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Forest for the Trees:  Trade, Investment and the China-in-Africa Discourse

Forthcoming in Pacific Affairs 81:1 (Spring 2008)

By Barry Sautman, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology; Yan Hairong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Trade and investment are topics central to the China-in-Africa discourse that has strongly emerged from the West in the last few years.  Western opinion leaders, along with several African opposition parties, often characterize China’s role in Africa as “colonialist,” “neo-imperialist,” or “predatory.”  Placing China’s trade and investment in the continent in comparative perspective, the paper assesses the empirical validity of such charges, by examining those issues that receive disproportionate attention in the discourse: China’s importation of oil from Africa, her exports of textiles and clothing to Africa and to the world in competition with Africa, as well as her ownership of a Zambian copper mine.  It is concluded that China, as part of the world capitalist economy, injures African interests in many of the same ways as the principal Western states.  The racialized China-in-Africa discourse however is largely inaccurate, reflective of Western elite perceptions of China as a strategic competitor, and an obstacle to an effective critique of exploitative links between Africa and the more developed states.   

The full report is available here.