New Book Lauds China’s Investment in Global Resources

Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist best-known for her argument against international aid to Africa in Dead Aid, has published a new book called Winner Take All: China’s Race For ResourcesIn a Youtube trailer  for her book, Moyo stresses the importance of commodity scarcity in this century. “It’s a zero sum game,” Moyo says. “For now, China’s systematic approach to securing commodities and resources around the world is putting her on the path of being a winner”:

In an interview with The Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead, Moyo comments on China’s foreign trade strategies:

Oh, I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s fundamentally fantastic – and also in the literal sense of the word. You know, it’s fantastic – it’s a good thing – but also ‘fantastic’ as in something really tremendous. They bought a mountain in Peru – half the height of Mount Everest – they bought the mineral rights. I flew in from Canada this morning, where they’ve done a laptops-for-pork deal. They’re importing beef from Brazil, and in return they’ll build roads and railways. It’s just an amazing display of discipline, and a systematic approach – it’s unparalleled. I don’t know any other country that does it in this way.

In response to China bears, Moyo is certain that China’s economy will continue to grow. From the same Guardian article:

“People do not understand,” she says, with a hint of weary incredulity, “that the Chinese government will and can do pretty much anything to make sure they don’t have a recession. They’re not going to sit there and do nothing while an economy slows down to 5% growth a year. They will have a political problem; they will have Tiananmen Square, they will have people on the streets. So what do they do? They’ll turn the taps on.”

Decca Aitkenhead comments in the same article on Moyo’s perspective in writing the book:

To western eyes, Winner Take All makes for scary reading. Viewed through Chinese eyes, on the other hand, it’s an altogether different story. For all its premonitions of armageddon, the book’s tone feels more congratulatory than cautionary – reflecting the particular perspective of its author.

British journalist Jonathan Fenby, who has written 6 books on China, criticizes Winner Take All in The Observer:

But Moyo’s account of the principal character in the drama she sets out is too limited and needs to be set in context. She fails to provide the essential domestic component in China’s resources demand.

For instance, the book takes China’s increasing demand for food and land on which to grow it as an external issue whereas it stems in considerable part from the inadequacies of the country’s domestic agriculture and the policy priorities of successive governments. Equally, there is no discussion of how the large excess capacity of Chinese industry fuels purchases of hard commodities beyond what the country really needs. As with manufactured goods, China has to “go out” in part because of the weaknesses of domestic policies. It has built up big inventory stockpiles which enable it to act as the market price fixer and produce a whole subset of traders whose purchases may well be sold on world markets rather than ever going to the mainland.

Telegraph’s chief foreign correpondent David Blair stressed the book’s reliance on secondary sources:

There is no point approaching a subject of this importance unless you are willing to do some original reporting. Aside from one paragraph on page 90, which describes a scene at an unnamed international conference, nothing in Winner Take All suggests that Moyo has travelled anywhere, seen anything for herself, or interviewed anyone.

Instead, this book clearly owes much to Google: the author relies entirely on reports downloaded from the United Nations and sundry think tanks. She focuses on China’s impact on the global commodity market, rightly emphasising how this has touched all our lives. Moyo thinks this will go on and on, powered by an unstoppable Chinese economy. Perhaps she is right, but the grounds for doubting whether the future will be a straight line from the past deserve a hearing. Instead, she barely mentions them: Wen Jiabao’s worries about the future viability of China’s model are not even considered.

See also: China in Africa: Voices of Approval via China Digital Times. Read more about China in Africa and the country’s search for natural resources, via CDT.