Thursday, November 20, 2014

Does Chinese aid mainly go to African presidents' villages?

A new paper released by the folks at AidData argues that Chinese aid goes disproportionately to the birthplace regions of African leaders. Media comment is building up on this paper, and an article in The Guardian seems to be leading the way. I am actually somewhat sympathetic to the argument of the paper. My own anecdotal observations suggest that at least one of the 3 primary schools financed in many African countries by the Chinese (following a 2006 FOCAC pledge to build 100 primary schools across Africa) has often been located in an African president's hometown. However, the vast majority of Chinese official aid projects are financed in capital cities -- something the researchers neglected to discuss.

Unfortunately, I think the Guardian article got a few things wrong.

1.  The Guardian article links to accurate official statement that the Chinese spend more than half of their foreign aid in Africa but then disregards the official published Chinese statistics on aggregate official aid to Africa (which would be a total of about $26 billion up to 2012*) in favor of the overblown figure circulated by AidData ($80 billion between 2000 and 2012). The article strongly implies that the AidData figure is an official figure. It is not. It purports to include all finance from China (real and "under discussion" including commercial loans, export credits, and other trade-related finance). Further, despite some improvements, AidData still gets a lot of these figures wrong, as our SAIS-CARI spot check of their hydropower project data revealed. They over count, by a big margin.

2. This misunderstanding continues in this sentence: "Researchers took data that China published on its foreign assistance," and geo-coded it. Whoa, Nelly! China did not publish that data, it was AidData that collected it, mainly from media reports.

3. The Guardian article also said that African leaders are three times more likely to spend Chinese aid in areas where they have ethnic ties. The paper in question actually said that they found no evidence for this. Their purported finding was that all things being equal, Chinese finance is more likely to go to the region of birthplace of an African leader than to another given region.

Readers of this blog know that I have been critical of AidData in the past. This summer our team looked again at their data and found that it had been improved -- although they still have a large number of "false positives" (projects that AidData says have been promised finance, but where our investigations show that these projects were wishful thinking on the part of an African government or a Chinese contractor: many never secured finance). But -- perhaps because of their name -- they cannot stop describing their numbers as "Chinese aid" even when their own discussions suggest that much of what they are tracking is trade and investment finance, for generating business.

* In the 2011 White Paper, the Chinese total for all aid provided globally from the start of the aid program up to 2009 was $37.7 billion with the 2014 White Paper announcing another $14.4 billion between 2009 and 2012. Assuming the percentage going to Africa was about half, this would have been $26 billion.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Guest Post: Ivory and the China-Africa Connection

We've seen a lot of discussion of the news media coverage of the new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency of the criminal ivory smuggling racket and its claims of Chinese diplomatic involvement in this criminal activity. Anthropology Professor Stephanie Rupp at the City University of New York is an expert on these issues, and a China-Africa hand. I asked her if she would give us a guest post for the blog.In the wake of recent claims regarding officials from the Chinese government’s involvement in ivory smuggling, the impact and demand of China for elephant ivory has once again come to the fore. A recent report released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) catalogues the impact of Chinese criminal syndicates and Tanzanian corruption in the ivory trade.  This report dovetails with other research indicating that Tanzania – and the ports of Dar and Zanzibar – provides a significant point of exit for ivory aggregated by means of networks that criss-cross the continent. It is important to emphasize that the ivory trade is a complex network that spans multiple nations in both Africa and Asia, a point that is indicated, but not emphasized in the EIA Report.
In the Congo River basin, where my research is focused, elephants have been aggressively targeted with a marked surge over the past decade.  Indeed just this week 256 elephant tusks were confiscated in southern Cameroon.  When I returned to my research site in southeastern Cameroon on the border with the Republic of Congo in the summer of 2014, the price of ivory in had increased tenfold over the past decade, from $40/kilo to $400/kilo.  The urgency of the situation for elephant populations throughout the continent is clear: elephants in both forest and savannah contexts are under severe pressures from poaching.
On the Asian side, Thailand is the second-leading destination of African ivory after China.  When I went to Thai markets to look for ivory during the summer of 2013, it was apparent that Thai markets are awash in ivory. Most of it appears to be “new stock,” ivory harvested after the 1989 CITES ban on international ivory trade.  The CITES ban prohibits the trade of ivory across international boundaries, but not within particular nations – such as Thailand, India, or Zimbabwe, for example – that host elephant populations.  Given the state of deterioration of the Thai national elephant herds, the relatively paucity of ivory on Asian elephants (only males produce tusks), and the proliferation of ivory networks throughout both African and Asian nations, new stocks of ivory in Thai – and other Asian markets – are likely to be from Africa.

