The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa Review

The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa
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The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa ReviewChina is often taciturn about the real size and scope of its projects in Africa, so this topic has suffered from much confusion and often from inflated (or guessed) numbers. Prof. Brautigam aims to describe and analyze the real Chinese aid picture, using both anecdotal data obtained from many personal visits to Chinese development projects in Africa and also statistical data obtained through carefully digging into the real numbers behind the headlines.
Although she notes some concerns, Brautigam is on balance fairly positive on China's role, especially in its emphasis on practicalities. I learned many things, including:
* China explicitly declares that its programs are aiming for "mutual benefits" and "win-win" rather than simply dispensing charity. For example, projects may be directly profitable, or they may foster Chinese trade. Interestingly, this peer-peer style is often popular with recipients.
* The main Chinese focus is on fostering economic development (in infrastructure, agriculture, or industry) as the path to a better future, rather than on relieving today's symptoms.
* China is consciously reusing strategies that seemed to work in developing China itself. For example, in the 1950s Japan provided China with development loans and technology tied to specific projects, and was repaid with the products of the resulting Chinese factory or mine. China perceives this as a key "win-win" strategy for development.

* China emphasizes "no strings" and non-interference in countries internal affairs. However a key goal, especially in earlier years, was building up support for the PRC against Taiwan. Aid would only be given to those countries that recognized Beijing as the sole government of China. While China's "no strings" policies might appear to tolerate dictatorships and corruption, Brautigam observes that in practice the West's actions are not so very different: despite all the hopeful talk of "conditionality", much Western aid, investment and military hardware still flows to extremely unpleasant regimes.
* China provides some humanitarian aid, notably medical teams and post-disaster assistance. But this is relatively modest. Brautigam believes Chinese non-commercial aid to Africa is still only a small fraction of Western aid.
* Chinese workers (including technical experts) work relatively cheaply and typically live at close to local living standards. This is perceived as very different from the highly paid and expensively supplied Western experts.
* China's engagements are often weak on environmental issues, and on social and human rights issues. This is improving, but slowly. China tends to assume that its own internal strategy of putting development first is still the right one.
* There has been a great deal of misreporting of Chinese aid figures in Western media. This is partly because China is taciturn and partly because it uses different measurement criteria. For example, if China makes a below-market-rate loan, it only treats the reduction in interest payments as "aid", whereas a Western government treats the whole loan amount as "aid". (I think I prefer the Chinese methodology here.) But there is also enormous media confusion between (a) true non-commercial "aid" (b) subsidized "aid" loans for commercial projects (c) business loans on normal commercial terms, and (d) commercial business China does in Africa, sometimes paid for by another donor country. For all these categories, Brautigam tries to extract and compare true apples-to-apples Chinese and Western numbers.
* China is consciously trying to move its mature industries offshore. For example, the Chinese government is providing financial incentives for moving textile manufacturing out of China. (Fascinating!)
These brief notes only touch the tip of the iceberg: there is much more of interest in the book.
In general, I'd recommend this as very useful reading for anyone interested in either African development or China's foreign policy. My one caution would be that it is not light reading: Brautigam provides reams of detail and many carefully analyzed statistics. This is all useful, but can occasionally be slow going.
The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa Overview

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