China has prioritised Africa as a strategic partner at both the political and economic level and already its drive for raw materials has initiated a new scramble for Africa, the long-term implications of which are uncertain – but a new book argues that there can be a 'win-win partnership' if southern African governments pursue policies that are based on achieving long-term socio-economic and development goals.
Launched today, the book from the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) – Win win partnership? China, Southern Africa and Extractive Industries – adds to the growing literature on the role of China in southern Africa but does so in three distinct and important ways.
Firstly, the book is developed by an institution that is firmly rooted in southern Africa. While there are many Western institutions that produce interesting research on China-Africa relations, this is often developed to answer questions that are important to policy makers in developed countries. The policy perspectives of southern Africans and the interests that southern African research serves are quite different. Therefore, this research is intended to serve both civil society and state actors across this region.
Secondly, much of the research that exists has focused on macro-level economic growth. And while the overall picture of how Chinese activity and investment is driving an economic boom on the continent is important to understand, the studies that have been carried out by SARW and its partners are a critical addition because they provide local-level experiences and practical examples of the ways in which Chinese investments affect various communities in the sub-region, including Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe..
Lastly, this research provides much-needed nuance. The research shows that Chinese investment is neither an unqualified boon nor is it a bane. Governing elites tend to overstate the development benefits of Chinese investment, while the critics of Chinese investment understate them or deny them entirely. The challenge for the countries of the region is, therefore, not how to deter Chinese investment but how to ensure that the positive developmental potentials are enhanced.
Most importantly however, a thorough reading of this research makes it clear that the real challenges and opportunities related to Chinese investment must be exploited by southern African states. Indeed, as the editors conclude, “the degree to which China helps to develop rather than to exploit the region depends on Southern African governments and their citizens more than it does on the attitudes and strategies of Chinese investors.”
In this context, policy options and dialogue processes become critical in advancing the interests of southern Africa’s economic development, human security and democratisation in the face of the new challenges that China’s growing involvement brings.
The book concludes with a series of recommendations that would help to ensure a win-win relationship with China, including:
Building and maintaining an efficient and effective mining public administration;
Developing the competencies to run the extractive industries;
Strengthening tax regimes;
Building linkages between the extractive industries and local economies;
Using China’s massive finances to support regional infrastructure development; and,
Ensuring that Chinese companies are no longer let off the hook regarding corporate social responsibilities.
As the book makes clear, these actions would help to ensure that the relationship becomes mutually beneficial and that it results in a win for China and its companies – and a win for all southern African citizens, not just the elite.
Win win partnership? China, Southern Africa and Extractive Industries