Numerous governments – the US, France, the Philippines,and China -- have staged the very high-profile destruction of ivory. For the most part, these public performances of ivory destruction are media events designed to signal the state's official line in cracking down on ivory poaching.  While these events signal important official recognition of the issues of ivory markets, such events are primarily public performances that may well allow trade in ivory to continue.  

The issue of direct government involvement in the specific visit by the Chinese delegation in 2013 needs additional – and rigorous – substantiation.  Evidence for involvement by Chinese government in exporting ivory through this official delegation comes from Tanzanian carvers who supplied carvings (ebony, ivory, or both) to the delegation.While particular relationships between international “officials,” business people, or travelers and particular artisans would not seem unusual, such specific ethnographic comments require substantiation.

Moreover, the idea of “Chinese” pressures on African elephant populations has to be much more carefully disaggregated: participants in contemporary ivory networks hail from multiple nations in addition to China. Even in EIA report highlights the involvement of actors in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand. Though the primary destination, China is not the only end-market for ivory.

The plight of elephants today is a result of many centuries of human exploitation of these animals for their ivory. The last surge of demand (only one of many) spiked about a century ago, when consumers were the nouveau riche of the Gilded Age in North America. At the end of the 19th century, approximately 95% of all ivory leaving Africa left through Zanzibar, bound for New England ports and ultimately for elite markets in cities such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston. Piano keys, billiard balls, hair combs, handles on knives and revolvers: elite commodities drove the hunting of the largest “tuskers” in East central, and southern Africa a century ago, with detrimental affects on the population size and genetic pool of elephants that remained in the 20th century. Today's pressures on elephants, driven again by a surge of consumption of elite commodities by another nouveau riche – this time in Asia – needs to be seen in the context of this larger global history.  

Taking a larger historical view helps us see that contemporary ivory networks rest on cultural values and historically deep pathways that are multiregional and multicultural, and should not devolve into “China-bashing.” This perspective allows us to break through the facile dichotomies such as “China-Africa” and “Chinese traditional vs. Western liberal values” to appreciate the global complexities of cross-cultural appreciation for ivory, and the long-term multifaceted pressures that this appetite for ivory exerts on elephants.
                                                           --- Dr. Stephanie Rupp

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview with Young China Watchers

Thought I would share an interview I did last week with Young China Watchers (YCW), which is "a dynamic group of young professionals seeking to foster the next generation of China thought-leaders. Through regular roundtables and talks with senior figures in the China academic, policy, and business communities, and through original interviews and feature articles, it provides a chance for engaged individuals to interact and discuss the most pressing issues emerging from China today."

Click here for the interview, where you can also see the latest version of the cover of my new book! 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Senator Kerry at SAIS: China in Africa

Yesterday Senator Kerry came to our School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) to talk about the US relationship with China, describing it as the most consequential relationship our country has for the 21st century. He touched on China's role in Africa, positively -- a change from the past, where Secretary Clinton several times described China-Africa relations as a kind of neo-colonialism. Here's what Kerry said:
And as we’ve seen recently with the Ebola epidemic, China has also shown that it is prepared to take on a bigger role in addressing international crises – including those that emerge far from Asia, even those on the opposite side of the globe. We’re very grateful that China has committed more than $130 million to date in aid and supplies to help address the Ebola crisis. And last week, China announced its plans to dispatch a unit from the People’s Liberation Army to Liberia to help manage the crisis. That’s global leadership, and it’s important, and that cooperation with us is more than welcome.
It's not been easy for the US and China to build a cooperative relationship in Africa. Much more could be done in fighting Ebola together -- a good place to build some positive guanxi among Americans and Chinese in Africa. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How much of Africa's oil is going to China?

Looking into oil exports from Africa today -- an intern wrote up a story on a recent talk I gave. She sent me a draft, and I saw that she had mistakenly heard me say that China was taking 90 percent of Africa's resources (what I had actually said was that natural resources and commodities make up 90 percent of Chinese imports from Africa).

I know a lot of people still believe that China is vacuuming up the vast majority of Africa's resource exports. So what is the data? Let's look at oil. According to the US government's Energy Information Administration (EIA) China is importing 22% of sub-Saharan Africa's oil.

Thanks to fracking and shale gas, the US has cut way back on sub-Saharan African oil. We only imported 13% of SSA's oil exports in 2012. Europe gets the most: 28%.  So, China imports 22% of sub-Saharan African oil and "the West," 41%.

What about North Africa? The major producers there are Libya (Europe has 71%, China has 12%, the US 4%) and Algeria (Europe gets 72%, "Asia" gets 10%). If this was added to the totals, China's percent would shrink and Europe's would expand.

China is a big consumer of African resources -- timber, cotton, copper -- but as far as oil, it is still quite a bit smaller than "the West".