Dealing with all-to-easy cliches when it comes to the Chinese in Africa, is one of the red lines in China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, Howard French´s latest book. That story has been oversimplified he tells China Digital Times.
China Digital Times:
China Digital Times: What are the most common or serious pitfalls in thinking about Africa and China’s presence there, for those of us without a strong focus on or familiarity with the former?
Howard French: I would emphasize two things. The first [misconception] is that everything, or even most of what is happening in Africa with regard to China is directly driven in some centrally planned way by the Chinese state. Beijing has clearly made a priority of extending its influence on the continent, but a major theme of my book is that the large-scale migration of private Chinese citizens has become an important wild card in relations between China and Africa, one that defies real control or planning. For that reason, the tentative working title of the book was originally “Haphazard Empire.”
The other thing I would say is that the common notions of Chinese competition with the United States or with the West “for Africa” involve gross oversimplification. It is widely thought that China’s big successes in commerce and construction have come at the expense of Western interests, but because of the way the global economy is segmented and increasingly specialized, that is largely untrue. The goods that China is selling are generally not mainstays of Western commerce anymore. I would also say that China has large, inherent competitive advantages in infrastructure and public works, because of the scale of infrastructure building in China, and because of the low cost of capital there, and that much of the business it is winning in Africa in this sector isn’t so much being taken away from anyone as it is being allocated rationally.
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