Thursday, November 5, 2015

FT story on Chinese aid: bias or ignorance?

On October 29, Shawn Donnan at the Financial Times wrote a story, "China's aid splurge fails to bridge credibility gap in Africa," that betrayed a significant lack of understanding of how China’s overseas development finance operates.

The FT story summarized "Listening to Leaders," a new report from AidData that purported to measure the usefulness of policy advice offered by development partners in low and middle income countries (ahem: not just Africa).

Few policymakers … trust China’s advice,” Donnan writes. The press release from AidData seemed to seems to back this up:
The Listening to Leaders report also provides evidence that the popular narrative about China’s expanding soft power – in particular, the notion that the “Beijing Consensus” is rapidly eclipsing Western sources of influence in the developing world – is probably overblown. When asked to rate the usefulness of China’s policy advice, developing country leaders ranked China Development Bank, China Ex-IM Bank, and Chinese Embassies 75th, 59th, and 70th, respectively, out of 86 bilateral and multilateral development finance institutions
Whoa, Nelly! What did the AidData researchers really find? Actually reading the report and the appendices provides a different spin on this research.

China’s policy of non-interference makes Chinese officials reluctant to dispense any policy advice at all. Not providing advice is quite different from providing untrustworthy advice.

The survey included 6731 respondents.  Only 326 (less than 5%) were able to comment on the usefulness of any policy advice from the Chinese embassy, while only 102 (1.5%) had an opinion on the usefulness of any policy advice from China Ex-Im Bank, and 56 (less than 1 %) gave a grade to any policy advice from China Development Bank. This suggests that very little advice was being given. Compare this with 1486 who were able to rate advice from the World Bank, 1227 from UNDP, and 984 from USAID.

These are very small numbers on which to say "few policymakers ... trust China's advice." Rather, we should be reading: "few policymakers get advice from China."

Deep in the appendices of the study, we read that the Chinese appear to be giving substantive advice in just one policy domain:  trade -- which is not primarily an internal affair.

Here, the Chinese embassy was rated as #2 among development partners in the usefulness of its policy advice. And this advice helps explain why China-Africa trade rose from $10 billion in 2000 to $220 billion in 2014.

So why didn't we get a headline with this spin: policymakers give high ratings to Chinese advice on trade?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Don't Get Excited: China is not the new aid superpower

My op-ed at The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network: What does recent news that China is increasing support for developing countries mean for international aid?

Xi Jinping at the United Nations, September 2015
The international development community keeps rediscovering – and misunderstanding – China. The latest episode came in September, when Chinese president Xi Jinping gave a speech at the UN after the launch of the new sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Xi pledged to support the SDGs. Specifically, China would set up a $2bn fund to support south-south cooperation. China would also try to increase its investment in the least developed countries to $12bn by 2030. Finally, his government would cancel some of the developing country debt owed to China.

The flush of media attention around these pledges suggested that they were something new and unprecedented. By giving assistance on this scale and forgiving debt, a BBC reporter wrote, China was (at last) willing to take on “more of the responsibilities that go with its status as an emerging superpower”. Others simply got it wrong. Many newspapers, including the New York Times and the Guardian wrote that China would “seek to increase the fund to $12bn by 2030”, which confused the assistance fund with the investment.

Seeing Xi Jinping’s pledges in historical context helps us to see what is actually new, and what this means for our understanding of China’s rise.

Click here to read more.

Monday, October 26, 2015

RSVP Now: Oct. 29 Book Launch in DC

My new book, Will Africa Feed China?, is now available on Amazon or at Oxford University Press. You can read excerpts in All China Review and on Quartz.  

On Thursday, October 29th, 2015 I will be speaking about the book in a roundtable discussion at Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington DC. Professor David Lampton, Director of the SAIS China Studies Program, will be moderating, and Dr. Amadou Sy, Director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, and Professor Ling Chen, Assistant Professor of International Political Economy at SAIS, will be discussants. RSVP here:
A Complete List of Scheduled Book Talks:
  • October 13 -- Princeton University 4:30-6pm
  • October 27 -- Harvard Club of New York 7:00-9pm (members only)
  • October 29 – Johns Hopkins SAIS 4:30-6pm
  • November 3 – Yale University, 4:30-6pm
  • November 13 – SOAS, London, 6-7:30pm
  • November 16 – Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Sussex, UK 1-2:30pm
  • December 9 – Harvard University Asia Center, 12:30pm-1:50pm
  • February 23 – Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Tokyo, TBD

Will Africa Feed China?
Is China building a new empire in rural Africa? It seems a perfect match: the country with the largest population and the continent with the largest remaining reserves of arable land. Few topics are as emotionally charged as the belief that China is aggressively buying up huge tracts of prime African land to grow food to ship home. Will Africa Feed China? probes the myths and surprising realities behind the headlines. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

China in Africa's Fragile States: Exploitative or Developmental

A new policy brief by China Africa researcher Jing Gu and R. McCluskey at IDS Sussex asks "Is China’s Role in African Fragile States Exploitative or Developmental?" 
The abstract notes:"China’s increasing engagement in Africa has generated heated debates over the extent to which its activities are exploitative or developmental. There is particular concern over China’s impact on governance in fragile states. However, these debates often make generalisations and leave out African agency.This Policy Briefing takes a closer look at Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and finds that there is a large gap between China’s policy and practice. It finds that the ways in which African actors promote, respond to and negotiate its engagement is crucial in shaping the extent to which China contributes to development."

