring those laws in everyday practice. But the power is in Nigeria’s hands. The Chinese will go to great lengths to do business in Nigeria; today, they brave murky laws, shady characters, and underhanded practices to play in this market.
    Imagine what they would do if Nigeria cleaned up its act.