China Returns to Africa

The Times reviews China Returns to Africa: A Superpower and a Continent Embrace edited by Christopher Alden, Daniel Large and Ricardo de Oliveira, a new book about China’s historical and current relationship with the continent of Africa:

China made a determined ideological thrust into the continent in the 1960s – and was humiliated. Mao’s men learnt by painful experience that Africa mocks “isms”. Beijing’s local clients, President Julius Nyere of Tanzania notable among them, contrived the economic wreck of their own societies with their disastrous experiments in socialism. When the social engineers were deposed, the Chinese comrades departed discredited with them.

In the past 15 years, however, a new Chinese invasion of Africa has taken place. This is infinitely more pragmatic than the last one, and driven by a quest for energy and raw materials. It is being conducted with some skill, and backed by China’s huge new wealth. Its implications are likely to be much more far-reaching than the past Maoist adventures, and thus they prompt corresponding alarm among western powers.

Anybody interested in the continent, and in the rise of Chinese power, needs to know what is going on. The editors of this hefty volume have assembled essays by 24 academics of a dozen nationalities, who possess exceptional knowledge of China’s operations in Africa. Successive chapters address such diverse subjects as the social influence of the 750,000-strong Chinese diaspora in the continent; Chinese medicine; the history of the disastrous Tanzanian railway; and, most important, the progress of Beijing’s drive to buy into oil and mineral resources the length and breadth of the continent. The outcome is scarcely bedside reading, but it presents an impressive and balanced study of one of the most important developments in the modern world.

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