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  • China's Rising Presence in Africa
  • Ian Taylor (bio)
Sarah Raine . China's African Challenges. Abingdon: Routledge for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2009. 271 pp. Paperback $19.95, ISBN 978-0-415-55693-4.
Chris Alden, Daniel Large, and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, editors. China Returns to Africa: A Rising Power and Continent Embrace. London: Hurst, 2008. 400 pp. Hardcover $75.00, ISBN 978-0-231-70098-6.

In the last few years, there has been a plethora of books on Sino-African ties. Many, if not most, have been based on trawling the internet and/or other people's work for information; little has been based on fieldwork. This is somewhat remarkable given the abundant myths and confusions about Chinese engagement with the continent. The two books under review are additional volumes providing overviews of Chinese relations with Africa and join the eighteen others on the same topic on my bookshelf! This is both a reflection of academic fashions (I expect a plethora of books on India's ties with Africa to flood the market in a year or two) and objective realities. Indeed, the rise of Chinese engagement in Africa is probably the most momentous process to have affected the continent since the end of the Cold War. China is now Africa's second most important bilateral trading partner, behind only the United States, with Sino-African trade hitting $107 billion in 2008. Comparing the $5 billion worth of trade China was doing with Africa in 1997, one can quickly appreciate the suddenness of much of this activity. Therefore, it is natural and a good thing that academic work on the subject is developing.

Back in 1995, when I began studying Sino-African relations at the University of Hong Kong, the literature on China's links with Africa was sparse compared to other area studies on Chinese foreign policy; the study of Sino-African relations was almost completely neglected, certainly as the 1980s and 1990s progressed. Very little research on the subject was being done—it was as if developments since the early 1970s had stopped and there was nothing more to say on the matter. People such as Deborah Brautigam and Philip Snow, both of whom had worked on the subject in the previous ten years, were rare, indeed. I am thus pleased that we now have an array of material on the topic. [End Page 155]

Sarah Raine has done a good job bringing together existing work on the topic, and the volume does have a more nuanced understanding of Beijing than many others. However, at times it still makes the mistake, common in most other work, of treating China as a monolithic actor. Some of the contributors to the Alden, Large, and Soares de Oliveira's work make the same error. These days, this error is unacceptable. An increasingly diverse set of actors under pressure from a wide variety of interest groups and constituency demands activate China's foreign and economic policy.

Central government ministries as well as provincial and municipal bureaucracies all have input, while state-owned enterprises (SOEs) now must be sensitive both to general government policies and proclamations and to the profit motive. Although the central government may have a broad African policy, it has to be mediated through the economic interests of private corporations and the political motivations and aspirations of state officials who, with growing autonomy, may not share the enunciated central vision. What has been termed "fragmented authoritarianism"—a situation in which policy made at the center becomes malleable to the organizational and political goals of the different parochial and regional agencies entrusted with enforcing policy—is a reality in contemporary China. Commercial organizations in China have increasingly become centered on profitability, and the numbers and types of actors within the fragmented authoritarianism framework have grown dramatically. Thus, the decreasing willingness of many Chinese actors to perform activities automatically at the behest of Beijing should become clear.

This reality is not as developed as it could be in Raine's book. New and changing combinations of forces remake Chinese foreign policy, a development intimately linked to the reform era. Indeed, competition and compromise with respect to policy...


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