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  • China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing's Expansion in Africa
  • Franklin J. Woo (bio)
Serge Michel and Michel Beuret. China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing's Expansion in Africa. Translated by Raymond Valley. Photographs by Paolo Woods. New York: Nation Books, 2009. 306 pp. Hardcover $27.50, ISBN 978-1-56858-426-3.

Imagine yourself, a tourist walking along a street in an African city and being greeted by friendly little children with "Ni hao, ni hao!" For a whole generation of [End Page 156] children in Africa today, all foreigners are Chinese. This phenomenon is the extent of China's involvement in the continent.

First written in French, China Safari discloses the massive expansion of China into the countries of Africa (largely unnoticed by people in the West) to sustain its insatiable need for energy and raw material, including fish, agricultural products, and other food items. China's involvement in Africa is part of its frenetic drive to fulfill China's interrupted agenda—of almost a hundred years—of the late nineteenth century. It is determined to be a rich and powerful nation in the twenty-first century. Today, the People's Republic of China (PRC) is the second largest, next to the United States, importer of oil. So great is China encroachment on U.S. interest in the world that Robert Zoellick, deputy secretary of state in 2005, warned that the two countries are on a collision course if China continued to deal with countries, such as Iran or Sudan, that are "troublesome" to Washington (p. 205).

This embracement of Africa to fulfill China's material needs for modernization is done in the name of the Mao era legacy—solidarity with colonial Third World countries that needed liberation from their European colonizers. On the Trail, the subtitle, underscores the fact that Serge Michel and Michel Beuret, the two journalists, and Paolo Woods, their award-winning photographer, traveled thousands of miles across China and to countries in Africa that have strong economic relations with China. Their efforts are highlighted by their on-the-ground reporting and keen observations, in-depth interviews of key people, and careful analyses of their peripatetic experiences. Sixteen glossy color photographs vividly illustrate the important points covered by the authors, who wrote in French. The English translation by Raymond Valley (refined by James Pryor) makes for a naturally smooth, unnoticeably translated reading.

China Safari is a reader-friendly book, a rich mixture of novel-like storytelling, historical documentation, legendary tales, and tabloid gossip. These narratives are largely based on the authors' long journeys and persistent interviews. They are well supported by careful reading and study of fourteen bibliographic pages of books, journals, magazines, and newspaper articles, and a significant amount of newswire information gained from the Internet. The authors render with skillful wit issues in Africa-China relations as they are embodied in people, in case-study fashion with actual names, places, dates, and concrete situation in both Africa and China. Throughout the riveting narrative, readers also come to know the names of many heads of states, high officials, as well as many African countries that are less likely to appear in the international media. Names and acronyms of many institutions, agencies of the African and Chinese governments such as the Algerian Agency of Housing and Improvement (AADL) and the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), as well as business companies and private entrepreneurs, are prominent throughout the book. [End Page 157]

The index has a useful two-page map and chart summarizing "China's 'Great Leap' in Africa" with the estimated number of workers, the primary business activities, and the value of Chinese investments, loans, or donations (in euros). In addition, the seventeen relevant countries are listed. The names of President Hu Jintao (nicknamed "Mr. Africa") and other Chinese officials (Wen Jiabao, Li Zhaoxing, and Yang Jiechi) are given with the dates of their African visits and countries visited between April 2006 and February 2009.

Africa has been abandoned by many countries in the West that have the perception that African countries are forever seeking handouts. The neglect of Africa by the West has encouraged China quickly to fill the vacuum...


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