Recommended Reading

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Here are some brief reviews of new publications which have crossed my desk in recent weeks: China in Africa – China’s New Dictatorship Diplomacy – Mother Jones Story on China and the Environment – China’s Involvement in Cambodia’s Hydropower Sector

Chris Alden, China in Africa, Zed Books, London/New York, 2007

This is a short but informative introduction into the rapidly evolving relations between China and Africa. With lots of insights and illustrative examples, Chris Alden, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, analyzes the interests and motives of the different actors in Africa, China, and the West. He demonstrates that China is not a homogeneous actor, but like any other society, made up of a variety of large and small players with differing interests (“capitalists, comrades and carpet baggers”). While government actors and large state-owned companies can be expected to pursue long-term interests, Alden reminds us not to forget the growing number of small firms and entrepreneurs which are primarily interested in quick profits. At the same time he points out the hypocrisy in the West’s reaction to Chinese immigration in Africa, which is still much smaller than the Western presence.

Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt and Andrew Small, China’s New Dictatorship Diplomacy, in: Foreign Affairs, January/February 2008

Kleine-Ahlbrandt and Small, two researchers at mainstream think-tanks in the U.S., present an insightful analysis of how China has quietly overhauled its policies towards pariah governments such as Sudan, North Korea and Burma in recent years. While China’s policies are still based on self-interests, they have become more sophisticated and self-confident, and are no longer marked by a defensive reflex against threatening U.S. intentions. While their analysis is convincing, the authors openly take sides for U.S. government interests. And while they make the obvious point that China’s policies are based on interests, they naively assert that the U.S. views on democracy and human rights are based on values.

Jacques Leslie, Can the world survive China’s rush to emulate the American way of life? in: Mother Jones, January/February 2008

I love the title of this long piece. Jacques Leslie compiles harrowing data on the environmental impacts of China’s economic growth at home and on the planet. He not only elaborates the well-known role of Chinese loggers and polluting companies, but also the export of sand storms and other pollutants as far as the Pacific U.S. The article concludes with some reflections about the West’s shared responsibility for China’s role in the global economy and the destruction of the planet. Its thrust is still on the “ravenous” appetite with which China “eats the world”. This strikes me as odd in a liberal magazine published and read in the far more gluttonous United States.

International Rivers and Rivers Coalition in Cambodia, Cambodia’s Hydropower Development and China’s Involvement, January 2008

This report provides a detailed, sober analysis of China’s presence in Cambodia’s hydropower sector. Noteworthy: most of the six dams in which Chinese developers are currently getting involved will impact national parks or otherwise protected areas. The biggest and potentially most destructive project to watch is the planned Sambor Dam on the Mekong River’s mainstream. Most projects are still at an early stage, and the report concludes with a series of recommendations to avoid the looming social and environmental disasters of dams like Sambor.

Two new books on Chinese-African relations have just been published by Fahamu and the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society, both based in Cape Town. We will review these African perspectives later.

Peter Bosshard is the policy director of International Rivers. His blog appears at