Review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Africa and China / Simon Shen

Journal of Chinese Political Science / Association of Chinese Political Studies, 28 April 2012

 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Africa and China, Kweku Ampiah and Sanusha Naidu, eds., (Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2008), 480p. $44.95 paperback

This edited collection derives from a seminar organized by the Centre for Conflict Resolution in South Africa and covers a timely topic that would interest the academic as well as the general reader. The introductory and concluding chapters apart, the book's articles mainly fall into two spheres of interest: the bilateral relations between China and specific countries in Africa, and the competition between China and other great powers for influence on the continent.

Although it is difficult to find a coherent theme among the different authors, many quality articles are included in the book and the editors deserve commendation for putting them together. One of the most inspiring chapters is the conclusion written by Amitav Acharya. Acharya uses the Southeast Asian experience to argue that African countries should not deal with China in an exclusively bilateral manner, but should instead join forces collectively. This argument is consistent with most of the country-specific case studies selected for the book and is a logical deduction from the experiences recorded.

Regarding the case studies, those selected provide readers with valuable knowledge not typically touched upon in such great depth by most Sino-African articles. Lloyd Sachikonye's article on Zimbabwe is particularly forceful, as it refutes the allegation that Beijing is forming an anti-Western alliance with Mugabe; it suggests that Chinese leaders, in fact, have been cautious in developing closer ties with Zimbabwe's dictator. Sharath Srinvasan's chapter on Sudan also shows that Beijing's earlier non-interference doctrine has already been partly abandoned, and that the West's allegation that China had shown little attention to Sudan's humanitarian crisis is not totally grounded. These arguments, coupled with later chapters that juxtapose China directly with the US and France as powers fighting on an equal-footing with similar motivations, offer an eloquent alternative to the China threat theory for Western readers.

However, as the book focuses heavily on top-level decision making in general and Sino-African economic relations in particular, certain areas of interest have inevitably been neglected. One is the African public's response towards the increasingly important role played by China. While anti-Chinese sentiment has recently been evidenced in several African countries and was even a topic in Zambia's national election, the subject is not directly addressed in most of the chapters, including the one on Sino- Zambian relations. The role played by various Chinese actors other than the state is also not highlighted: indeed, even China's state-owned enterprises have their own agendas. As a matter of fact, the perceptions Africans have of China can vary greatly depending on their class and background. Such pluralism in Africa is one of the issues researchers should pay more attention to in the future. Another notable miss is that the multilateral platform where Beijing and Africa interact is not treated as a standalone topic. As the introductory chapters acknowledged, the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation has become a key vehicle shaping Sino-African relations in general, and to some extent has replaced some bilateral negotiations where issues like loans and debts are being considered.

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