Interesting points in the policy brief:
  • The $6 bn (originally $9 bn) Sicomines copper-secured infrastructure loan deal in the DRC has apparently "resulted in the closure of local civil engineering companies." I'd like to learn more about this, given that there has been relatively little infrastructure built yet under the deal.
  • "Rwanda has proactively facilitated investment and trade with China by including Rwandan business people in its official delegations to China and establishing a Rwanda Development Board office in Shenzhen."
  • "Rwanda has particularly targeted information and communication technology (ICT) as a sector where China can help it become a regional leader." 

A h/t to Winslow Robertson, via Twitter @Winslow_R 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Whatever Happened to the $9 Billion China-Congo Deal?

Sicomines photo credit:
Bloomberg has a story today that updates the China-DR Congo Sicomines Tale -- the long-running story of an investment and resource-backed loan deal first mooted around 2004, and still not in production. This is the formerly $9 billion+ 2007 deal that had the World Bank and the IMF in an uproar, concerned about the DRC's taking on additional sovereign debt just when it was asking to have its World Bank/IMF loans cancelled under the HIPC program. Under pressure from the IFIs, the deal was eventually scaled back (in 2009) from two to one $3 billion line of China Eximbank credit, backed by future copper exports, plus a complicated financing deal to bring the abandoned copper mine back on line. (This was estimated to cost at least an additional $3 billion). The sovereign guarantee was also dropped. And what is the status today?

Moise Ekanga, executive secretary of the Office for the Coordination and Monitoring of the Sino-Congolese Programme, announced that the DRC had received "$1.5 billion for Sicomines and infrastructure projects including road construction and hospitals, but funding and implementation have been more difficult than expected ... with projects having faced long delays."

A long-mooted hydropower project, Busanga, is now to be financed out of the copper-backed credit line (50%), with the Chinese partners in Sicomines providing the rest. And Sicomines is expected to produce its first copper cathodes by the end of October. Only seven years after the deal was signed.

h/t to China Africa Project

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

FOCAC is Coming to South Africa: Are You Ready?

The Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) will meet for the sixth time December 4-5, in Johannesburg, South Africa. If you've always wondered: what is FOCAC? now is the time to learn.
One great resource is the 2010 book, The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) by Professor Ian Taylor (right), available in a Kindle version.
Or, you can visit the new website Reporting FOCAC co-sponsored by those two great groups, the Wits China-Africa Reporting Project at Witwatersrand University in Jo'burg, and the China Africa Project hosted by journalists  Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden.

The new website is a work in progress, so visit frequently to see what updates they're delivering.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Guest Post: Should you worry about China's investments in Africa?

AP/Alexander F. Yuan
In a recent Washington Post article, Hilary Matfess, a research analyst at the Center for Complex Operations at the National Defense University and member of the Nigeria Social Violence Project at Johns Hopkins SAIS, explores what recent news of China’s $20 million worth of arms sales to South Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army last year might mean for our understanding of Chinese engagement in Africa.  Her review of three recent econometric studies concludes that  “China’s investment in Africa is much like that of the United States and Europe,” except that “China spends more in corrupt countries, and its aid is more easily diverted for political ends.” You can read her article here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Trailblazers from the China Africa Reporting Project

The intrepid China Africa Reporting Project overseen by veteran journalist Anton Harber at South Africa's Witwatersrand University has published a volume of 17 articles penned by some of the 50 recipients of their reporting grants. The entire book, Trailblazers 2015 – Best of the China-Africa Reporting Project can be downloaded here, and individual articles are also available here.

I read a number of these when they were originally published, and was impressed by their quality. The project was launched in 2009 to improve and deepen the quality of reporting on China-Africa topics, which was then polarized between sugar-coated positive stories coming from the Chinese side and pessimistic recycled tropes about neo-colonialism and resource hunger coming from the West.

I wonder if this topic, the rise of China and how this plays out in and for Africa, attracts a certain type of reporter? Nearly a third of the new breed of journalists honored in this collection are themselves part of a diaspora:  the European diaspora in South Africa, Hong Kong, and Namibia and the Chinese diaspora in Mauritius.

