Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Africa and China / Carla Freeman

International Affairs, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2009, pp. 428-429

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Africa and China, edited by Kweku Ampiah and Sanusha Naidu, Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2008), 480pp. Pb.: $34.95. ISBN 978 I 8691 4150 9

China and Africa have been acquainted for centuries, but their relationship has seen the glare of the international spotlight only in the last decade. This new, and not entirely welcome, international attention reflects the recent scope and dynamism of China-Africa ties, which now extend across the continent's diverse regions and involve a growing range of dimensions - many once dominated by the West.

Setting aside the book's unfortunate (and indeed perplexing) title, Crouching tiger, hidden dragon?: Africa and China, is an important addition to the growing body of work seeking to make sense of the implications of this development for Africa and China, as well as for other international relationships and issues. Edited by Kweku Ampiah and Sanusha Naidu, experts at the University of Leeds, and Stellenbosch University respectively, the volume includes chapters from these distinguished scholars and more than a dozen others, many of whom write from Africa. If, as Ampiah and Naidu argue, most recent work on China in Africa has pursued two lines of enquiry - asking either if the costs of China's growing footprint will outweigh its benefits for Africa, or to which extent China's Africa policy has a geopolitical impetus towards displacing western interests on the continent - they assign themselves and their contributors a different task. The question they ask is how can Africa 'build a relationship with China that can promote mutual economic benefits and development' (p.5).

South African scholar, Garth Le Pere, provides a foundation for the book's answer to this question, putting forward a number of recommendations in his chapter. For one, he urges improved multilateral cooperation among African states, China and other key actors on the continent in such areas as development aid and transparency in extractive industries. Further, he argues for developing the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) into a leading coordinating mechanism for managing Sino-African relations. Finally, he sees advantages in the rapid expansion of China's economic influence as an added source of pressure on African governments to improve their countries' regulatory and governance capacity, particularly in strategic sectors targeted by external investors, such as energy, fisheries and mining.

An idea of what might be required to achieve these goals is found in chapters describing the history and direction of China's evolving relationships with nine African countries across four African sub-regions. Though these case-studies offer ample evidence for the appeal of doing business with China, potential pitfalls also loom large; African leaders from Joseph Kabila to Omar Bongo have embraced Chinese investment and find political utility in paying tribute to the Chinese development model. Without institutional reforms as urged by Le Pere, however, the analyses suggest that China's economic role risks engendering new dependencies and inequalities in these countries. Western donors have of course raised concerns about the implications of debt sustainability of Congo's minerals-for-infrastructure deal with China, concerns heightened by recent falls in mineral prices. Furthermore, while some suggest that revenues from exports to China may speed diversification of some economies, this cannot be achieved where governments sustain predatory and non-transparent practices. Even where strong governance capacity exists, China's growing influence can have mixed economic and policy outcomes. With China's involvement in Nigeria's oil and gas sectors for example, domestic energy delivery may improve, but the flood of Chinese investment risks political and economic corrosion.

Given the institutional weaknesses and other challenges to African countries' ability to define and assert their interests vis-à-vis China, a continent-wide approach that would pool the collective experiences and needs of African countries seems to make sense. But, as this book's analyses show, this is a tall order. FOCAC could be made a more permanent forum - through the creation of a FOCAC Secretariat. However, even with improved Africa-wide coordination it seems unlikely that China, with its preference for using bilateral ties as the fulcrum of its foreign relationships, would allow a multilateral structure to become its leading interlocutor on the continent. Moreover, as Suisheng Zhao from the University of Denver points out in his chapter, since China's global economic role has grown, Chinese foreign policy now involves many stakeholders. The plurality of interests on the Chinese side certainly adds complexity to any coordinated approach to Sino-African relations. In addition, it is unclear whether a country like Sudan, with which China has an important economic relationship reinforced by Beijing's rhetoric of sovereignty and non-interference, would cooperate with such an effort. These and other issues suggest that bilateral relations will continue to drive Sino-Africa relations and that it will be up to individual African governments to 'ensure that the national interests of their countries are not subordinated to those of China' (p.335).

This book goes some way towards addressing the issue of how Africa's relationship can be 'win-win', as the Chinese themselves declare they would have it. More extensive analysis of the opportunities African countries have to leverage their assets in promoting their national interests in their relationships with China, including how they may have done so in the past, would have made the volume even stronger. Although the book shows that Africa need not be 'a passive agent in [the China-Africa] relationship' (p.5), it is China and its role in Africa that still dominate the story it tells.

Carla Freeman
Johns Hopkins University, USA

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