China’s New Role In Africa
Reviewer: Sergey Sibirtsev (Metropolitan University Prague)
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China’s rise and its vigorous multi-dimensional engagement in Africa, commencing around 2000, has provoked much debate, though typically from a Western perspective. This has even spurred a degree of hysteria that China is emerging as a new colonising power. In his book, Taylor investigates the nature and ramifications of China’s involvement in the sub-Sahara region. The book is well-structured and consists of seven chapters covering an in-depth contextualisation of the African dimension of China’s foreign policy (the introductory); China’s oil diplomacy in Africa; the impact of cheap Chinese goods on African economies; human rights concerns in the Sino-African relations; China’s arms sales to Africa; and China’s contribution to peacekeeping on the continent; followed by a concluding chapter. Each of the first six chapters ends with a small summarising section.
Taylor departs from the assumption that China presents both threats and opportunities for Africa, requiring a nuanced analysis that goes far beyond simplistic labels of “good” and “bad.” Having approached China’s role in Africa critically, and after putting China’s politics towards Africa into the larger context of the intertwined self-interests of major world players, he argues that China is being made a scapegoat for failings that are not actually attributable to it – an idea that is constantly reinforced and runs throughout the book. In his study, Taylor aims to present a well-balanced assessment of China’s engagement in Africa, shattering the commonly held demonised image of China, while acknowledging that China’s policy in Africa tends to be immoral in its chase for ensuring resource security and for entering new markets – practices which are not unique to China but also inherent to Western democracies.
Taylor rightly points out that both China and the African countries share an infamous colonial past which contributes a great deal to their mutual understanding as well as to their distrust of the West. Being the self-proclaimed leader of the developing world, China is perceived as providing an alternative developmental model for African states which is viewed in a biased way by Western countries as undermining their own stance on promotion of democracy and good governance. Taylor makes a strong case that the accusations of China colonising Africa and damaging African indigenous manufacturing base are ill-founded because the principle reasons for the decline in Africa’s industry are of structural character which have been witnessed long before the arrival of the Chinese. These accusations, in Taylor’s view, are rooted in the Western countries’ fear of the increasingly expansive Chinese economic machine which threatens their own monopoly on the continent’s development. Taylor argues that China, on the contrary, is extremely conscious of its international reputation and seeks to be identified as a ‘responsible great power.’ He concludes that China’s official policies toward Africa are, therefore, developing and maturing.
This study is based on extensive fieldwork, interviews, and archival research in China, Africa, the US and the UK to provide a comprehensive understanding of the matter. A number of case studies (e.g. Nigeria, Sudan, Zimbabwe, etc.) are deployed to illustrate the inferences drawn in the book. Taylor also extensively quotes newspaper articles. On one hand, this helps him represent diverse and even opposite views on the challenges faced by Africa as a result of China’s rise, but on the other, he uses too many anonymous sources, thereby challenging the reliability of his data. It would also benefit the book if he put China’s Africa policy in a broader context of China’s international relations to other regions of the world so that both common and distinguishing features of China’s global engagement is made clearer.
Nevertheless, this book significantly contributes to the ongoing discussion about China’s role in Africa by presenting reflections on, and insights into, this widely debated issue. The book is unequivocally valuable reading for IR graduate students who are interested in the domains of China’s foreign policy, economic relations and international relations in African since this book provides a fresh perspective that focuses on the economic, social and political impact of China’s engagement in Africa. Moreover, it may be useful for advanced IR research due to its comprehensive references and citations.