Friday, September 25, 2015

SAIS-CARI Fellowships: Three Weeks Left to Apply

The China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS-CARI) announces a call for the second round of applications to the SAIS-CARI Fellows program. SAIS-CARI Fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis or by invitation to researchers, policy-makers, or journalists who wish to spend a concentrated period of time (1 to 2 months) writing or doing field research on an under-explored policy issue related to China’s African engagement.

We particularly encourage teams of two people, one of whom has extensive first-hand experience in Africa and the other of whom is fluent in Chinese, to propose research topics that could be investigated in Africa, drawing on each researcher’s comparative advantage. All projects must be policy-relevant and based on case studies and fieldwork.

In this round we especially welcome proposals that focus on China's energy engagement in Africa (petroleum, natural gas, solar and hydropower, electricity projects). We are also interested in case studies of manufacturing (including mineral processing and oil refining) or agriculture investments, with a focus on technology transfer, training, and local skills development). In addition, we have an interest in proposals that pair analysis of cases of Chinese investment, aid or finance in Africa with that from the United States. 

Applications are due by 11:59 pm EST on October 15, 2015 for a start date between November 15, 2015 and April 30, 2016. Decisions will be announced in early November 2015. The SAIS-CARI Fellows Program is supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

For information on how to apply, please visit the SAIS-CARI website.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Excerpt from Will Africa Feed China?

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection
All China Review​ recently published an excerpt from my upcoming book, Will Africa Feed China?, to be published in October 2015. The excerpt is a profile of Yang Haomin, former chairman of Shaanxi province's State Farm Agribusiness Corporation, and his team's efforts to grow rice, maize, soybeans, and cassava in Cameroon​. His story is one of many Chinese agricultural investment cases in Africa that I cover in the book. 

You can find the link to the excerpt on the SAIS China Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) website.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Guest Post: It Takes More Than a Million Migrants to Build a Continental Empire

Dunia P. Zongwe, lecturer at the University of Namibia, recently wrote a review essay of China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building an Empire in Africa by Howard French. A summary of the review is below; the full version can be found here.

Edited Excerpt from "It Takes More Than a Million Migrants to Build a Continental Empire"

by Dunia P. Zongwe[1]

Rich in facts, poor in logic. This phrase perhaps most tellingly describes China’s Second Continent, a book authored by Howard French on Chinese migrants in Africa. In it, the author argues that Chinese migration to Africa exhibits imperial patterns of the past and that it is likely to repeat those patterns in the future. Written in a limpid and elegant style, graced with interesting interviews, fascinating stories, vivid descriptions and profound insights, China’s Second Continent is quite an informative book, which is in itself a good reason to read it. No doubt the book would have been much better if it had done away with its main thesis and the author’s attempts to prove it. This review essay examines the way that the author built his argument.

Howard French’s thesis is flawed on two levels. On a general level, the evidence presented by the author of China’s Second Continent does not prove his thesis. It has failed to establish that Chinese migrants dominate local populations, or that Africans have lost or are losing the ability to resist. It has also failed to provide clear historical precedents for the author’s prediction that the ‘unquestionably peaceful’ migration of Chinese nationals to Africa will, without militarism, be the cause of imperialism. On the contrary, several counterexamples defy this prediction. The evidence is neither internally consistent nor broadly representative of the multifaceted relationships between Africans and Chinese migrants. In essence, the book’s methodology is ill-suited to its own purposes while the hearsay and the anecdotes on which it heavily relies are not generalizable to a wider, future universe.

On a basic level, the problem with French’s thesis is definitional. His notion of ‘migration’ is undefined and erroneously based on race; his definition of ‘imperialism’ is ambiguous and unscientific. Despite the absence of a common understanding of who is a ‘migrant’, the author does not define this vital notion; instead, his definition is based (contrary to normal practice) on race, not nationality. Furthermore, since – in French’s vision of things – ‘imperialism’ can happen in any way, it will happen, anyway. Since French’s definition of ‘imperialism’ is not grounded, it can be implied that his ‘prediction’ is not scientific. It cannot be empirically tested (or refuted, for that matter) and, consequently, people should not regret that the Chinese migrants in Africa will become ‘imperialists’ in the world imagined by French.

[1] Lecturer, University of Namibia. J.S.D. (Cornell); LL.M. (Cornell); Cert. (Univ. Montréal); LL.B., B.Juris (Univ. Namibia). I am grateful to the participants at the mini US-Africa Summit held on Nov. 6, 2014 at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. Their questions, comments and criticisms informed this review essay’s final substantive section ‘It takes billions to build African economies’. In particular, I thank Horace G. Campbell for suggesting that I write a review of China’s Second Continent. I am also indebted to Joëlle Bergeron, Deborah Bräutigam, Horace Campbell and Mamoudou Gazibo for their critical and constructive comments on earlier drafts of the essay. The views expressed in this review essay do not necessarily reflect those of the people who commented on the essay and the participants at the Summit. I am solely responsible for the contents of this review essay and its failings, if any.