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 So the public pay for all our research, and then we shunt back to them a few press releases and a lot of out-of-date academic junk.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.